Practical Guidance for Aligning Career Pathways to Labor Market Data in the Time of COVID-19

By Advance CTE, in partnership with Education Strategy Group through JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s New Skills Ready Network –  Published April 2021 in Advance CTESubscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified major shifts in regional economies across the United States. Industries are increasingly transitioning to AI and remote-model strategies, causing employers to demand new skill sets from workers on the labor market. Therefore, to align postsecondary pathways with well-paying jobs for workers in a modernizing economy, it is imperative for state and local governments, workforce development agencies, higher education institutions, and industry leaders to share labor market information (LMI) and other data to develop quality training and education programs.

Opening Digital Access to All
According to a December, 2020 National Skills Coalition report, 31% of active American workers have “limited or no digital literacy skills.” Fifty percent of Black workers and 57% of Lantinx workers lack digital literacy skills. To develop inclusive workforce development programs, state and local leaders must address a disproportionate absence of access to digital training and education for racial minorities. 

Foundational Skills for a Modern Labor Market
Georgetown CEW’s pre-pandemic analysis found five cognitive competencies: communication, teamwork, sales and customer service, leadership, and problem solving/complex thinking to be highest in-demand across all occupations. Additionally, based on mass job-posting data, Burning Glass’s New Foundational Skills of the Digital Economy report found a mix of human skills (critical thinking, communication, analytical skills), business planning skills (project management, digital design) and technical skills (analyzing and managing data, computer programming, digital security, software development) to be crucial for jobseekers to have in order to thrive in the future labor market. According to Advance CTE, “these foundational skills are at low risk of automation and therefore are of particular importance for learners to gain through their career pathways to ensure resiliency in the workforce.” 

Accelerating Trends
Advance CTE projects that by 2027, 70% of all jobs will require workers to have at least some postsecondary or credential training beyond high school. It is expected that 30% of all jobs require workers earn a credential other than a four-year degree. 

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reports two occupational fields requiring training and/or credentials: health care (nurse practitioners, occupational therapy assistants and physician assistants) and information technology are projected to grow the most from 2019 to 2029.  The Southern Regional Occupational Board found that 44% of all work activities have the potential to be automated between 2016 to 2030 and “nearly two-thirds of [Southern American] workers have a high school diploma or less and are significantly more vulnerable to automation.” A McKinsey and Company survey of 800 global employers found that “67% of companies have accelerated automation and AI since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.” 

Models of How State Governments are Using LMI
In Kentucky, the Kentucky Center for Statistics (KYSTATS) incorporates labor market data in the state’s longitudinal data system, giving long-term insight to which career pathways are aligned with well-paying jobs. Furthermore, partnered with the Cabinet for Economic Development and the Kentucky Workforce Investment board, the Kentucky Office of Career and Technical Education collaborates with local workforce boards and school districts across the state to evaluate career pathway outcomes. According to JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s snapshot, by the end of 2018, nearly 100% of Kentucky’s career pathways were aligned with high-skill, high-wage and in-demand occupations. 

For Michigan, their Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives (part of the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget) “provides an online annual ‘Ten-Year Regional Career Outlook’ and monthly ‘Job Demand Snapshots’ for each of the state’s Prosperity Regions.” The data gathered from the initiative plays a key role in evaluating career pathways of the state’s agriculture, construction, energy, health care, information technology and manufacturing industry sectors. 

Enrollment and labor market outcome data collected by South Carolina has spurred programs improving postsecondary access to marginalized populations. For example, the state is in the process of identifying strategies to connect more female, Black and Latinx high school students to career pathways that result in well-paying jobs. In addition, South Carolina’s April 2020 Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment (CLNA) gathered industry and workforce intermediary input relating to the condition of workforce development, from the state’s 12 regions. Ultimately, the information collected from the CLNA became an impetus for the creation of a drone remote pilot certification program and an aerospace career pathway offered by Rock Hill Schools. Also, as a result  of STEM data collected by a National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity report, South Carolina has begun to develop new career pathways in AI fields.

In Indiana, due to a lack of useful LMI provided by a variety of national and state sources, the local non-profit, EmployIndy, invested capital “to increase access to and success in career pathways for Marion County residents” and support employers’ workforce needs. By collecting labor market data and then collaborating with employers and other intermediaries, EmployIndy plans “to help both education and industry partners better leverage data to support learners, career pathways development, hiring and training.” 

Advance CTE recommends that state and local governments, workforce development agencies, higher education institutions, and industry leaders make data-informed decisions about career pathways by “focusing on the longer-term trends and consulting multiple data sources and stakeholders.” Moreover, the non-profit advises that LMI be viewed with an equity lens to better support traditionally underserved populations, policymakers and local partners consolidate LMI from multiple sources to make it more usable for instructors and learners, and institutions to “build capacity within the system” so workforce leaders at all levels understand how to apply LMI for helping learners find a quality career path.

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