How effective are current labour market research methods in identifying skills gaps and shortages? And how good are the statistical models used to illustrate the shape and nature of employment profiles in the future?
Above are two key questions particularly in the current recession that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Providers of education and training are looking to improve their prediction and monitoring techniques. Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) is the foundation upon which much of their planning and subsequent provision is based. What programmes should be developed and offered in the future and how best can the supply and demand equation be balanced more effectively? LMI also has a significant influence on government policy and expenditure on critical areas of education and training.
The problem is that globalisation – including the free flow of labour inside an enlarged European Union – brings about massive transformations and unforeseen consequences. Here are just a few of the more obvious transformations in the global economy and labour force:
· Demographic asymmetry – an aging workforce and lower birth rates in many industrialised developed nations compared with the developing nations that have higher birth rates and proportionally younger workforce.
· Changing work profiles – multiple careers throughout people’s working lives coupled with different modes of working, e.g. part-time and home based.
· Increased world–wide mobility of the work force.
· Accelerating scientific and technological discovery and innovation.
· Resourcing–the impact of changing cycles of outsourcing, as companies pursue cheaper or more efficient labour markets.
· Changes in company structures – resulting from mergers and acquisitions and leading to more complex human resource legislation and regulation.
· Increasing influence of multinational corporations and enterprises.
Inevitably the global labour market is becoming ever more volatile as well. In such a complex environment, more effective statistical techniques and modelling methods are urgently required. New measurement instruments and data bases are needed, which can more effectively identify, match and articulate with the emergent global trading and economic landscape. More relevant information, focussed more sharply on cross-occupational sectors in order to illuminate and inform business and political policy making and this in turn informs educational and training providers.
Problems caused by the current state of market research include the following elements:
· Inadequate knowledge of what competences, skills and knowledge will be required in the future.
· Inability to monitor and identify the knowledge half-life of key disciplines, especially those where the pace of innovation is especially rapid e.g. ICT.
· A resultant mismatch between the products of education and training and the needs of the employers.
· A growing inability to achieve a balance in the supply and demand equation.
Some statisticians argue that current approaches to labour market data and the subsequent analysis represents a classic case of measurement without knowledge. Paolo Garonna, a former Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, observed: “measurement gaps and the lack of quality data are the main obstacles to shedding light on the crucial set of relationships between the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge and labour market performance.” It is an intriguing paradox that we have more data from a wider range of disparate and disconnected sources than ever before – but this does not necessarily provide more reliable, valid and meaningful information. More accurate and accessible statistics and information are necessary to provide useful labour market intelligence within the global context.
Recent surveys and reports highlighting current and future skills gaps and shortages in the country still seem to be using the more traditional statistical techniques. Bearing in mind the less than impressive results from work-force planning in the past e.g. numbers of teachers, doctors, plumbers etc, does this not suggest that – in the UK at least – we currently lack the tools to predict future labour market needs? And how will this affect the ability of our education and training system to rise to the challenges and match the needs of employers and produce a workforce that will compete more successfully in the global economy.
A final point and a wider set of questions
What does growth mean for a particular country? What is the relationship/balance between domestic needs and export/international trade? Is chasing growth one of the sources of our current worldwide woes? What implications do these and other questions have for LMI?
Maybe another article?