New State Projects Analyze Workforce Pipelines

By Christina Peña, June 04, 2015

Wyoming and Rhode Island recently released the results of research supported by U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI) grants. Although the grants were the first for both states, the projects are already showing how linking administrative data across education and wage records can inform workforce development.

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Research & Planning Division, in Phase I of its research project, aimed to show how the labor market, economy and life choices influence the paths of young adults in Wyoming. Researchers focused on cohorts of high school students to track their postsecondary education, workforce participation and earnings during secondary school and years after exit (the full report covered 2006-2013). They extracted data from Wyoming’s departments of Education, Transportation, Workforce Services, and the National Student Clearing House (NSC). The project also included administrative data from the Unemployment Insurance (UI) wage record systems of other states with which Wyoming has data sharing agreements. The state will eventually use its research to produce dashboards showing labor force outcomes. 

Several of the key findings confirm expectations about trends in Wyoming: 

  • For cohorts who remained in the state, they tended to change jobs less frequently and their earnings increased as they grew older;
  • More market instability appeared “to precede loss from employment,” but the authors recommend additional analysis to indicate whether such conditions are causing withdrawal from the labor market;
  • Cohorts who attended school while working tended to earn less than those who only worked;
  • Educational attainment may not be the most relevant factor influencing market outcomes (though the authors recommend that more variables be explored to fully understand this dynamic); and,
  • For high school students with disabilities, when compared to the overall student average, fewer had earnings in UI wage records, and they had a lower graduation rate.

Wyoming will continue this project, and plans to use additional data from the state’s Community College Commissions, the University of Wyoming, Workforce Investment Act trainees, Hathaway Scholarship awardees, and other programs.

Going forward, researchers want to focus on local economic development. They plan to examine more student  records linked to labor market outcomes to assess which groups of youth, further categorized by their level and type of postsecondary education (if any), are most likely to leave the state and under what economic conditions. They also suggest assessing additional data to discern particular patterns of service to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. The authors add that it will be necessary to have other states conduct analyses that draw on comparable administrative data, in order to have a high degree of confidence in understanding how certain conditions influence workforce outcomes.

Wyoming officials welcome feedback on their research methodology and conclusions.

Rhode Island turned its WDQI-funded research into a series of charts accompanied by easy-to-read summaries that tell “data stories” about its College to Career Landscape. Researchers aimed to answer the following question: “How do the fields of study of recent graduates relate to their place in the state's employment landscape?”

Researchers reviewed data on workers who recently graduated from the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and Community College of Rhode Island, and the relationship of their areas of study to the state’s current and future workforce demand. The analysis relied on data from the state’s Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, the Department of Labor and Training, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rhode Island’s research reveals a number of important trends and indicates several areas for possible program action. For example: 

  • Healthcare and social assistance employ a large segment of the state’s workers, have “decent average wages,” and are likely to make up the greatest number of new jobs, which could suggest the utility of increasing training and education in these fields.
  • Finding high-wage/high growth areas can reveal an economic gap where workforce capacity could be developed to bolster higher-wage industries in the state. The research found that projected growth and decent wages in industries such as manufacturing, professional, scientific, and technical services, are promising areas of focus for developing the “education-to-workforce pipeline.”

In future projects, Rhode Island researchers plan to incorporate more specific information on certificates, degrees, earnings, and occupations. To make the state more attractive to industries, they will further explore employer demand and the state’s “higher education pipeline” with the goal of generating more growth in higher-skilled, higher-wage jobs.

While Rhode Island and Wyoming have more research ahead, both projects are showing how analysis of administrative data can lead to a better understanding of how to align worker capabilities and education with workforce demand, and how to help certain groups and sectors improve their prospects within an environment of changing workforce supply and variable market conditions.