Systems Change

Closing the skills gap with standardized data on jobs and employment.

A public-private push to standardize data on jobs and employment is ready for prime time. Also, an analysis finds that HR systems aren’t ready for nondegree credentials or rich skills data. And a look at the complexity and competing incentives in how states fund community colleges.

Photo by Work Shift

Finding Signals in Jobs Data

Colleges are under pressure to better prepare graduates for the fast-moving job market. Meanwhile, lawmakers increasingly are looking to make targeted investments in education and training for fields where labor demands are the most pressing.

Yet reliable data on jobs and the skills sought by employers remain lacking or nonexistent. It’s hard to close gaps between education and employment without knowing what works—and what doesn’t.

The chaos the pandemic brought to the labor market revealed the inadequacy of state data and technology infrastructures, says Robert Asaro-Angelo, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

“We simply were not prepared to respond to a crisis of that magnitude in terms of technological capacity or the relative dearth of information about conditions on the ground,” he says.

A project led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation seeks to clear up jobs data at its source. Created more than five years ago, the Jobs and Employment Data Exchange (JEDx) is working to create and encourage use of standards for jobs and employment records.

“At its core, it’s about the adoption of standards,” says Jason Tyszko, vice president of the foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce.

More accurate and structured information can go a long way toward showing how jobs are changing in real time, Tyszko says. That can help education providers better prepare people to join the workforce. And he says companies can use the data to retain and promote workers by showing them “what’s actually going on with these positions.”

For example, JEDx seeks to ensure that HR departments make job descriptions and career paths more consistent, while improving the searchability of job postings and giving workers useful access to their own employment records.

“This is a big lift,” Tyszko says. “We’ve been under the radar, somewhat intentionally, because data can freak people out.”

With public and private partners in seven states having signed on to the project, amid growing interest around the country in data standardization, JEDx is ready to go public and to be part of policy discussions on labor market information, employment records, and mobility.

Partners in California, New Jersey, Texas, and other states have completed a design phase and are prepared to test a prototype jobs data system this year.

In the meantime, Asaro-Angelo says, New Jersey is eager to learn from other states as they join the effort. Part of the draw is the project’s buy-in from employers, which he says is necessary for standardization to happen.

“Businesses are a great deal more likely to come to the table to identify what will work for them if the invitation comes from the private sector,” says Asaro-Angelo.

JEDx includes incentives for employers, mostly around the increased data security, efficiency, and cost savings that standardization can bring.

Tyszko says the project is agnostic about the actual standards. The first goal is getting the facts straight relative to peers across industries and states. That approach will allow for the benchmarking of data based on the JEDx model.

As the foundation seeks more partners to adopt the standards, Tyszko says the “moon-shot” goal is for a state or two to create a JEDx data trust that could support efforts like tracking educational outcomes. “That’s the long game,” he says.

(This article includes quotes from Asaro-Angelo that first appeared in a sponsored piece on Work Shift.)

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HR Tech and Skills in Hiring

As a growing number of employers take the plunge on skills-based hiring, their HR systems typically aren’t prepared to accept nondegree credentials or structured skills data. Many remain stuck in the past, sifting through PDF versions of résumés from job applicants.

Those are among the findings of a first-of-its-kind analysis from Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy and 1EdTech. The qualitative research drew from interviews with software and HR tech firms, which collectively represent about 40% of the U.S. job applicant tracking system market.

Most of the sample still primarily records basic educational information about jobseekers, like high school diplomas and college degrees, as well as the “unstructured” résumé data of PDF attachments.

“Pursuing skills-based hiring is not just de-emphasizing degree requirements, but needs mechanisms to implement the approach,” says Sean Gallagher, executive director of Northeastern’s center and lead author of the report.

The top reason HR tech providers say they aren’t doing more to capture digital credentials and richer skills data is that most of their customers aren’t saying that capability is a top priority.

A shift may be occurring, however, as providers said some “large and progressive” customers are asking for support in processing digital credentials and structured skills data.

The research dug deep on vendors, dissecting the capabilities of the applicant tracking systems and other tech currently on the market. Their findings include:

  • Job candidates’ applications often pass through multiple software systems and intermediaries, which can lead to inconsistencies and data loss.

  • In addition to not routinely supporting digital credentials, most systems don’t automatically authenticate traditional educational credentials, either. They capture degrees and diplomas but don’t verify.

  • HR tech firms are eager to leverage AI.

Click over to Work Shift for a Q&A with researchers behind the new analysis.

Financing Community Colleges

Few experts would argue that public funding for community colleges is adequate, equitable, or has kept pace with the needs of students.

To help states better understand and improve their approach to supporting the two-year sector, a new report from HCM Strategists and the Community College Research Center maps the finance systems of California, Ohio, and Texas. The report’s authors analyzed the share of total funding from state appropriations, tuition, and recurring local revenue, as well as policies that control revenue, the combined incentives for colleges, and the equity implications for colleges and students.

“Too many community colleges aren’t reaching their potential to improve lives and local economies, and the way we fund these colleges is a big part of the problem,” says Kate Shaw, a coauthor of the report and former senior advisor for HCM who this month began as Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary and commissioner for postsecondary and higher education.

The report includes graphics for each state’s financing system, which show the complexity of how revenue streams and policies interact to create multiple, and sometimes competing, incentives for colleges. (See below.)

For example, the disproportionately high reliance on local recurring revenue among Texas community colleges has driven funding inequities across some districts, the report found. But because the colleges are the taxing entity, local funding doesn’t prod colleges to align their approach with the community’s needs or state goals. This money also is not tied to enrollment or improving student results.

Each state should create a clear, usable map of its community college finance system, the report concludes.

Open Tabs

Degree Requirements
“You don’t necessarily need to have a degree to be great at your job, and North Carolina is in need of talented people who can get things done,” Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s Democratic governor, said earlier this month after issuing an executive order to encourage state agencies to emphasize skills and experience in hiring government workers. The order seeks to eliminate “unnecessary” management preferences for degrees.

Skills-Based Hiring
A tentative approach to skills-first hiring is counterproductive, Ginni Rometty, Colleen Ammerman, and Boris Groysberg write in Harvard Business Review. They argue that hiring a “sizable cohort” of employees without four-year degrees “reinforces to the company at large that skills-first approaches are integral, not superfluous.” Internal paths for workers to jobs with higher pay and more responsibility also are critical.

Enrollment Crisis
The number of U.S. undergraduates who earned a credential declined for the first time in a decade, with a 1.6% dip last year, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The decline was caused by an unprecedented loss of first-time graduates, with associate degree completions falling by 7.6%, or 57K students. First-time certificate earners, however, increased by 9%.

Registered Apprenticeships
Black apprentices comprise just 9% of all registered apprentices in the U.S. despite being more than 12% of the workforce, according to a new brief from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. They also are less likely than their peers to complete programs. And Black apprentices have the lowest average wages, exiting programs at $25/hour compared to $28/hour for white apprentices.

Industry Certifications
Four-year colleges may want to consider partnering with industry to replace the college minor with certifications designed to help students enter the workforce with higher-paying jobs, three academics at Ohio State University write in Inside Higher Ed. Industry certifications can be embedded without adding time to degree, they write, citing a partnership between Ford Motor Company and roughly 40 community colleges.

Career Navigation
The U.S. Department of Education is hoping to seed better career navigation tools for adult learners with a new Future Finder Challenge grant. The $1M program recently awarded small grants to five finalists to accelerate their work and ultimately compete for much larger grants. This marks the first time the department has launched a challenge focused on education technology for adult learners.

Job Moves
The U.S. Department of Commerce is seeking to fill several roles in its CHIPS Program Office. All the jobs are for the department’s strategy, technology, and policy team, Morgan Dwyer, chief strategy officer for the CHIPS office, wrote on LinkedIn. The postings include director of policy, policy advisor, senior advisor for international strategy, senior advisor for workforce strategy, and environmental policy specialist.

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