Gather, analyze and develop

A Shelton State Community College student learns new skills through the college's food and beverage course. (Photo: ACCS)

Since 2022, the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) has administered its Skills for Success program through which Alabama community colleges across the state train employees in new careers.

The training comprises self-paced online instruction followed by an in-person skills lab at one of 24 participating Alabama community colleges, where skills levels are assessed, with total training typically taking two to three weeks, says Julie Frizzell, executive director of the ACCS Innovation Center. The Skills for Success training program, which are administered by the center, includes vocations like commercial truck driving, hospitality, fiber optics, construction and many more.

Launched in January 2022, the program is offered at no cost to students with support from state funding. More than 5,000 students have enrolled in the program, Frizzell says.

This is the third and final story in a three-part series examining the use of labor market information (LMI) to promote community college agility.

She continues that LMI was important to the design of the program.

“When we’re asked to develop and really vet a new program, one thing that we do is utilize the labor market information to say, ‘Okay, what is the amount of jobs that are out there related to this training that we’re getting a request for?,’” Frizzell says. “Our goal is to develop programs that meet high-wage, high-demand employment criteria throughout our state so that our impact for those industries can be seen quickly and seen across the state, not just in one part of the state. And so we really use that information to examine, throughout the state, for what types of jobs do we have the largest demand based on the jobs currently out there and will be out there five years from now.”

The first two industries to help

Looking at that data, and with the large amount of training requests from their state associations, ACCS decided that the industries it should initially selected for the program were hospitality and transportation because of the potential to help those sectors and their workforces bounce back from Covid.

“Prioritizing the first two came after we pulled that data from Lightcast, which showed that food and beverage training and helping individuals obtain a commercial driver’s license, were at the top of the list,” Frizzell says. “Our top 10 jobs list included things like drivers and operators of school buses, heavy equipment, forklifts; facilities maintenance; electricians; and helpers for some construction trades who may not, for example, be a certified electrician.”

Related article: Tapping powerful labor market information for agility

LMI is used more broadly by ACCS and member community colleges.

“Our community colleges utilize labor market information to develop the worker training and rescaling programs for colleges in our for credit and non-credit programs,” says Barry May, ACCS’s executive director of workforce and economic development. “So we look at that labor market information regularly to make sure that our programs are aligned with business and industry’s needs.”

LMI informs about current and future demand for not only the specific occupations, but the specific skills within that occupation, May continues. And then, within the occupation, the skills can vary widely, depending on which region of the state that they’re in.

“And so an industrial maintenance program, for instance, in north Alabama may look completely different from an industrial maintenance program in south Alabama because the assessment shows that they service different industries, such as maritime and process control in south Alabama versus, in north Alabama, in the Huntsville area, we have a lot of automotive and aerospace,” May explains.

Drill down on data

It’s primarily Alabama community college program directors that are analyzing LMI data, May notes.

“So at each individual college, when a business person or someone from the community says, ‘We would or wouldn’t need this program,’ the dean or the program director of that division will use the data to see what is the labor market need is or isn’t within their service area or region,” says Chantae Calhoun, director of academic affairs at ACCS. “And to go a step farther, if it is a need, we have to look at the outlook of employment to see whether, if we actually develop this program and get it approved, our students will be able to get jobs in the state, because we want to retain them within the state of Alabama.”

Lightcast also prepares reports for ACCS and individual Alabama community colleges that allow users to rapidly drill down into various levels of data.

Related article: Using LMI to help disadvantaged students

“So if you’re looking at occupational demand for a particular region, you can start with looking at the highest occupational demand in the region,” May notes. “And then you can narrow it down by looking at the job posting analytics. Once you have assessed the job posting analytics, then you can look at a specific occupation to analyze the skills, the demand, and the companies that are hiring.”

If you want to dig further into the businesses that are hiring, there have reports specifically on those businesses, he adds.

“You can even narrow down where they’re located, what they produce, how many employees that they have at their company. It answers a lot of questions and helps you really identify who you need to reach out to, to have those conversations,” May says.

Unexpected findings

LMI can sometimes yield surprises, Frizzell says.

“When we started pulling that information for Skills for Success, meat cutter processing jobs, both at plants and in grocery stores, ranked in the top 10 of those appropriate for this program,” he says. “That was one that really surprised us, but it turns out that meat-cutting is an intergenerational skill that has been passed down from parent to child that is not being passed down that much anymore.”

Instructor Carey Otwell trains Snead State Community College student Billy Irvin in meat-cutting techniques through the Skills for Success program. (Photo: ACCS)

ACCS offers access to Lightcast data services throughout the state by providing up to seven licenses for each of its community colleges to allow their staff to use Lightcast reports so they can understand what jobs, skills and education are in demand in their regions, May says.

Training employees on using such data is important to increase use, May says. LMI trainings by ACCS have included how to use LMI to maximize employer data and job postings to forge effective college-employer connections, how to use Lightcast Analyst reports in effective program development, and how to use labor data to provide effective career advisement to students.

May adds it is important that community colleges develop adequate LMI analysis processing capabilities.

“I think LMI is vitally important; I would go so far as to say it is imperative that community colleges budget for and have a data solution in place because they will receive a large return on their investment,” May says. “Without that data, they may end up with programs that are not aligned with what business needs and that are not viable. Students aren’t going to enroll in a program that they can’t go out and immediately get a job from, so a poorly aligned program will die.”

By having programs aligned with the business and industries’ needs, there’s assurance that students will leave a program and get a good job, he continues.

May adds: “And ultimately, that’s going to drive our enrollment.”

On the right track

Some feedback on the Skills for Success program suggests LMI has helped ensure that the mark will be met for the program, May says.

“At a recent graduation ceremony where the individuals are getting their certificates, an employer said, ‘We will pay you 15% more than our starting base pay because you went through the Skills for Success Program.’ So that to us is success, because not only are we able to get a student trained, we’re able to connect them with an employer, and we were able to get them starting at higher wages than even the average person coming in off the street who does not go through these training programs. So that’s a win-win for everybody.”

About the Author

David Tobenkin
David Tobenkin is a freelance journalist in the greater Washington, D.C. area.
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