Pathways to Careers
A Guide to Building Partnerships for Workforce Education and Training

Using Data to Drive Partnership Activities and Meet Objectives

Be data driven - use labor market analysis to target industries and employers.

- Rodney Bradshaw, Director of the Gulf Coast (Texas) Workforce Board

A successful career pathways system is based on a comprehensive understanding of the regional labor market. This requires partnerships to examine the demographics of their region, current and projected needs for workers, and the capacity of local education and training providers to prepare workers for employment and career advancement. These data are used to:

  • Assess community needs and priorities.
  • Highlight gaps in existing education and employment programs.
  • Identify resources available to the partnership.
  • Monitor the implementation and outcomes of pathways.

Partnerships should track their labor market systematically and use data to convey the mission and goals of the partnership to key stakeholders and the community.

The stories below illustrate some lessons learned about collecting, analyzing, and using data by the community teams that participated in the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) initiative, a joint project of the U.S. departments of Education and Labor. Teams attended one of several institutes to receive technical assistance in partnership development, strategic planning, and implementation of career pathways in specific high-growth industries. The stories also include advice from consultants who work with communities on using data to inform economic development.

At the end of this section is a list of resources that are either referenced in the text or related to the lessons learned. Each resource includes a brief description and URL.

Lessons Learned

Conduct an Economic and Skills Gap Analysis

Steps in conducting an economic and skills gap analysis include identifying occupations of importance to local, state and regional economies and mapping the requirements of entry and advancement at successive levels in each field. This information is critical in identifying a strategic direction for the partnership. Partnerships should assess how well existing education, workforce, and social services support student/worker access and advancement in the target fields. They also should identify community, state, regional, and partner resources that can be leveraged or redirected to fill skills gaps.

Using Data to Design, Manage, and Improve Career Pathways (see Resources), developed by project consultant Davis Jenkins, outlines the key questions partnerships should ask during this process. It also includes possible sources of data that can be consulted for answers. Partnerships should use this tool to identify data already collected by their members and state agencies, employer organizations, trade associations, economic development organizations, and others (some online resources for these data are listed under Resources). The data then should be validated and gaps identified. Where gaps are found, new data should be collected.

Leverage partner resources in data collection

Partnerships can take advantage of the wealth of existing data already collected by their organizational members. When the Cullman (Ala.) team met for the first time and shared information about their resources, it learned that each partner could contribute significant data to understanding their community's workforce needs. Each had a piece of the data puzzle before they met, but none knew about the other partners' data. Team member Suzanne Harbin noted that, once the team began sharing data, "It was like the light went on, and we decided to start pooling all of our information together."

Validate existing data, identify gaps, and collect new data where needed

Communities must regularly validate existing data with local employers and collect new data to detect shifts in their region's labor market. For example, the Gulf Coast Workforce Board (Texas) located available labor market data on the nursing shortage and then convened a committee of chief nurse officers and vice presidents of human resources from area hospitals to review the data. While the committee confirmed the data, it also indicated that the workforce shortage was much greater than the data suggested. The hospital representatives, however, did not want to admit the extent of their shortages to their competitors. To resolve the competition issue, the board hired an independent data analyst to collect data from individual hospitals with the promise to present only aggregate data to the group. With this aggregate data in hand, the committee and the board were better informed as they worked together to address the workforce shortage.

Partners for a Healthy Community in Central Florida also found that workforce data can become outdated quickly. When the partnership compared its 2006 hospital nursing workforce survey results to the 2004 report, Critical Condition: The Urgent Need to Expand Healthcare Education in Central Florida (see Resources) published by the Orlando Regional Partnership for Tomorrow's Workforce (O-Force), it reevaluated the areas of greatest concern. While both the survey results and the report documented a shortage of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists, and medical laboratory technologists, the survey uncovered several new health care workforce shortages: occupational therapists, physical therapists, and physical therapy assistants. Based on this experience, Donna Lenahan, the director of the partnership, advised communities to "expect change" and to update their data regularly.

Build on previous data collection efforts

To collect new data, some partnerships adapt existing employer surveys or interview protocols to assess business and industry needs in their communities. For example, when Partners for a Healthy Community asked its Data Collection and Forecasting Committee to survey the region's hospitals, the committee developed a draft survey using questions and definitions from hospital nursing workforce surveys conducted successfully in several states, including Vermont, North Carolina (see North Carolina's Eastern Region available in Resources), and Ohio (see 2006 Vacancy/Turnover Study: Human Resources Data available in Resources). It modified the questions and definitions to match the organization and structure of Central Florida's hospitals. Finally, it revised and finalized the survey (see Nursing and Allied Health Demand in Central Florida Hospitals available in Resources) based on feedback from the hospital representatives on the Data Collection and Forecasting Committee and other hospital administrators. The survey is now used as a model by the Florida Center for Nursing (FCN), which plans to create a statewide survey using questions from the Central Florida survey.

To learn more about these approaches and locate the tools and resources used by the teams and consultants to collect data from the business community, go to " Engaging Employers."

Base Strategic Planning on the Right Facts

Good data are essential to any planning process. According to project consultant Ken Poole, good economic and workforce development work depends on knowing the facts. "In the planning process," Poole explained, "facts are the critical stimuli that help local leaders be creative about how they approach problems." While a wide variety of data can be useful for planning, Poole recommends that partnerships consider industry profiles, local and regional occupational clusters, the talent base of the local workforce, and local industry capacity for innovation. Teams should consider the type of data needed to inform their planning and analysis, but they should avoid getting overwhelmed by the data. Teams should collect data and review studies relevant to their community, but they also should recognize that they never will have "all" the data or "perfect" data. "Economic data are just additional input to help stimulate the brain," said Poole, "more data are better, until it's too much."

Waukesha Community College's Margaret Brown agreed. "There's a lot of data out there," she said, adding, "It's possible to spend too much time with useless data." The Wisconsin State Department of Labor provides state and regional labor market forecasts through 2014. Waukesha Community College's Research Advancement Office collects information on local labor market conditions and trends, as well as retention data and follow-up data on graduates' employment and earnings. The Waukesha team has learned the importance of defining what information the team needs to make decisions and communicate goals. For example, while the state and regional labor market forecasts through 2014 can provide an overall context for the team's work, it now needs shorter-term local labor market forecasts in order to understand the anticipated need for health care workers in 2008 and 2009, so it can more accurately plan for local needs.

For more information on strategic planning, go to " Developing a Mission Statement and Strategic Plan."

Use Data to Develop and Improve Career Pathways

As described in Using Data to Design, Manage and Improve Career Pathways (page 1, available in Resources), "The process of building career pathways is heavily reliant on data, from the initial step of selecting industries and occupations for targeting, through recruiting and retaining participants in pathways programs, to evaluating the effectiveness of pathways in promoting career advancement of participants and meeting the needs of employers." In other words, data help partnerships ensure that their programs and services are addressing the demands of the labor market.

Design programs based on gaps revealed by data

Project consultant Beth Jefferson reported that she and her partners in Elizabethtown (Ky.) devoted significant time to collecting and analyzing data to identify gaps in the community's workforce development system and to design programs to fill those gaps. The data showed that one local hospital generated significant public traffic and that many people could benefit from access to a One-Stop at the hospital. When the partnership shared these data with the hospital, the hospital agreed to donate office space to the One-Stop, which would be open to the public. All members of the team help to staff the hospital One-Stop.

Elizabethtown's data collection and analysis also highlighted the lack of effective advancement policies among local employers. Jefferson noted, "Because people stay in the system a long time in this particular field, one of our chief charges became-based on the data-how do we help that system become mobile and help people move through it, so that we can bring in more people at the bottom?" In response, the partnership focused its training efforts on incumbent workers at the hospital to help them obtain the necessary skills to advance in their careers. For example, clerical employees could enroll in a 12-hour "fast track" medical terminology course to help them move into clinical unit administrative positions such as unit secretary. In addition, the partnership facilitated collaboration among the Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, hospital security, and instructors from the police-training department at Eastern Kentucky University; the result was a 52-hour security officer training program at the hospital to fill the gaps in training resulting from changes under the Homeland Security Act and related regulatory guidelines. This course allowed incumbent workers to advance within the allied health system.

According to project consultant Matt Kinkley, his partnership used data collected from 43 regional manufacturers to identify the skills, education, and training needed by workers to meet the needs of regional manufacturers in West Central Ohio. The findings also gave Kinkley and his partners a better understanding of the region's workforce development challenges and provided the information needed to develop a career pathway in advanced manufacturing for incumbent workers and potential new hires; initial screening and assessment tools; skill-based curricula; and certificates recognized by area manufacturers.

To learn more about the activities in West Central Ohio, listen to a presentation by Matt Kinkley included in the SPCW Employer Engagement Webinar listed under Resources.

Use data to show results and improve programs

Documenting the economic returns of workforce education and training helps solidify community support for career pathways. The team from Southeast Minnesota stressed the importance of collecting data to measure the impact of its health care pathway and to secure additional funding. It calculated the return on investment for the Riverland Healthcare Academy and found that, for every dollar spent on the program, $8.74 is returned to the economy (see Resources). The team also has made data projections based on academy performance. For example, it determined that 12 out of approximately 15 participants in every academy class will go on to college and enroll in a nursing assistant certification program.

Similarly, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) put in place a plan for collecting data and measuring outcomes that can be used to evaluate and improve pathways when it issued a request for proposals to community colleges to build career pathways programs. According to project consultant Shauna King-Simms, the KCTCS evaluation plan has four phases. The first phase analyzes individual student performance by flagging pathways participants in the KCTCS database. According to King-Simms, pathways participants are defined as "those students receiving resources or services not usually available to them." The second phase looks at student performance by college in three different career sectors (nursing, manufacturing, and construction). The career sector is identified through a negotiated list of academic program codes assigned to every student in the KCTCS database. In the third phase, colleges collect and report aggregate information on non-KCTCS enrolled participants, which might include pathways work by students in secondary schools or adult basic education (ABE) programs. The last phase involves tracking employer engagement through an employer outcomes form submitted by each participating college.

Engage State Legislators Using Local Data

Although national, state, and regional data can provide an overall context for economic and workforce development planning, state legislators often want data specific to their local communities and constituents. Giving legislators such information was a key strategy used by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Education to convince the legislature that the large proportion of ESL and low-skill adults in the population was an economic issue. In its presentation to the legislature, the board cited research by state demographers showing that the fastest-growing population in the state's workforce was people whose native language was not English. It also cited estimates from Washington State Training and Education Coordinating Board (the state's workforce board) indicating strong demand for workers with some postsecondary occupational training but not necessarily a bachelor's degree. Project consultant Davis Jenkins worked with the board to chart the flow of low-skill adult students through the community and technical college system. He found that students who earned at least a year's worth of college credits over five years and an occupational certificate had significantly higher earnings than those who did not reach that "tipping point" (see Building Pathways to Success For Low-Skill Adult Students in Resources). However, only 13 percent of students in ESL programs and 30 percent of students in ABE/GED programs went on to earn any college credits. Documenting these dismal transition rates led to legislative funding for new integrated bridge programs and flexible financial aid to support student transitions to higher levels of education.

For more information about communicating with policymakers, go to " Navigating the Policy Environment."

Package Data for Communications and Outreach

Economic and labor market data can be used effectively to communicate the need for workforce development to key stakeholders in the community. But long research reports with abundant data tables and figures can be dense and inaccessible to many readers. The Waukesha (Wis.) team decided to repackage its data to communicate more clearly the importance of its career pathways work. Team members wrote a white paper, Developing Career Pathways in Healthcare for Waukesha County: A Strategic Partnership (see Resources), to explain the need for workforce development in the health care industry. It begins by citing state labor forecasts of 10,000 new health care jobs every year from 2007 to 2017. It illustrates the critical need in Waukesha County to recruit, train, retain, and provide advancement opportunities for health care workers with a chart showing the anticipated shortfalls of credentialed registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, and medical assistants. "What's happening now is that a lot more people are looking at data," said Margaret Brown, "so we've learned to package it differently." In Waukesha, this has meant sharing data with the transition counselor at the high school, participants at a health care career outreach meetings, and nursing faculty at the Waukesha County Technical College.

For more information on using the data to inform the community, go to " Message and Outreach."


2006 Vacancy/Turnover Study: Human Resources Data

Greater Cincinnati Health Council, 2006
Includes a survey administered to health care employers and a data report from the survey. Survey requests information on three topics: hiring and separation dates, openings and the number of current employees, and the time needed to fill positions. In addition to data on these topics, the report includes a list of vacancy/turnover job titles and descriptions.
Download/View PDF (493kb)

Building Pathways to Success for Low-Skill Adult Students: Lessons for Community College Policy and Practice From a Longitudinal Student Tracking Study

D. Prince and D. Jenkins, Community College Research Center, CCRC Brief, No. 25, 2005
Presents research on the educational attainment and experiences of older adult students (age 25 and above) enrolled in community colleges in the state of Washington. Identifies "tipping points" at which students drop out of college and finds that that only 13 percent of English language learners went on to earn college credit. Includes policy recommendations for helping older students persist in community colleges.

Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) Regional Economic Accounts

Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce, n.d.
A page on the Bureau of Economic Analysis Web site that provides computer-generated narratives for states, counties, metropolitan statistical areas, and BEA areas. The narratives describe an area's projected personal income using current estimates, growth rates, and a breakdown of the sources of personal income. BEA also publishes Gross Domestic Product information for states and metropolitan areas.

Bureau of Labor Statistics: U.S. Economy at a Glance

U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored Web site, n.d.
Provides state and metropolitan area information and access to a wide range of additional employment, workforce, industry related data, and unemployment statistics.

CareerOneStop: State Labor Market Information Center

U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored Web site, n.d.
Provides links to state workforce and labor market information Web sites and portals.

CareerOneStop: Regional Economic Development

U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored Web site, n.d.
Supports the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) initiative's Blueprint and features hyperlinks to a wide variety of information sources and tools for regional economic development and the emerging talent development system including a catalogue of workforce information sources.

Critical Condition: The Urgent Need to Expand Healthcare Education in Central Florida

O-Force (The Orlando Regional Partnership for Tomorrow's Workforce), 2004
Documents the growing gap between the demand for health care services in Central Florida and the capacity of the region's health care education programs. Describes barriers to effective health care education, including funding, faculty, and recruitment issues, and recommends ways for state government, education, and the health care industry to expand nursing education.
Download/View PDF (1.37mb)

Developing Career Pathways in Healthcare for Waukesha County: A Strategic Partnership

Waukesha County Strategic Partnership, 2007
White paper developed by the SPCW team from Waukesha County (WI) that analyzes data on the local health care workforce and reviews the partnership's career pathways development activities. Presents employment data, including projected needs and shortages through 2014, and concludes that demand for qualified health care workers exceeds the region's capacity to recruit and train enough employees. Describes the partnership's mission, vision, and strategy for implementing career pathways as a solution.
Download/View PDF (75kb)

Economic and Skills Gap Analysis

Workforce Strategy Center, MPR Associates, Inc., and DTI Associates, Inc. for the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) Institutes, 2006
Used at the SPCW institutes to describe a process that helps partnerships assess how well their communities' education, workforce, and social services support worker access to and job advancement in high-growth industries. Outlines how to identify and collect regional demographic data and analyze current and projected workforce needs.
Download/View PDF (500kb)

North Carolina's Eastern Region (NCER)

North Carolina's Eastern Region-sponsored Web site, n.d.
Web site houses regional economic and labor market data for 13 counties in eastern North Carolina. Includes a copy of the NCER business survey and various reports and publications on regional economic development.

Nursing and Allied Health Demand in Central Florida Hospitals: Vacancies, Turnover, and Future Need for Personnel: A Report from the Data Collection and Forecasting Committee

J. Nooney, M.L. Brunell, and D. Lenahan, Partners for a Health Community (PHC), 2007
Summarizes results from a survey administered by Workforce Central Florida to area hospitals to determine regional demand for nurses and other allied health staff. Includes individual hospital-level data on the number of nurses employed in the region, vacancies, and turnover rates. Found that all hospitals reported a projected growth in their nurse staffing needs. A copy of the survey is included in the appendix.
Download/View PDF (781kb)

Return on Investment: Healthcare Academy

Riverland Healthcare Academy, 2007
Calculates the return on investment for a health care academy for high school students in Southeast Minnesota. Shows sample costs and returns that other communities might want to consider in evaluating investments in career pathways.
Download/View PDF (36kb)

SPCW Employer Engagement Webinar

Workforce3One, 2007
Webinar provides a model for partnerships interested in maximizing the effectiveness of their workforce investment board and developing industry-based, employer-led systems. Includes presentations from Rodney Bradshaw with the Gulf Coast Workforce Board in Texas and Matt Kinkley with West Central Ohio Tech Prep Consortium. To access the webinar, users are required to register with the Workforce3One Web site.
Recorded Version:

U.S. Census Bureau State and County Quick Facts

U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.
Online resource that provides easy access to facts about people, business, and geography.

U.S. Census Bureau Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics

U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.
Supplies statistics on employment, job creation, turnover, and earnings by industry, age and sex at the state, county, and subcounty level.

Using Data to Design, Manage, and Improve Career Pathways

D. Jenkins, Community College Research Center and Workforce Strategy Center, n.d.
Outlines key questions to be asked at each stage of the career pathways development process and lists possible sources of data for answering them.
Download/View PDF (76kb)

Department of Education logo

This represents a major section of Pathways to Careers: A Guide to Building Partnerships for Workforce Education and Training, a document that reports on activities connected with an initiative jointly sponsored by the U.S. departments of Education and Labor (the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce initiative). It was produced under U.S. Department of Education Contract No. ED-04-CO-0121/0001 with MPR Associates. Jessica Reed served as the contracting officer's representative. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the departments of Education or Labor. No official endorsement by the departments of Education or Labor of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Further, the inclusion of URLs is a convenience to the reader; it does not imply endorsement by the departments of Education and Labor of either the information presented on these Web sites or of the organizations that sponsor them. All URLs were last accessed on June 16, 2008.

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Last Modified: 05/11/2009