Access, P-20W Data, State Advocacy

Better P–20W Data Requires Better Workforce Data Systems

Better P–20W Data Requires Better Workforce Data Systems

Policymakers are facing many complex challenges that demand action—and they need transparent and trusted information to make decisions. Statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs) that connect early childhood education, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce sector data can provide the information people need to navigate their pathways to high-quality jobs. However, SLDSs are only effective if all the sectors that contribute to the state’s data system provide timely, high-quality data that can be nimbly connected and shared to address real and pressing problems. Right now, workforce data systems in most states do not—but with improvements, they can.  

Why do leaders need better workforce data?  

Better workforce data systems, as part of a state’s broader data infrastructure, can be used to help individuals navigate their workforce training, development, and employment options. These data systems can also enable state decisionmakers, service providers, and researchers to answer and address their most pressing questions about program quality and outcomes and ensure that programs serve all intended populations, including those who have been underserved in the past. More specifically, better workforce data systems can inform people about and help them act on things like the following:  

  • alignment of education and training programs to the needs of the local job market 
  • quality of job offerings 
  • employment outcomes of individuals reskilling or upskilling through short-term training programs 
  • identification of points where people need transition support along their paths in and out of education and employment 
  • strategies to address opportunity and outcome gaps 
  • approaches to providing quality college and career pathways that can be scaled 
  • opportunities to provide career navigation support and services 

What are the current challenges? 

While many states have made ongoing improvements to their data systems (through federal, philanthropic, and their own investments), barriers to leveraging SLDSs to their full potential exist within and across sectors. In the workforce sector, a range of issues have complicated states’ ability to connect workforce data to K–12 and postsecondary data to understand career opportunities and outcomes. These issues include but are not limited to the following:  

  • Financial obstacles: Federal investments in data systems disproportionately benefit the K–12 sector. Dedicated investments in workforce data systems through Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI) grants, while beneficial, are very small relative to K–12 investments. 
  • Quality issues: Fragmentation across workforce data systems, differences in data collection and reporting standards across workforce programs, and antiquated data infrastructure make it difficult to rely on currently available data to serve evolving workforce needs. 
  • Data limitations: Workforce data is not collected with enough frequency or granularity to serve current needs.  
  • Data privacy and security concerns: Federal law and guidance have left an unclear picture of when it is safe, appropriate, and acceptable for state labor agencies to share workforce and labor data, particularly unemployment insurance (UI) wage data, with other state agencies. 
  • Human capacity limitations: State workforce agencies, like most state and local government agencies, need additional people trained in data analytics, data science, and IT to meet the growing demands for workforce data coming from policymakers and the public. 

Access to workforce data—connected to early education, K–12, and postsecondary data—can enable leaders to understand people’s pathways through education and the workforce and make decisions about where to allocate resources to better support these transitions. To make this a reality, leaders must invest in workforce data systems to overcome the current challenges. Targeted federal action, ongoing state commitments, and cross-agency collaboration at the federal and state levels can all make these improvements possible.