I’ve been asked to facilitate a discussion today on the subject of labour market information (LMI). So I thought that I might use this post to set down a few thoughts on the subject.
At The Careers & Enterprise Company we’ve also been thinking about LMI from the perspective of schools over the last few weeks while we’ve been analysing data about schools’ ability to meet the Gatsby Benchmarks. What we’ve found is that only about a third of schools are providing LMI to young people and their parents in a timely and consistent way. So there is clearly some room for improvement on this.
I’ve written quite a bit about LMI on this site before so you may be interested to have a look through my back catalogue of thoughts about LMI. My colleague Jon Boys has also produced a really useful post on the variety of sources of LMI that are available. One of the things that Jon’s post demonstrates is that in England there is a huge amount of information available and lots of ways in which it is possible to access this information. So I don’t think that it is possible to argue that ‘we don’t know what is going on in the labour market’. Of course we could know more, but I think that the question is much more one about how we use information rather than about how we collect more information.
Definitions: As ever I suppose that it is useful to start with definitions. By ‘labour market information’ I mean all sorts of information that can help people to understand the labour market. When people normally talk about LMI they are usually talking about government produced quantitative information – which as I’ll go on to argue, is a bit too limited a definition for me. So one of the things that I’m keen to do is to broaden the way that people think about LMI. The other thing that I think we should do is to include information about learning opportunities within our definition of labour market information. This recognises that for example we might need information about what qualifications people usually need for jobs, but also information on what colleges or universities provide these qualifications and what their entry requirements are and how their processes of application work.
What do you want LMI for? One of the key challenges is to think about what want LMI for. I think that there are two major uses (1) for strategic economic planning – so that we can understand what is happening in the labour market and seek to address shortfalls or stimulate supply or demand. (2) for individual career planning – so that we can work out what qualifications to study, what jobs are available and what we might want to do next or in the future. We can use the same information for both, but the same information is not equally useful for both and it also doesn’t always get used in the same way. So for example we may have information about long term employment patterns which is very useful for economic planning, but far less useful for a job seeker who wants to know what jobs are available today?
How is the LMI produced? Again I think that there are two main answers to this question. (1) Government or research data which seeks to gain an overview of what is happening in the labour market e.g. the labour force survey. On the plus side this kind of information is consistent, often collected regularly and carefully managed to ensure its robustness and validity. On the negative side there is often a time lag between the period it describes and when it is analysed and available. (2) Naturally occurring LMI. This describes information that is made available for some other purpose. e.g. online job adverts that can give job seekers a really good idea about labour market demand. Increasingly there are tools (like recruitment sites, but also like Burning Glass) that allow us to aggregate naturally occurring LMI and draw broader conclusions from it.
What do you want information about? Labour market information includes a vast array of different things – for example we could include salary information, information about vacancy numbers, training and progression data and also things like travel to work distances and times (which means that things like bus timetables and traffic bulletins effectively become LMI). It is probably more helpful to think about specific questions rather than just to find sources of LMI.
What kind of information do you want? Are you looking for detailed statistical information or for more qualitative information. Stats are good for summarising data, but qualitative data (like icould) can provide more insights about how individuals navigate their way through the labour market. It is important to remember that all data (both statistics and narrative) are simplifications of reality and so it can be really useful to try and triangulate what LMI is telling you with other information.
How local do you want to go? Labour markets are both highly local and entirely global. When we are looking at data it is important to think about what geography you are actually interested in looking at. For many people moving house or travelling over an hour to work will be a major decision. Of course it is valuable to think about what career possibilities might exist over the hill, but it is also critical to help people to think about what exists ’round here’.
Who is going to use the LMI? One of the challenges with LMI is that it is often presented with a ‘facts are facts’ shrug. But what LMI is useful is likely to be bound up with who is using it and for what. So is this a resource for teachers to incorporate in lessons, for parents to use or for young people to browse themselves. All of these possibilities raise different issues and suggest different kinds of LMI and presentation. This takes us onto our next question.
Will anyone actually use LMI? I think that in many ways the key question is how do you get anyone ever to actually use LMI. I think that we need to give this question much more thought. LMI does not offer simple answers to career questions. It is more of an ongoing process of understanding the world around you. How we develop LMI sensitive individuals is the critical question that we should be asking.
Hopefully these questions will help to shape our discussion later on. But I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on what the key issues with LMI are.