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Open Data Can Transform Job Training and Career Decision-Making Too

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 3/03/2016 DJ Patil

One of the biggest decisions we make is choosing a career. It's a process that isn't always transparent. But data helps with these choices. By unleashing data that has traditionally been locked up, we can provide an incredible opportunity to better inform our career choices.
Combined with our fast-paced, rapidly-evolving economy, it is becoming increasingly rare for an individual to work in one industry for an entire career. That means, as the President said in his State of the Union Address, gaining new skills and rapidly retooling is even more important in today's job market. Job training programs need to keep up with the pace and access to better data can help them do that. However, our education and training programs take too long to adapt. It can take several years to know that a new job has emerged or if the skill requirements for an existing job have dramatically changed. It can take two or three years to get a training program set up and then two to four years to get a person through that program.
To aggressively get ahead of this challenge, President Obama included in his 2017 Fiscal Year budget several proposals that apply the benefits of open data to support the labor market. These proposals will give job seekers better tools to find good jobs and job training providers better information to remain nimble in today's rapid labor market.
The Workforce Data Science and Innovation Fund is a $500 million proposal to deploy a best in class team of innovators at the Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Commerce (DOC) to work collaboratively to:

  1. publish new data on jobs, skills and training for public access while protecting privacy and confidentiality;
  2. make the existing data easily accessible and machine-readable; and
  3. publicize the data and its availability to innovators who can use it as the raw material to improve labor market outcomes with new products and services designed to help job seekers, training providers, and policymakers.

This Fund will generate tools that will give workers more personalized, adaptable, and rapidly evolving feedback about what jobs are available, the skills they need in order to get them, and the training and education that will lead to the outcome they want.
For example, imagine a new web application that would allow users to enter their current job, location, and a wage they'd like to be making. The app could then return results for related careers that make the desired salary; what skills this new career would require have; what training is available nearby to attain those skills; and which of those trainers have provided the best results for their participants. This is just a single example of the countless applications that developers could build with robust, interoperable workforce data.
The projects described above will build on and accelerate some recently emerging trends, such as:
  • Workers may get into jobs based on what they can do and not just based on their resume;
  • Job seekers may seek targeted training programs to help them gain a specific skill in weeks or months instead of years;
  • More training and education programs may better align to the skills employers are hiring for right now; and
  • Training programs may be more nimble - adapting their programs quickly based on feedback from employers about what's working and what's not.

The President is also proposing a $2.5 million investment to facilitate the development and adoption of a more common language around skills building on the Occupational Information Network (also called "O*Net"), which is sponsored by the DOL and DOC. Adopting a common language for skills in job descriptions is the foundation that allows data to be collected, opened, and shared to assess and provide tailored training programs.
Finally, the President is proposing a $40 million investment in Federal Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grants to build State and local capacity to track the employment and educational outcomes of participants of programs funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. This will give those seeking training meaningful information -- including past participants' success in finding jobs -- so they can make better choices about which programs will best prepare them for the labor market and reduce unnecessary training. The Department of Commerce and Department of Labor have successful histories of empowering people with this kind of information and this additional investment would improve the lives of workforce decision-makers.
With the 2017 budget, we are putting a stronger spotlight on the need to invest more and invest smarter in our workforce data. Much like the impact of opening up GPS and weather data in the 1980s and 1990s, and still today, opening data will enable new industries and innovations that ultimately create more jobs and boost our nation's economy.

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