Montana sets example for other states by using data to drive policy

By Jenna Leventoff, July 17, 2018

A new case study, How Montana is using data to drive policy change, written in collaboration between the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and the Workforce Data Quality Campaign shows how data-driven decision making can help states create education and workforce policies that can help them compete in a 21st century economy. The paper outlines how Montana educational institutions, employers, and policymakers have used data to not just understand the effectiveness of their state’s education and workforce policies, but to make decisions that will help the state meet labor market demand.

Although middle-skill jobs account for 52 percent of the Montana’s labor market, only 47 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level. In order to better understand that skills gap, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and the Office of the Commissioner on Higher Education published a report that seeks to determine if Montana has enough students graduating in the right fields to meet the state’s current and future workforce needs.

“Too many decisions regarding the relationship between workforce needs and higher education are made based on biases and assumptions that are not supported by or tied to any solid research or analysis. The statewide college report provides us with sorely needed information to help us make data driven decisions,” said Bill Johnstone, a Regent on the Montana Board of Regents.

Since the release of the statewide college report, numerous stakeholders, such as educational institutions, employers, career counselors, and policymakers have utilized the information in it to make policy changes aimed at ensuring there are enough students graduating in the right fields to meet Montana’s current and future workforce needs. For example:

  • Missoula College is considering developing new programs to train EMTs, paramedics, dental assistants, and preschool teachers because the report suggests these programs are undersupplied in the region.
  • Career counselors have changed their career guidance strategy. Instead of funneling students towards general studies, which had below average workforce outcomes, counselors are now helping students to identify careers with better employment outcomes.
  • Great Falls College has engaged in discussions with one of the state’s largest construction firms to create customized trainings in occupations that the report suggested for expansion.
  • The Governor is using the report to support his focus on expanding work-based learning to improve student outcomes and help address the state’s worker shortage.

According to WDQC’s 2016 Mastering the Blueprint survey, most other states have the capacity to conduct supply and demand analysis or to know if graduates get jobs, thus enabling them to make data-driven decisions about their education and workforce programs. WDQC hopes that other states will be inspired by Montana to leverage the data linkage they are already conducting to help stakeholders make well informed decisions. These decisions will ultimately help ensure that the state can narrow its skills gap and ensure that all workers can find good jobs.