The Job: Data for the People

Texas puts a trove of education and workforce data to work for its residents.

Texas puts a trove of data to work for residents with a new one-stop shop for career navigation, while a handful of states are using a tool from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta that maps out career arcs and benefits cliffs for low-income workers. Also, the latest on AI in education and work.

‘The Way of the Future’

States have been investing in longitudinal data systems for almost 20 years—with a lift from a national campaign and a big assist from the federal government. The idea was to bring together data from K-12, higher education, and the workforce to better understand how people move through education and into work—or how they get off track.

That task fell to states because of the absence of a federal student unit record system.

Texas was an early leader and still has one of the most robust state longitudinal data systems, or SLDS. The data has been a gold mine for policymakers and researchers, in part because so many of the state’s students stay in Texas as adults. If people don’t cross state lines, they can be followed for a much longer time.

Now, the nation’s second-most-populous state is focused on making its trove of information useful for lots of Texans, as Lilah Burke reports this week for Work Shift.

The state recently launched its own one-stop shop for career navigation, MyTexasFuture.org. The site allows users to explore potential occupations and college programs and to take a quiz about their career interests. It seeks to curate the information in ways that help students, families, and counselors make real decisions.

“This is the way of the future,” Harrison Keller, commissioner of higher education and CEO of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, told Burke.

The Big Idea: Texas isn’t the only state where these data systems are starting to bear fruit for students and workers. Many states are now investing in digital tools to help residents connect to jobs, demonstrate their skills, and participate in training programs. A few, particularly Alabama, are close to offering fully functioning learning and employment records, or LERs, to millions of residents.

Experts say that the focus and funding is positive, but whether or not this work leads to real change remains an open question. We’ve been reporting on thecurrent state of play in recent newsletters and a series of articles for theNational Governors Association, with a focus on LERs. Burke’s article highlights many of the key challenges we’ve been hearing: how to define and verify people’s skills, break down operational silos, and get data systems to work together.

Chief among the concerns, she writes, is whether students, workers, and employers will actually use the tools states create.

“Some of the hardest folks to reach are Texans who are not affiliated with institutions,” Keller says. “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.”

At the end of the day, a tool is only helpful if it gets used. Read Burke’s article on Texas’s work here at Work Shift. By Elyse Ashburn

A Personalized Approach

The hope with connecting career navigation tools to LERs is that they’ll be attractive to people because they provide a personalized view of the paths they might take. A recently created tool named CLIFF from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta shows what that might look like.

CLIFF maps out benefits cliffs and is designed to help case managers, low-income working adults, and employers better understand how government benefits—and ultimately people’s well-being—are impacted as they earn more and advance in their careers. It draws on a complex array of data on job growth, income projections, state policies, and federal benefits formulas.

The data tool also can take in specific information about an individual’s education history, work experience, family composition, and budget to create customized results.

“We want tools that can help workers plan and meet their financial goals,” says Alexander Ruder, director and principal adviser on the Atlanta Fed’s Community and Economic Development team.

Most states that are piloting CLIFF are using it as a stand-alone tool, and individual-level information has to be added manually. But in Alabama it’s being built into the state’s developing LER system and talent marketplace. And CLIFF is primed for that sort of ambitious use beyond the Yellowhammer State.

The personalized—and visual—scenarios that CLIFF produces are powerful, says Serena Powell, executive director of Fedcap Maine, which provides case management and career support for Mainers on public assistance.

She tells the story of a case manager who for years had been working with a woman who was focused on trying to qualify for longer-term disability benefitsthrough the Social Security system—a lengthy and long-shot process.

Then the caseworker and client sat down with the CLIFF tool and looked at projections that were specific to her situation. It was like a light bulb went off, says Powell. The client could see that even if she was able to stay on federal benefits, she’d never be more than scraping by.

In the span of the session, her goal shifted to finding an employer who would provide accommodations that enabled her to work full-time as a certified nursing assistant and quickly train to advance.

“It’s just such a mind shift,” Powell says. “She could see it in a new way.”

Click over to our article series for the NGA to read more about the CLIFF tool and its early impact. —By Elyse Ashburn and Paul Fain

Latest on AI and Education+Work

LinkedIn this week rolled out two new AI-powered tools: a chatbot coach on its learning platform and a new recruiting system for hiring managers. The chatbot initially will be available in the skill areas of leadership and management, which the company says are among its most in-demand on LinkedIn Learning.

The bot is designed to go beyond one-size-fits-all answers, asking clarifying questions and then offering specific advice, examples, and feedback based on hundreds of hours of content from the learning platform’s instructors. The recruiting tool, on the other hand, aims to make recruitment more efficient and to help companies widen their candidate pool. It can operate as a stand-alone or be integrated with corporate customer relationship management systems. The first partnerships are with Avature, Beamery, Clinch, Jobvite, and Radancy.

LinkedIn also reports that its top 100 AI courses have seen a 65% uptickin learning hours this year.

Also this week, Morgan Stanley is out with a forecast that AI will affect about 44% of labor in the next three years, which CNBC reports amounts to a $4T economic effect.

Work Shift highlights that forecast in an updated version of its AI research round-up, along with a white paper on AI released by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The white paper explores congressional oversight and the legislative role relative to AI. It highlights the emerging technology’s potential and pitfalls for education and work.

On education, Cassidy’s paper highlights AI’s ability to provide more personalized learning for students while reducing the workload for teachers and faculty members.

It calls out Khan Academy’s AI guide, Khanmigo, and Georgia State University’s work with AI-powered predictive analytics and chatbots as examples of tools that are already seeing results.

Check out that and other AI reports over at Work Shift. —By Elyse Ashburn

Open Tabs

Death and Degrees
The life expectancy of 25-year-old Americans without four-year degrees lags their degree-holding peers by more than eight years, two economists from Princeton University write in The New York Times. A “sharp binary distinction” on degrees has a corrosive effect in the labor market, they say, praising moves by states and companies to drop degree requirements in hiring. “A college degree works through often arbitrary assignation of status, so that jobs are handed out not on the basis of necessary or useful skills but by the use of the degree as a hiring screen.”

Workforce Playbook
The White House has released a state and local guide to workforce development strategies that tap federal American Rescue Plan funds. Theplaybook seeks to spur the replication of high-quality investments to expand registered apprenticeships, community college programs, and supportive services. For example, it cites a nursing education pathway in Oklahoma and a new manufacturing lab from Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College.

Apprenticeships and Mobility
More than 36M Americans are stuck in low-paying, high-churn jobs, thevast majority of which are at high risk of automation, according to an analysis by Multiverse and Burning Glass Institute. Multiverse, an apprenticeship intermediary, is interested in how many of those workers might be moved into higher-paying roles if the country thought differently about which jobs are “apprenticeable” at a broad scale. The analysis identified roles like software developer, financial analyst, and licensed practical nurse as prime targets.

Employer Partnerships
Inadequate collaboration between employers and community colleges is a major driver of the employability struggles of middle-skill workers—those with an education beyond high school but no four-year degree—write Joseph Fullerand Manjari Raman inHarvard Business Review. Neither educators nor employers are investing the time and effort necessary to make these partnerships work and improve continuously.

Short-Term Pell
Opening federal Pell Grants to unproven short-term job-training programs “risks ballooning Pell take-up and diluting the surplus needed to help correct for year-over-year funding discrepancies,” write Ben Cecil at Third Way and Michele Shepard at the Institute for College Access and Success. They cite the Great Recession, when more students became Pell eligible and enrolled in college programs, resulting in a $20B shortfall.

Rework America
The Markle Foundation plans to transfer the Rework America Alliance to Jobs for the Future. The 40-member alliance includes education providers, civil rights groups, employers, unions, and state governments. It offers career coaching and seeks to help skilled workers without bachelor’s degrees move into quality jobs. JFF aims to increase the alliance’s visibility with federal and state policymakers, community colleges, employers, and others.

Thanks to Lilah Burke and Elyse Ashburn for keeping the newsletter rolling while I was on the road. Catch you next week. —PF

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