How to Use Labor Market Data in Academic Program Development and Curricular Design

Skills are the foundation of every job. And yet, every job is different. So how can your institution prepare students for the jobs they want, and set them on a path to career success? The answer can be found by using real-time labor market data. This information is the key to understanding today’s job market, because it examines the individual skills that are requested for each job.

Breaking Down the DNA of a Job

A job is fundamentally a defined set of duties and tasks that an employer expects to be completed by the employee. An employee’s skill set–the knowledge and abilities a worker has acquired–enables them to complete the duties and tasks that their employer has hired them to do. Therefore, if students understand their own skill set and where it fits into the labor market, then they will be better prepared to find a rewarding career. So institutions need to know which skills they are arming their students with, and be able to articulate their value.

Let’s take a look at Figure 1 as an example. Job titles that fall under Software Developers and Systems Analysts consistently need valuable baseline skills like communication and writing. However, for students to have multiple job options, then they should teach their students specialized skills, like SQL, Javascript, and Software Development, since these are required across several jobs within these occupations. By knowing these skills, students can more easily transition into “adjacent” jobs with similar skills, giving them greater flexibility and opportunities in the workplace.

Figure 1:labor market data

Where are Skills Used?

Using information from today’s labor market can help answer some critical questions. When developing programs and aligning curricula, you may wonder how versatile a degree is. For instance, a psychology major’s ideal job may be to become a psychologist, but that’s not their only career option. If a psychology major chooses not to pursue graduate school to become a psychologist, then her career counselor can analyze labor market data to help her understand what other options are available to her.

You may also wonder who could hire your students. By understanding the local and national job market demand, you can help your soon-to-be graduates by aligning them with relevant job opportunities in their desired regions.

Breaking Down a Job Posting

By examining local employers’ needs, you can help ensure your students are prepared for a local career. Let’s look at a theoretical example–but one based on actual data.

In 2017, an international consulting company posted 2,500 bachelor’s-level job postings in the Tampa, Fla. MSA. Over 1,000 of those jobs were in Information Technology, and over 300 were in Business Management and Operations. So if your institution trains IT professionals in the Tampa MSA, then understanding what the international consulting company wants is crucial for their success.

The most common skills found in this company’s IT job postings were Information Systems, JAVA, SQL, and Oracle. Based on this information, schools in the Tampa MSA should ensure they are teaching or introducing their IT students to these 4 critical skills to prepare them for a major employer in their local job market once they graduate.

The top skills for this company’s Business Management & Operations job posting were Project Management, Information Systems, Microsoft Office, and Management Consulting. As you may have noticed, Information Systems was also required in these  IT job postings, meaning it is a key skill required at this international consulting company.

Now a program developer should look at the curriculum their program offers. Their computer science program may well include Information Systems training. But what about their business program? Schools in the Tampa MSA should include Information Systems in many of their programs in order to align their graduates with job opportunities at consulting companies.

Real Life Examples

Northeastern University, a Boston-based research university, analyzed local labor market data to identify emerging and growing fields, such as health informatics and nanotechnology, to create new degree programs for their students. By understanding the job market, they were able to get ahead of the game and prepare their students for the future. Northeastern also set their sights on expansion. They sought U.S. knowledge-based economies — places with strong employment levels where an advanced degree from Northeastern would be an asset. By analyzing regional labor market data, Northeastern was able to open three new satellite campuses in Seattle, Charlotte, NC, and Silicon Valley, with new programs tailored to local demand. Read the full story here.

Where to Begin

There are a few easy, preliminary steps educators can take to begin using labor market data for program development and curricular design:

Start skill tagging in course descriptions

It’s important to connect skills with the course catalog so students can understand the skills that are taught in each course, because they may not always be clear. For instance, students that take a course on Shakespeare will not only learn his plays, but they will build communication and editing skills. Adding these applicable skills to the course descriptions will help your faculty, career services, and academic advisors to better understand what students will gain from each course.

Resume building exercise

Build a sample resume for a graduate of your program. This should be designed for an average student who is going straight into the workforce. Build off the strengths associated with the degree. For instance, instead of simply listing “Psychology” as a degree on the resume, you can outline which skills the degree taught, such as human relations, statistics, communication, teamwork, project management, etc. This will help both students and faculty identify how students will use these skills to their advantage in the real world.

Make a list of potential–but not obvious–occupations that are available

Every degree can lead to many different occupations. So when developing programs and reviewing curriculum, be sure to include all employment options that will be available to graduates. This will allow you to analyze which of your programs are the most versatile in career terms, and how to expand career options.

There are many benefits to using labor market data for program development and curricular design. But don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of opportunities that are available. Start small and work your way up, one program at a time. If you have questions regarding labor market data, feel free to contact us.

For a deeper dive into how to use labor market data for program development and curricular design, watch this webinar.

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