Moving Forward With Community Recovery

September 15, 2020 by Drew Repp

Moving Forward With Community Recovery

Initial jobless claims have been trending down since April and job postings recently rose 18% above their pre-COVID average. While these are encouraging signs, it’s likely that your community doesn’t feel much of an economic recovery occurring. 

Whether through an economic impact analysis or monitoring a recovery dashboard, communities are acutely aware that any economic recovery that has begun is slow, and will continue to be so. However, as we work with communities, supporting them with data and analysis to develop recovery strategies, a few approaches have emerged as ways to encourage more rapid recovery:

1. Start with data-informed decisions
2. Align training and education
3. Develop better ways to connect talent and employers

We’ll take a brief look at each one of these steps. If you’d like a more in-depth read on how communities can use these steps to spur economic recovery, rapidly reemploy displaced workers, and create a skills-based ecosystem for the future of work, download our paper Working Together to Reinvent Workforce Development.

1. Start with data-informed decisions

We all know that strategies should be driven by data, but to do that we need to first make sense of the data. Amidst the pandemic and economic recovery, this means getting a clear understanding of what COVID cases look like in your community and the corresponding impact on the labor market.

If possible, it’s best to have all this information in one place. Dashboards are a great way to do this and they provide a way for all the stakeholders in your community to get on the same page. In the wake of COVID, Emsi assembled dashboards to assess the economic and public health ramifications of the pandemic. Information presented in this way allows stakeholders to remain in the know, keep a pulse on the regional landscape, and consequently lead through better decision making.

With data-driven strategies, it’s possible to not only find ways for rapid reemployment, but also to prepare a workforce for an economy that moving forward is sure to be far different than it was six months ago. The pandemic has presented communities with an opportunity to pivot towards what they always wanted to do, or forced them to do what they’ve always known they needed to. 

With the federal government (the nation’s largest employer) recently placing an emphasis on skills-based hiring, skills have been cemented as the language used in the labor market to evaluate talent. By assessing a region’s labor market based on the supply, demand, and gaps of skills, communities are able to make decisions based on what employers are actually seeking.

This was the idea behind Emsi’s creation of SkillScape, an interactive tool which allows communities to assess their labor market based on skills. The end result is identification of skill gaps which unearths the most pertinent upskilling, reskilling, and career pathways for a region’s workforce. Based on those gaps, communities can also unearth the best business and talent attraction opportunities.

To plant their foot and make the pivot the pandemic demands, decision makers need to be on firm footing with their data. Skills data allows economic and workforce development leaders to confidently make much needed strategic adjustments—not only identify talent needs right now, but also the opportunities that the crisis has created.

2. Align training and education

In addition to the skills that employers need, communities need to also look at the skills being taught. Any workforce development program will have a focus on the education system and the talent it is producing. Looking at that system through the lens of skills will propel a community into recovery and beyond. Identifying the skills which are produced from various programs, whether microcredentials, short-term certificates, traditional higher-ed degrees, or any other training, allows for the education system to identify the best path for learners. 

With those skills identified in curriculum, they can be mapped to the skill demands being sought by employers. The end result is the education system being more responsive to the market. Using a tool such as Skillabi, communities can take large amounts of data from syllabi and see how a program matches—or doesn’t— with the skills being sought in job postings. Such an approach unearths gaps in the talent development system or areas in need of increased capacity.

Economic and workforce development professionals play a vital role in ground truthing this data with employers and educators. By convening these groups and facilitating conversation, they can not only confirm the data, but also incorporate input which results in more nuanced strategies for community recovery. Economic development leaders may also need to advocate for an innovative, skill-based approach amongst local education leaders. But with the right data, and training providers willing to take an innovative approach, a training system aligned in this way is better adapted to prepare learners for the skills-based marketplace and more effectively match jobseekers to personalized training programs.

3. Develop better ways to connect talent and employers

Both now and in the future, people need to understand what abilities they bring to the market. Similarly, employers sometimes struggle to determine and communicate the skills they actually need or should be hiring for. While helping both articulate their skill needs is a challenge, it is a great opportunity for economic and workforce development groups to serve a much needed role in their community.    

Right now there is an immediate need for jobseekers to determine their next step. Ideally, this would mean matching their skills to an existing opportunity. But it is likely that some amount of reskilling or upskilling is needed. And while reentering the workforce quickly is important, the goal with this training shouldn’t be to merely plug them in to any job, but to set people on the right path for their career and where the market is going.  

SkillsMatch was developed to help people find that right path. The tool allows users to first catalog their existing experience and education, and the resulting skills, and then determine the skills they want. From there they can discover open online courses to develop their skills as well as job postings that match their experience and education pursuits. In short, it gives people a more efficient way to explore relevant learning and work opportunities, based on their skills.

This is one way to create better connections between talent and employers for community recovery and beyond. There are others, such as using a skills API to power a local job board and connect employers with resumes. Whatever tool or approach is used, the key is using skills as the common language. For too long people, education, and employers have been disconnected, speaking about what they have to offer or need in different ways. Using skills as common language connects them all, getting people into either the training or job they need.

Recovery success

Successful economic recovery from the pandemic will look different for each community. But common amongst all communities and regions is the need to take steps which adapt to a labor market that has been forever changed. Many of the disruptions caused by COVID were trends that were already in the making, but have now been accelerated. Addressing these disruptions requires the use of data-informed decisions, training and education aligned using skills, and connecting people and employers via the common language of skills.

For more than 20 years Emsi has focused on using data to inform and support people, education, and employers. As you help your community recover from the devastation of COVID-19, a skills-based approach to rapid reemployment has never been more relevant—or more urgently needed.