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Community Colleges

Want Ads Show What's in Demand

University Business, Nov 2011

It’s a simple idea for community colleges that sounds almost archaic: Check the help wanted ads and shape programs around available jobs. In practice, the idea involves new, sophisticated “spidering” and artificial intelligence technologies that can aggregate and analyze online job ads, providing a comprehensive source of information. A Jobs for the Future report published this fall explores the options and how the analysis is being done by a handful of colleges and states.

Community colleges have always taken steps to understand business needs, but there are limitations to strategies like partnering with local businesses and economic development agencies, including the difficulty of using government data to ascertain current and ongoing demand for specific occupations at the local level. Community colleges typically lack the resources to conduct the deep analyses needed to match curricula to local employers’ needs.

This is where real-time demand data that can be extracted from advertised jobs comes into play. Technology can be used to aggregate and analyze online job ads and provide intelligence on hiring trends for industries and occupations, job requirements, and compensation.

One case study details how the New Jersey Council of County Colleges Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development uses job ad data from EmployOn, a subsidiary of Burning Glass, to identify occupations with a lot of hiring. The group’s job developers contact employers listing the jobs to determine which ones employers struggle to find qualified workers for. Employers help verify the skill needs, design a curriculum for unemployment insurance recipients, and screen trainees. Workforce Investment Act funds pay for the training, which occurs at a selected community college. As of the fall, 100 unemployed workers had been trained for jobs, with a placement rate of 82 percent.