The ‘hidden data’ that could boost the UK’s productivity and job market

In the Skills for Jobs white paper that has become a strategic centrepiece for UK government, the Department for Education sets out a plan to align the supply and demand for skills in the job market through a mix of measures that includes employer-led Local Skills Improvement Plans, new financial entitlements for training and ‘great careers support’.

If these approaches work, they could help bring the UK’s high level of ‘skills mismatch’ to best practice levels, resulting in a boost to productivity of up to 5 per cent (OECD). They could also accelerate recovery from COVID-19 by giving workers the support they need to find new roles that realise their potential, make use of their skills and offer them a more secure future in a labour market that is being disrupted by new technology.

But how can ‘great careers support’ be delivered at a scale that has a real impact on the labour market? This was a central question that drove the CareerTech Challenge, a partnership between Nesta, Nesta Challenges and the Department for Education which sought to stimulate the development of new tools for career navigation, and uncover ‘what works’ to help adults develop new skills and find good work.

What did and could help innovators deliver tailored and responsive career support?

Of the 31 innovators supported by the CareerTech Challenge, 20 worked on building and testing new tools to make careers information, advice and guidance more accessible and tailored to the supply and demand for skills in local job markets. Their progress was documented and analysed through interviews by our evaluation partners, Learning and Work Institute. This provided Nesta with a unique opportunity to understand the enablers and barriers for the development of ‘great careers support’. The research revealed an abundance of creativity among the innovators, and demonstrated the value of user testing, co-creation and partnerships with local stakeholders, such as FE colleges and employers. Yet it also uncovered a major challenge that is holding back innovation in the field - limited and inaccessible labour market data.

The deficiencies in the UK’s labour market data are illustrated by the experiences of the winners of the CareerTech Challenge Prize, the team developing Bob UK, a tool designed to provide instant, online careers advice and job recommendations based on information about local vacancies and the jobseeker’s skills. The developers attempted to source UK data that directly replicated data sources used to develop the version of Bob which has helped over 250,000 jobseekers in France. However, it became apparent that equivalent sources of data rarely existed. The Bob UK team was able to work around this issue by carefully combining alternative sources of data from a number of UK and non-UK sources.

Many other innovators experienced similar barriers, finding that the publicly available data that could help people to make more informed decisions about their careers is often incomplete, difficult to use and poorly described. The impact of this is significant. A shocking insight from the report is that one solution enabled careers advisors to base course recommendations on labour market information for the first time. Prior to using this tool, such information was too time-consuming for careers advisors to uncover and analyse for it to be of use, and job seekers were given advice that was not based on employer demand for skills.

How better data can help deliver great career support

To address this issue of hidden and missing data and unleash the productivity-raising potential of better skills matching, the report makes a series of recommendations, including:

  • The creation of a central labour market data repository that collates publicly available information about the labour market.
  • Public data providers should review the quality and accessibility of the data they hold, and make it easier for developers to use.
  • The development of better skills and labour market taxonomies to facilitate consistency between sources and enhance data matching.

At Nesta, the Data Analytics team has launched a number of initiatives that aim to fill gaps in the UK’s supply of labour market information:

  • Creating a skills taxonomy: With funding from ESCoE, the team created the first open data-driven skills taxonomy for the UK. This allows us to track the demand for skills, as well as map the distribution of skills across the UK. We are currently updating the taxonomy and hope to publish the next version towards the end of this year.
  • Mapping viable transitions for workers: In Mapping Career Causeways, supported by J.P. Morgan, the team used machine learning to measure the similarity in the skills and work activities required in more than 1,600 jobs. This information can be used to suggest ‘viable transitions’ to job seekers, based on their most recent role. The underlying algorithm can also identify the skills gap between any two jobs which can inform decisions around training. The code for this project is open and available on Github.
  • Measuring automation risk: With funding from The Gatsby Foundation, the team provided the first known estimates of automation risk for apprenticeships. Policy recommendations included increasing awareness about the types of tasks that were found to raise risk (such as routine and repetitive activities) and those that lower risk (such as tackling unstructured problems in changeable environments).
  • Providing free insights on skill demands: In partnership with the Department for Education, the team is creating an Open Jobs Observatory. The Observatory will contain free insights from online job adverts, with a focus on the skills requested by employers. The team is collecting the adverts with the permission of job sites. A pilot version of the Observatory will be launched this year.
  • Identifying green jobs: The team’s next focus is developing a methodology for tagging green jobs. At present, the UK has no way of identifying individual jobs in green sectors. Developing this methodology is a necessary step in transitioning towards a greener economy.

If you are interested in discussing the findings from the report please contact us at [email protected]

Authors

Hazel Klenk

Researcher at Learning and Work Institute

Fay Sadro

Head of Evidence and Evaluation at Learning and Work Institute

Jack Orlik

Jack Orlik

Jack Orlik

Programme Manager - Open Jobs, Data Analytics Practice

Jack was a Programme Manager for Open Jobs.

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Amy Solder

Amy Solder

Amy Solder

Head of Adult Skills Innovation, Innovation Programmes

Amy works in the Education team.

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Rhys Herriott

Rhys Herriott

Rhys Herriott

Programme Manager, CareerTech Challenge Prize

Rhys is a Programme Manager at Nesta Challenges, with a particular focus on the future of work.

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Sarah Mcloughlin

Sarah Mcloughlin

Sarah Mcloughlin

Senior Programme Manager

Sarah was a Senior Programme Manager.

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