Texas has for years been a gold mine for policymakers and researchers looking to use data to better understand when and how education leads to career success. Now, the nation’s second-most populous state is focused on making its trove of data useful for everyday people.
It recently launched its own one-stop shop for career navigation, MyTexasFuture.org. The site allows users to explore potential occupations, college programs, and take a quiz about their career interests.
“We can curate this information to make it much easier for students, for families, for counselors and other educators to navigate,” says Harrison Keller, commissioner of higher education and CEO of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “I do think that this is the way of the future.”
The big idea: Many states are now investing in digital tools to help residents connect to jobs, demonstrate their skills, and join training programs. A few, like Alabama, are close to having fully-functioning learning and employment records. Experts say that the focus and funding is positive, but there is still room to grow.
In the career navigation space, students are typically expected to just Google around to help them determine both what they want to do and how to get there. But Texas, Keller says, has rich data that could be of service. Too often, career advising happens after a student is already enrolled in a program, foreclosing other options.
The details: Right now, the website has several tools for Texans exploring their future careers. They can take a quiz, which suggests career clusters and industries, search through in-demand jobs and filter by pay, and filter through different program options.
Keller says that the coordinating board aims to add more tools, like the ability to compare career paths down to the different courses that one would take in a degree or short-term program. He says they have had conversations with other state officials about licensing some of the work they are doing.
Texas overall has been interested in promoting “credentials of value”—those that give their graduates an earnings bump over someone with just a high school diploma. A new funding formula for the state’s community colleges will privilege the creation of those programs.
“More than 90% of the net new jobs that are being created require some kind of education and training beyond a high school diploma,” Keller says. “Texas is the first state to condition our goals for producing higher education credentials on the value of those credentials for individuals.”
Building out a system
In its most ideal, career navigation tools and programs should help recipients understand the skills they likely already have, the skills they still need, and how to get those skills, says Naomi Boyer, senior vice president of digital transformation at Education Design Lab. Ideally, workers should be able to have some way to also verify the skills they do have.
“You want to be able to find the pathways to the career you might want to have and navigate through to those opportunities whether that’s through more education and learning or whether that’s directly into the job talent marketplace,” Boyer says.
A step back: Texas’ site isn’t quite at that level yet. Getting there will depend on new tools and digital technology that have yet to reach users. But that’s the idea behind digital learning and employment records, or LERs. The goal is to use new technology to give students and workers a verified record of experience and skills. That makes it easier to forecast where they might go in the future.
“The idea behind it is simply, creating a much more streamlined and structured opportunity for people to connect with jobs that they are qualified for and for employers on the other side to be able to find candidates more effectively and efficiently,” says Haley Glover, director of UpSkill America at the Aspen Institute. “We have a technical infrastructure now that enables things that were formerly behind glass on a wall, like a diploma, or in a wallet on a piece of laminated paper, like a drivers license, to move into an environment where they are readily accessible by the individual who holds them.”
Dozens of states and public-private coalitions are investing in piloting LERs. The National Governors Association, for example, has worked with 12 states as part of its Skill-Driven State Community of Practice.
The effort has been largely bipartisan. But other challenges likely lie ahead—for example, marrying the use of different tools and breaking down silos within and between state governments, so that there aren’t 50 different systems that are unable to communicate.
“A lot of states are not an island unto themselves and there is a lot of bleed between states,” Boyer says. “There are some artificial barriers we may be making.”
How to reach people?
A question that states are dealing with now, that will continue to become even more important, is how to get workers and students to use the tools they are releasing.
“Some of the hardest folks to reach are Texans who are not affiliated with institutions,” says Keller. “This is an area where we’ve also asked for help from regional chambers of commerce and we will be looking for more partnerships with industry.”
For some tools to be successful, they will not only need to see uptake with learners and workers, but with employers as well.
“Employers are not necessarily saying they are interested in acquiring another proprietary platform to do their work, so we are seeing all states behind the idea that stuff has to work together,” Glover says.
Ultimately, like in many aspects of workforce development, collaboration may be key.
It “requires people on both sides of the equation,” Glover says.