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How Understanding Workforce Trends Can Transform Educational Practices and Redefine Student Success

In developing educational practices and strategies, there is a strong need to ensure the destination is clearly defined. The destination can serve as a unifying direction for the educational journey, regardless of the path taken.

While there is considerable variability in defining the ultimate purpose of education, a common theme that tends to emerge is the need to prepare individuals to become independent, contributing members of their communities. At the very heart of this idea is how individuals make a living. An individual who is successfully employed has the ability to support personal ambitions, as well as contribute valuable goods and services to a community. Employment success, then, is a critical first step in supporting individual needs and building stronger communities.

When successful employment is a central component of the destination for learning, students and educators experience purpose and direction in their educational practices. Learning becomes centered around preparing individuals for careers, as opposed to disseminating abstract concepts in the hopes that students find meaning.

Educational institutions will need to evolve to help students meet the demands of the changing economy and careers. While several attempts have been made to start this transition, what is often missing from these strategies is a fundamental awareness of actual market needs. In other words, the direction for educational practices needs to be examined and clearly established. Knowledge of labor market information is essential in accomplishing this goal.

What is Labor Market Information?

Labor market information (LMI) is a collection of data compiled primarily by government agencies for the purpose of analyzing job trends, wages, employment status, and economic changes related to workforce development. This rich data source contains statistics on hundreds of occupations, including annual job openings, median wages, growth rates, level of education, and more. LMI is particularly useful in identifying careers that are projected to be in-demand within various occupational areas and geographic locations. For educational institutions, the ability to identify high-value jobs is essential in ensuring educational goals and strategies are aligned with current labor market needs.

LMI is typically organized around specific occupational areas or industries. The system most commonly recognized by the US Department of Education is the National Career Clusters Framework. Using this framework, occupations are grouped into sixteen career clusters. Each cluster is defined by a set of industry-validated knowledge and skills that identify what students should obtain to achieve success in a chosen field. Within each of the sixteen clusters, several career pathways (i.e., programs of study) have been developed, which outline sequences of academic, career, and technical courses and training for certain industries or occupations.

The benefit of using the Career Clusters Framework is that occupations are grouped on the basis of shared educational and training requirements. This allows for a more direct link to be established between educational practices and careers. Curriculum and programs of study can be developed that incorporate foundational skills that are essential to success in specific fields. Furthermore, clear pathways can be established that can guide students in selecting programs of study that will support their employment goals.

LMI exploration systems are now being designed for explicit use by educators. These systems have the potential to mitigate many of the challenges educators face in accessing LMI. They can provide a single resource for retrieving information about career clusters, pathways, educational requirements, median wages, annual openings, growth rates, and other statistics relevant to identifying high-value career destinations for students. They can also reduce the knowledge barrier to LMI by offering intuitive, easy-to-use tools for exploring LMI, as well as tutorials and guides. For the purpose of policy and practice, systems that can quickly and easily generate LMI reports have the potential to enhance the communication of key LMI findings with others. When these primary challenges to accessing LMI are addressed, there is unlimited potential for LMI to transform the landscape of educational practices today and well into the future.

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