April 13, 2021 by Drew Repp
Economic and workforce development organizations have been busy the last year. And the economic recovery and resilience work isn’t letting up. Communities are sorting through everything from decreased tax revenues to rental assistance to combating a K-shaped recovery. Because a big part of solving these problems and others is getting people back to work, we recently dove into what communities and organizations should know about their labor market to help jobseekers.
There is also an opportunity to use this moment as a catalyst for reimagining how the workforce development system supports jobseekers—especially amidst the evolving nature of work. We’ve been hyper-focused on skills and skills data because of its endless applications. Skills are helping people understand themselves, employers understand their hiring needs, and educators understand how their curriculum prepares students for the real world.
Workforce development is involved in all three of these spaces, making skills a game-changer. Here are three ways skills are reshaping how organizations are solving workforce problems.
Labor market information (LMI) tells us a lot about the industries and occupations that drive a local economy. Skills data goes a step further and tells us about how best the individual jobseeker can plugin to that local economy. LMI is like the blueprint of a house, skills data are the wall colors and final finishes.
Too often jobseekers only see value in their past titles or formal education. In actuality, we accumulate valuable skills in many different ways beyond just work and education. Self-study, apprenticeships/internships, workforce training programs, and general life experience all develop relevant skills. Assessing their experience in terms of skills unearths a person’s qualifications and more clearly identifies training needs.
Furthermore, using skills for assessment reveals each jobseeker’s unique combination of knowledge and experience. This personalization goes well beyond the frameworks of SOC and O*Net (found in LMI), allowing workforce organizations to solve problems at the individual level.
When jobseekers are evaluated by their skills, it makes connecting them to job opportunities far easier. This is because employers (the market) use the language of skills when describing work functions and writing job postings.
For example, an insurance company may be hiring for a Claims and Processing Clerk position, but what they’re seeking is someone with really good human skills such as communication and customer service, and who is detail-oriented. How do we know this? Job postings.
Over the last year, of the 10 most common skills or qualifications listed in Claims Adjuster postings nationwide, human skills dominate the list—the types of skills many jobseekers have acquired in low-wage, entry-level roles.
This approach, of connecting employers and jobseekers based on skills, is what the State of Nevada is using with their new career and education matching platform. Starting with the jobseeker—their skills and desired career path—the platform produces local job opportunities and education programs.
One of the biggest advantages of taking a skills approach is going beyond the surface of traditional occupation data. Economic and workforce development organizations can identify disconnects between talent and employers. For example, a community may know software developers are in-demand, but the disconnect is trying to understand what kind of software developer. Skills data breaks down such a role to determine the region has an oversupply of developers with Java development and cloud computing skills, but a gap when it comes to UI/UX design.
Those in workforce development are helping individuals. LMI provides great regional context and tells us all sorts about an economy—everything from industry and occupation mixes, to historical and expected job counts, to industry clusters and staffing patterns, and much more. But skills data tells us where the individual can best succeed within that regional market. And because skills are working at the individual level, the various skill combinations that make each jobseeker unique, and uniquely qualified for particular roles, are surfaced.
People acquire skills in innumerable ways. Whether by choice or because of circumstances, not all people will pursue a four-year college degree. But taking a non-traditional education path doesn’t mean a person doesn’t have the skills necessary for in-demand jobs. Increasingly, employers are more focused on skills than degrees. Furthermore, unique workforce challenges and opportunities exist depending on a community’s regional context.
All this points to the need for more nuance in identifying workforce gaps and upskilling or reskilling needs. Taking a skills-based approach provides that nuance and is the driver behind a recent UNCF/Emsi project in Atlanta. UNCF’s goal is to close workforce opportunity gaps for students of color and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Careers experiencing slow growth, offering low wages, and with an above-average representation of Black workers were identified. With these roles targeted, skills data was leveraged to identify career transitions and reskilling needs in the region.
For example, the data revealed an aligned transition opportunity for hospitality workers to move into sales roles. While the skills between the two roles are different, there are many similarities. Many skills in both roles revolve around the customer, and hospitality roles develop business and management skills seen in sales positions.
This is one example of identifying transferable skills that clear the way for previously unrecognized career paths in a region. With aligned transitions identified, communities can expand or rework training programs to meet employer demand and better serve jobseekers.
Much has been written about COVID-19 as an accelerator and how it exposed existing issues but didn’t necessarily cause them. From housing crunches to remote work, all sorts of trends were in motion already, the pandemic merely accelerated them.
In workforce development, the impacts of technology, automation, and the shift to a knowledge-based economy were already forcing an adjustment to the changing nature of work. The last year has accelerated the need for innovative ways to make those adjustments and connect people’s abilities and potential to the needs of employers. It’s a critical moment for communities. But as with any crisis, it can also serve as an opportunity.
People and employers are already using skills as both a language and a currency. In the near term, communities who recognize this and help them better communicate and transact will greatly improve outcomes for both. Through skills people can better assess their experience and abilities to pursue the career they want, and as a result, better connect themselves to the needs of employers. In the long term, using skills to reveal unique regional gaps will inform better strategies and decision-making in creating pathways and programs.
We’re deploying skills data in communities of all sizes to help find workforce solutions. Fill out the form and tell us about the needs in your community.