When state data systems are built to provide access to education and workforce data, decisionmakers at all levels will be able to use data to build a workforce landscape that enables economic mobility for all. This guest blog post is from Chase Sackett, Director of Policy at America Forward. Chase shares about a set of workforce data reforms which outline the priorities of the Data Quality Campaign, America Forward, and other partners to improve the existing federal workforce data ecosystem with better data quality and integrate intergovernmental data to improve individuals’ abilities to navigate their workforce development and employment options.
The way that leaders and employers approach workforce preparation is evolving—and the changes they’re making open up so many benefits for job seekers and the whole economy. For instance, innovative training providers are forging alternative pathways to high-quality jobs and careers beyond a four-year college degree, providing participants with a wider range of options and the potential to continue building their skills while earning a sustainable income. Meanwhile, employers have increasingly prioritized skills-based hiring, opening opportunities for a larger pool of qualified candidates and advancing equity. However, leaders, providers, employers, job seekers, and the public need robust data to accelerate progress equitably.
Right now, there’s a critical gap in the availability and reliability of workforce data. Information about training programs, education, and long-term outcomes is often scattered, incomplete, or outdated. This lack of data hamstrings decisionmaking at every level, from individual job seekers to federal policymakers. My organization, America Forward, is the nonpartisan policy arm of the national venture philanthropy firm New Profit and partners with innovative social organizations that provide and facilitate high-impact workforce programs nationwide. The organizations we work with, from leading sectoral employment training providers to national intermediaries, have leveraged data to support participants in making transformational economic gains, whether through robust performance improvement efforts or long-term evaluation and learning. But too often, these organizations and other stakeholders have faced serious bureaucratic and technical obstacles in accessing and leveraging data.
Across the workforce system, an array of stakeholders have echoed these concerns. That’s why America Forward recently joined the Data Quality Campaign and more than a dozen other national groups to develop a shared set of principles and priorities to strengthen the workforce data ecosystem and address these challenges. Our organizations are committed to ensuring that students; families; job seekers; education and training providers, and their partners, including employers and researchers; the public; and policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels, all have the information they need to navigate today’s workforce and support others on their career pathways.
Imagine a world where:
- Every job seeker or career counselor has access to real-time, relevant data enabling them to pinpoint the most sought-after skills, determine how their competencies align with evolving industries, or evaluate the return on investment of further education;
- Innovative providers, intermediaries, education institutions, researchers, employers, and tech developers have a bird’s eye view of standardized, quality data, fostering continuous improvements and a deeper understanding of the workforce landscape;
- The general public, from business leaders to community members, can seamlessly explore local career opportunities, assess the landscape of quality jobs, and fathom the alignment between job requirements and the skills available in the workforce; and
- Policymakers can use data to strategize, allocate resources, and shape policies that resonate with the changing job market dynamics.
To bring this vision to life and ensure that the public and policymakers alike have the data they need to make decisions and support individual pathways through education and into the workforce, federal leaders must support stakeholders across the system—including states as lead actors in these efforts— in the following ways:
- Clear regulations, guidance, and support. Federal leaders must shift from a predominantly compliance mindset to leveraging data to improve services and outcomes. As a starting point, the Department of Labor (DOL) should build on existing guidance with the Department of Education to clarify how states are legally allowed to link earnings and programmatic workforce data as an essential step to support program improvement, evidence building, and transparency in partnership with providers and other stakeholders.
- Strengthen data linkages and partnerships. DOL should partner with states and other federal agencies and stakeholders to implement new secure, privacy-protected data linkages leveraging national labor markets data, alongside supporting cross-state and multi-state data initiatives and providing technical assistance on data privacy.
- Dedicated resources. It is essential to maintain and expand funding for critical data grants programs such as the Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI) and Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) Grant Program to sustain investments and address evolving needs, as well as to clarify how states can use other federal funding for data priorities.
- Transparency and interoperability. DOL and other federal agencies should ensure that key education, training, and credential data sources are made publicly available in accessible, linked, open formats. In particular, DOL should strengthen data quality and the scope of information provided on Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provider outcomes and participation at TrainingProviderResults.gov.
- Stakeholder engagement. Federal leaders should conduct robust, ongoing stakeholder engagement to ensure their efforts reflect and respond to input from across the field.
Every stakeholder, from individual job seekers to providers to federal agencies, has a role in creating a more informed, transparent, and efficient workforce landscape. The potential rewards are immense: a system where everyone can make data-driven decisions, resulting in better opportunities, improved outcomes, and a more vibrant economy.