Double duty: career tool for job seekers, labor supply tool for economic developers.

Author:Slaper, Timothy F.
 
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Anew career pathway tool is available on the Hoosiers by the Numbers labor market information website (www.hoosierdata.in.gov). Called the Virtual Career Counselor (VCC), it is an interactive tool that allows users--a job-seeker or a workforce career counselor, for example--to estimate the needed preparation time to transition from one occupation to another.

The preparation time--measured in weeks of academic, technical or vocational training--is a relative measure estimating the ease or difficulty of moving from one type of job to another.

This article goes beyond the job seeker's perspective, however, to show how these data can be used in the economic development community to determine how difficult it would be to close a region's skills gap for an occupation or a category of occupations relative to a benchmark region.

The database underlying the VCC reports the knowledge, skills and training required for each of the approximately 800 standardized occupations classified by the federal government. The calculations compare the similarity of education, skills and training between occupations and estimate the additional amount of education or training one would need to move from one occupation to another.

In other words, the VCC addresses the questions of how long and how difficult the transition will be from an "originating" occupation to a "destination" occupation (see Figure 1). The algorithm estimates the gap or distance based on the knowledge, skills and training requirements for each occupation (the "from" and the "to").(1)

The goal of the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) and Department of Workforce Development (DWD) team was to boil down the complex components of an occupation's knowledge and skill requirements. To move from one occupation to another, a worker in transition would likely need additional training, education or even an apprenticeship. Those take time. So, the team compared the knowledge, skills and training (KST) for an originating occupation and a destination occupation. The differences in the two KSTs were distilled down to one dimension: time. This time dimension can inform a worker's decision about which destination occupation would fit with his or her time and financial resources.

Put another way, time is the dimension on which to measure a skills gap, the length of the journey to move from occupation A to occupation B. There are many other considerations, of course. A path that means paying large sums for tuition would not be feasible for many. Many would rule out a path requiring in-residence course work far away from home. But transition time can represent the difference between working in one occupation and migrating to another.

The team followed other models that also use time as the primary gap-closing measure. 0*NET, for example, surveys incumbent workers to determine, among many things, the level of proficiency necessary for a wide range of worker and job characteristics and the educational and training time it would take for an individual to become proficient at a particular job. 0*NET rates each proficiency level; the research team estimated the extent to which each proficiency level requires more time in terms of education and training.

The researchers found that as one moved through the 0*NET proficiency levels, the estimated time required to complete each increased substantially with each step. The difference in training to move from Level 1 to Level 2, for example, was less than a week--notably less than the gap between a Level 5 and a Level 6, which was an average of 7 weeks. The 0*NET scale, therefore, was not linear.

The research team sought to simplify the methodology, and making the measurements simple came at the cost of some precision. For example, the estimated time required for education and training were made consistent across different mechanisms for knowledge or skills development--academic, vocational or apprenticeships. An hour in a college classroom is different from an hour in a vocational training laboratory, but both represent a time investment by the worker and are expressed in the transition-time calculation.

It is important to stress that the time measure indicates the relative ease or difficulty of moving from one occupation to another, and one might consider the time measure to be "on average." After all, the time to complete a class or training may be dependent on when a course starts or if the training is conducted on a compressed time schedule. There is no accounting for "intensive training."

The team also adjusted the 0*NET time dimension based on the fact that gaining skills and training in one knowledge area enhances one's skills in another knowledge area. One might call this "overlap" in educational...

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