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Skills Gaps Should Be Understood as Hyperlocal ‘Skills Shapes’: Strada/Emsi Report

By Henry Kronk
December 15, 2019

Industry leaders have for years urged the public to collectively get behind addressing skills gaps witnessed across industries. But while our understanding of the term ‘skills gaps’ remains general and broad, efforts to address the phenomenon will remain ineffective. A new joint report from the Strada Institute for the Future of Work and Emsi, a labor market analytics firm, encourages a different means of understanding skills gaps. Instead of discussing broad national trends, the authors argue, skills gaps should be better understood as locally contingent ‘skill shapes.’

The report—“The New Geography of Skills”—was created using Emsi’s massive database that tracks job postings and professional profiles across numerous platforms. In all, it compiles hundreds of millions of data points. 

Skills Gaps Need to Be Understood as More Detailed ‘Skills Shapes’

The authors define skill shape as a labor profile that “goes a step beyond traditional labor market data from government surveys to understand regional workforce needs. With taxonomies of industries and occupations updated only once or twice per decade, skills gaps have often been identified at a broad occupation or industry level, such as a nursing shortage. Today, however, sources of “big,” unstructured data— such as job postings and online professional profiles—can be updated as frequently as every few weeks to isolate actionable, real-time data.”

One of the most powerful findings of the report is that in-demand skills for the same or similar jobs differ drastically by region, and even within industry verticals.

The report provides an analysis of digital marketing jobs in Atlanta, Denver, and Boise. In Atlanta, the most in-demand skills all fall under the category of ‘business skills.’ The use of social media is the most highly demanded, followed by search engine optimization, then ‘digital marketing, then market automation. 

Digital marketers in Denver, however, prioritize the business skill of wielding Google Analytics above anything else. SEO is also valued. But it’s roughly equal with the ‘IT/math’ skills of using Apache Spark, followed by Apache Hive. 

Boise is different still. Businesses there are mostly searching for UX and graphic design specialists. They’re also interested in SEO—but consider it an IT skill. 

Variation by Region and Even Within Industries

This picture gets even more complicated when analyzing industry verticals. The report offers a case study of American manufacturing. While many have grown worried about future waves of automation, the manufacturing sector has already largely undergone this process with the use of computer-aided technologies (CAT). But at the same time, many aspects and jobs of traditional manufacturing remain. In manufacturing, the automotive sector also presents a unique subset, as does the field of ‘lean manufacturing,’ according to the authors. 

Each of these industries prioritizes different skills. In traditional, the most in demand was welding. Automotive manufacturing had the greatest need for skills with pumps; in CAT it was knowledge of SolidWorks; in Lean, it was the knowledge itself of lean manufacturing. 

Knowledge and use of skills shapes stands to have the greatest impact on individual workers and the education they pursue. 

As the authors write, “One-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter programs designed for 18- to 24-year-old students cannot and will not suffice for lifelong learners and earners looking to reskill and upskill throughout their working lives. Prospective job seekers come into their job search with different talents and specific upskilling needs. They may not always need every element of a bundled, comprehensive program. It is crucial, therefore, that programs are modular in nature with just-in-time training that allows workers to update and upgrade their skills without duplicating the skills they have already mastered.”

Featured Image: lerbank, iStock.

One Comment

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