Aligning workforce programs with employer needs in Mississippi

By Bryan Wilson, September 29, 2016

On September 23, Mississippi held its first state Data Summit entitled, “Advancing the Use of Data for a Bright Mississippi Future.” The Summit was attended by approximately 175 people, including top state elected officials, and was hosted by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.

The impetus for the Summit was the State Workforce and Education Alignment Project (SWEAP), a project of National Skills Coalition (NSC). With the support of JP Morgan Chase Foundation and USA Funds, SWEAP is directly assisting Mississippi and three other states (California, Ohio, and Rhode Island) in demonstrating how state policy makers can use cross-program data tools to better align workforce and education programs with employer skill needs and help individuals advance to higher levels of credentials and employment.

In Mississippi, SWEAP is working with the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center (NSPARC) at Mississippi State University in developing dashboards, pathway evaluators, and supply and demand reports. (See here for more information on SWEAP and the three types of data tools.) Building on the work already accomplished by NSPARC with the State Longitudinal Data System and its web portal, LifeTracks, the SWEAP data tools will provide policymakers with new insights on how workforce and education programs can advance credential attainment and meet employer skill needs. The pathway evaluators, for example, will answer questions about what combination of programs and services produce the best credential and employment outcomes for which groups of people.

SWEAP is not about producing data for data sake, but for the purpose of improving policies and programs. That is why the Data Summit was so exciting. The Lieutenant Governor was the keynote speaker. The Speaker of the House and Senate and House committee leaders also spoke. Each elected official displayed a personal knowledge of data systems for workforce and education, talked about how they use the data, and expressed their deep personal support for maintaining and building the data capacity of NSPARC and the state. The Governor, who could not personally attend, provided a videotaped introduction.

NSC State Policy Director, and SWEAP Director, Bryan Wilson was the featured speaker at the Summit reception. Bryan also moderated the panel of legislative committee leaders who discussed: “What Does the State Legislature Need from Data for Education Policy, Workforce Policy, and Performance-Based Budgeting?” Bryan also presented at a session providing a deep dive into the SWEAP data tools and the policies that states can develop based on information from the tools. While the SWEAP tools will not be fully completed until 2017, state leaders are already considering how they will be able to use the new information.

Given the success of the Data Summit, the Department of Employment Security and NSPARC hope to make it an annual event.