That Four-Letter Word Again
Karen Beltramo, Data Analyst, Bay Regional Community College Consortium, Centers of Excellence for Labor Market Research
“In God we trust. All others must bring data.” – W. Edwards Deming, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and consultant.
There it is that four-letter word: Data.
Last Spring, a CTE Dean said at a regional meeting that they felt like they were in a “data swirl.” We now have access to data that we have never had access to before around student employment, student wages, and labor market opportunities. People’s reactions to the increased amount of data have been quite diverse:
- some want more data
- some want it to go away
- some claim that the data is just “wrong”
- some are busy using it, trying to understand it and put it in context
I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed or the feeling of how do I make sense of it all.
At the same time, on the demand side of the employment equation, there continues to be more refinement and more data for labor market information. EMSI (Economic Modeling Specialists International) keeps adding to their dozens and dozens of federal and state data sources to allow us to search by zip code by occupation to see the number of projected new and replacement job openings (over 18 billion data points).
It is a good time to be a data research analyst focused on helping provide information to drive investments that will have the greatest ROI for our students and for our regions. One thing I’ve learned over time is that the most effective use of this student, job, wage, etc. data is to combine it with other quantitative data or qualitative knowledge from industry or regional partners who can ground truth it.
One of the best uses of this data is that it encourages engagement with employers, colleges, and regional partners around the data. Bringing data into a formal or informal conversation with employers or collegs is a perfect way to start or continue engagement allowing everyone to question the validity of the data, to ponder further questions that the data evokes, and to debate possible conclusions to draw.
In general, education seems like a tough area to bring in data to influence opinions. If my nephew graduates from the culinary program at College X and is hired right away as a top-notch chef, you are going to have a hard time convincing me with data that the culinary program at College X is underperforming in the region even if the data is clear. Just as Faculty in a Digital Media program, who may have had a couple of students over the years graduate and get hired as in-house web designers, are going to have a hard time looking at the data that shows them that their students overwhelmingly tend to get hired in an office environment as an administrative assistant or similar occupation.
While there is a “data swirl” happening right now all around us, what would we do without that four- letter word? “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” – Jim Barksdale, former Netscape CEO