Sites such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and Monster can help you find a job. But what if you’re trying to chart a new career path? Or just figure out what fields are growing near you? Those questions are harder to answer, says Dr. Erica Groshen, who served as commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from 2013-17 and is now a senior economics adviser at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
She says entering the job market today is much more of a guessing game than it should be, due to a lack of local repositories for job-related data. There’s no easy way to say: I could pursue this or that line of work, and in five years I could be making this amount of money with that title. So how do you cobble together your own dashboard? There’s no easy solution, but here are edited excerpts from a conversation with Groshen about how to get started:
If I’m considering a new line of work, what do I need to think about?
You want to know where the jobs are, geographically and by industry, and what occupations organizations are looking for. That will guide your training decisions.
What happens when people don’t have that information?
They make what are technically known as lousy decisions.
If I want to plan a career, where should I look?
- The Occupational Outlook Handbook has a list of over 800 occupations with the wages that those jobs earn, descriptions of the work, and what kinds of training people need. It’s tapped by all sorts of job counselors.
- State labor market information offices work hard to provide as much information as possible [about job listings], but their focus is on people with lower levels of education.
- State workforce agencies help employers and employees find each other. They usually have job search resources and programs to help.
Does anyone make good use of government data on this topic?
The Scandinavian countries. We have bare-bones information available, and a lot of it is collected by the unemployment insurance system.
BLS doesn’t necessarily have access to that information, and the agency doesn’t control the surveying. But if you did, what would you want to know?
Job titles, hours, locations—and demographics, so that you can track where certain groups might need particular attention. That would inform job seekers, educational institutions, companies, and policymakers. We could do so much more.
Why does the BLS not collect more data?
Its statistical system has been poorly funded. [A BLS spokesperson says, “We continually look for ways to expand and improve the data we provide to support decision-making by the American people.”]
Why is it important for Congress to fund this?
This is infrastructure that’s as important as any kind of road, bridge, or hospital. And it’s a lot cheaper.