New Providers of Data Collection and Analysis of Online Job Ads in Real-Time May be Helping Community Colleges Create Better Curricula

By George Lorenzo

A new term was recently added to my lexicon: “real-time labor market data.” It came from research I am conducting about how community colleges work at building courses and programs that align with employers’ demands and the needs of regional economies.  

A subset of this research is the argument that our nation’s community colleges are not educating students to meet labor-market demands. Why? One answer is that they can’t identify the true nature of those demands.  That’s where real-time labor market data comes into play. Real-time labor market data can more precisely define the hiring and skill needs of employers in a local economy.  The data is then used by community colleges to develop matching curricula which are often in the form of industry-needed certificate programs.

Jobs for the Future’s Credentials That Work Initiative Gathering Intelligence for Community Colleges to Make the Right Decision

To learn more about this topic I am following an initiative underway by Jobs for the Future called Credentials that Work: Occupational Training for Today’s Jobs. As noted on its website, “Credentials that Work seeks to utilize innovations in the collection and use of real-time labor market information to better align investments in education and training with the needs of the economy. Stronger alignment will ensure that education credentials have high value for both workers and employers.”

Yep, that’s the ticket – but this stuff is fraught with challenges and questions, and Credentials that Work is getting to the heart of these matters through its deep research on the world of data producers. In addition, it is sponsoring a pilot of ten participating community colleges that are experimenting with the services and products - driven by new technologies – which these data producers provide.

Spidering, Data Mining and Analyzing Online Job Advertisements

The core of these new technologies that dispense real-time labor market data include advanced capacities to data mine and “spider” available and projected job openings that are listed online, as well as artificial intelligence software that analyzes and aggregates the mined data. In an excellent Credentials that Work report, titled “Aligning Community Colleges to Their Local Labor Markets: The Role of Online Job Ads for Providing Real-time Intelligence about Occupations and Skills in Demand,” author David Altstadt outlines some of the possibilities and pitfalls of this new technology.

Alstadt notes that “jobs advertised online now reflect at least 70 percent of all openings.” The trick is to gather actionable, real-time data from these ads by collecting them, making sure you are not collecting duplicate ads (which is a common problem) and then extracting data from job descriptions that can be analyzed to gain insight on job requirements and trends. “The quality and range of services available to analyze the real-time market are undergoing constant change, as new entrants, tools and systems are introduced,” Alstadt writes and then lists all the major players with notes on their capabilities.

Best Practices and Limitations

One of the players that seems to be getting a lot of ink in the literature on this topic is called Burning Glass Technologies, but other solutions suggest that utilizing a combination of players, such as data and analysis from the Conference Board, Wanted Technologies and Burning Glass Technologies combined allows users to compare and contrast results and come with a clear picture of the their local labor market.

Still, there are limitations to all this.  As noted in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, titled “Real-Time Jobs Data Show Community Colleges What Employers Need Now,” by Jennifer Gonzalez, “not all job openings are listed online,” and “those that are (listed online) sometimes provide incomplete information about the qualifications required.” Plus, data producers have not consistently been able to not count duplicate job postings, meaning that overall the real-time labor market picture being painted is not accurate. In addition, licensing fees for the data producing software is not exactly inexpensive – and often cost-prohibitive for community colleges – costing in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 for a single-user, one-year license.

A Consumer’s Guide

In April of this year, Credentials that Work published a very helpful “Vendor Product Review: A Consumer’s Guide to Real-Time Labor Market Information,” by John Dorrer and Myriam Milfort. This report was based on a 42-question survey to six vendors of what they call Labor Market Information (LMI) systems. As noted in the report “Burning Glass Technologies and Geographic Solutions responded to the JFF survey. Wanted Technologies chose not to participate, citing confidentiality.  For Conference Board/Help Wanted Online, JFF gathered most of the requisite information from published technical notes provided on the web. Career Builder did not complete the survey” (but did respond to several questions via a conference call).

Based on the current research, choosing an LMI system is not any easy decision. The authors of the Vendor Market Review encourage adopters of this new technology “to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism,” but at the same time they say that vendors “have made significant improvements in their spidering and parsing processes.” 

About the Author

George Lorenzo

George Lorenzo is president of Lorenzo Associates, Inc., and writer, editor and publisher of The SOURCE on Community College Issues, Trends & Strategies, a rich information resource dedicated to the postsecondary education sector.  He has more than 25 years experience as a professional education writer, editor, researcher and publisher. 

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