Advisory Group to Secretary of Labor Grapples with Opportunities for Strengthening Workforce and Labor Market Information

Christina Pena
November 15, 2017

The Workforce Information Advisory Council (WIAC), the expert group representing national, state, and local data users and producers, met recently to shape their recommendations for the Secretary of Labor. The topic of wage record data arose several times, and echoed WDQC’s administrative wage record agenda to improve information for workforce data consumers.

WIAC members have developed a number of draft recommendations that could improve workforce and labor market information. Some of these recommendations would call on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to:

  • Maintain or fund a comprehensive resource of credentials, including certificates, degrees, industry certifications, and licenses, to ensure data quality and to promote a common understanding of what these credentials mean in the labor market;
  • Expand and more frequently update information available on occupations, including skill requirements, and the transferability of skills between occupations and industries;
  • Require or incentivize the enhancement of state quarterly Unemployment Insurance (UI) wage records by including additional data elements, such as occupational title, hours worked, and work site.  

WIAC members discussed the obstacles toward enhancing wage records. Wage record enhancement would require expertise to cross-walk job titles with occupations, as well as more time upfront to clean the data after adding new fields. Adopting requisite technology would be costly and challenging for some states. Moreover, some business and state workforce agency leaders might doubt the value of enhancing wage records, and anticipate that such changes would require more time and resources from them.

Nevertheless, enhancing wage records could be beneficial in that:

  • The LMI system could gain more insight into full and part-time work and occupations, and the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program could produce a sustainable wage time series analysis – resulting in better information on the emergence, growth, and decline of occupations;
  • Students would have a better indication of which education and training programs could lead them into well-paying careers;
  • Businesses could benefit from improved analyses of retention and recruitment decisions;
  • Educators and workforce boards could see more evident career pathways and skills gaps;
  • UI agencies could eventually lower benefit pay-out as alignment of education with business needs improves. Students would have greater prospects for employment and retention as they obtain relevant knowledge and skills for in-demand occupations.

In addition to discussing what the DOL could do to improve workforce and labor market information, the WIAC discussed recommendations from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. The Commission recommended creating a national service to securely match data across agencies. They also recommended creating a single federal source for quarterly wage record data.

WIAC meeting attendees considered the challenges of establishing a single source of state quarterly wage data at the federal level. They referred to the U.S. Census Bureau’s challenges in reaching and sustaining agreements with each state for the Census’ Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program that holds data on wage records for very restrictive uses. Moreover, some WIAC members echoed the ongoing concerns of state agency representatives who felt that their agencies have been short-changed by not receiving data from the federal government, such as IRS data, in exchange for providing their state wage record information. They also expressed concern about the Commission’s proposal to group state agency representatives in the same category as external researchers when accessing the Commission’s proposed National Secure Data Service, since external researchers would be required to incur fees. State agencies thought this unfair, given that they would be providing data to the service.

On the second day of the meeting, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta briefly addressed the WIAC to convey his vision for greater emphasis on skills development and outcomes, rather than on the number of people served by the workforce system.

Overall, the WIAC is giving substantial consideration to putting the nation on a path toward better workforce outcomes. In the coming months, WDQC looks forward to seeing and sharing the WIAC’s next round of draft recommendations, and providing comment.

Further reading:

  • For background documents on the WIAC convening, including subcommittee draft recommendations, visit the WIAC website and click on the tab labelled “Meetings.”
  • See this WDQC fact sheet on why having information related to occupation on wage records would be more valuable than having information only on industry-type.