Collecting & Assessing Community Information/Needs Assessment


The primary mission of technical education programs are to prepare the students enrolled in these programs to meet the challenges of the future. One of the greatest challenges is to maintain productive and rewarding careers throughout one's lifetime. Attempting to anticipate careers that will offer the greatest potential and the skills required to grow in those careers is a formidable task for technical educators. Formidable indeed when one must project decades into the future in order to be prepared with instructional facilities, equipment, and other resources needed to offer the right programs.

Realizing the importance of this issue, considerable resources have been directed toward helping educators be more systematic in documenting their training needs and planning programs to meet those needs. The principle of supply and demand has been chosen to capture and quantitatively present an important data source for describing employment potential.

Supply/Demand Model

Demand data contain a prediction of annual anticipated job openings for specific occupations in a given geographical area. It is based on historical data about the number of people employed in those occupations, actual turnover data and an estimation of the positive or negative growth in industries that nurture the occupation. The accuracy of these data is primarily dependent upon the predictability of the industries and consistency in the proportion of specific occupations within those industries. Occupations that experience little variation are easiest but, of course, least useful to predict.

Supply is defined as the number of people available to fill occupational vacancies. In actuality, supply come from many sources; primarily from people already working but willing to change, but also from people not employed and from recent completers of formal training programs.

A complex array of social and economic forces impact on the concept of supply and demand. Demand is controlled by industry growth (both positive and negative) and technology that changes the efficiency of work and how it is done. Published supply, a documentation of the size of specific training programs, reflects the responsiveness of trainees and trainers to anticipate employment opportunities.

Supply and demand is effective and precise or summarizing certain areas of past and present labor market activity. From the outset, however, the user must appreciate the fact that the future values represent a " best estimate" of given conditions and knowledge at the time. Projection data, therefore, should be viewed in a relative rather than absolute sense and used accordingly.

No educational institution should knowingly or willingly places students in a position of investing time and training that has little potential for either wage-earning or personal use. How then can educational planners use the vast information that is available to reduce the risk of spending time learning useless skills?

The structure of supply and demand

First the planner needs to better understand the structure of the publish data. Supply or institutional training programs are classified on the basis of CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) coded. These codes are assigned nationally for aggregating and peporting purposes. Occupations, on the other hand, are classified according to SOC (Standard Occupational Classification) codes. These different systems of coding of essential training programs usually are titled more generally than job titles.

The coding systems are integrated for closely related CIPs and SOCs. In fact, where mobility and transfer of skills among training programs and occupations is extensive in the CIPs and SOCs are grouped as a "subset" in the occupational information system (OCIS).

In publishing supply-demand data in a needs assessment activity, the data should represent the actual labor market area of the school. The occupational outlook may be identified in virtually hundreds of different jobs from reports that may be accessed through selective code or title searches.

Cautions in using the model

Although reports of projected demand and current institutional supply provide valuable information about labor market conditions, they do not provide the whole answer nor do they replace the need for further analysis and judgment. As one begins to use the data, a couple of typical situations immediately emerge that even the novice planner must recognize not to be lead to erroneous conclusions.

First of all, it is not unusual that in some and often many of the established institutional training programs, published supply may exceed projected demand. The local planner should be prepared to expect this and not immediately conclude that these programs should be dismantled. The reasons for this are many:

It has not been established that a one-to-one relationship supply and demand is the optimum condition. In fact, most people are convinced that it is not. Employers like and need to have options and whom they employ -- as do potential employees.

Not every completer wants a job in the area trained.

Many completers decide to seek further training (including military). Further training not only delays their entry into the labor market but may expand considerably the geography and the occupational titles in which they eventually seek employment.

In spite of the analytical detail in pairing the data, not all of the supply or demand can be documented. Even though the demand is the best information available, it none-the-less is a projection. If the relative proportion of any industry in the economy does not develop according to projection or the proportion of occupations within each industry deviates from expectation, there will be corresponding error in the projections.

The relatedness of skills or transferability of specific job skills is a matter of judgment not as easily classified as occupational titles. Particularly, basic skills and industrial discipline skills, but technical skills as well, can be utilized in occupations that do not appear related to the training, programs in seemingly oversupplied areas may be successful by being of exceptional quality or by utilizing the work-simulated classroom environment to teach skills that are generalizable to a wide range of employment.

The second thing common list all labor market areas in the presence of occupational areas with high demand but little or no documented Supply. This does not necessarily mean that you should establish training programs to prepare students for these occupations. Specifically, there is a high demand for workers in certain areas of food (particularly fast food), custodial, low level clerical, and similar occupations. These occupations are characterized by:

It is not the absence of Supply but the absence of the need for formal training programs that result in institutional supply that creates the mismatch. Actually, since little or no specific skills are required, the potential supply is virtually unlimited. The available supply, as indicated by the constant advertisements for workers is suppressed by the unattractiveness of the jobs themselves. In these jobs, the available supply is controlled by the marketplace, not by training institution. Therefore, it makes little sense to offer training if little or no training is required. The school should not accept responsibility for a shortage of applications to fill these jobs. Unless a training program offers an employment option that individuals will expire for, invest in, and realize a benefit from the training, student participation will not and should not materialize.

Students who select preparations for technical employment will be impacted upon primarily by the local labor market conditions. Characteristically, they seek and will accept employment only within a conservative commuting distance from home. However, a labor market analysis that includes both geography and training requirements would be more useful for the guidance of students and for program planning than one that considers geography alone.

Inventory Occupations

The program planner needs to inventory the occupation by gathering specific information such as: who the employers are, how do they currently recruit employees, what skills do their workers use and how are those skills best learned.

Review the Educational Programs

The planner also needs to inventory the competing educational programs, as well as the in-house educational programs. Follow-up data on students in existing programs and the kind and quality of employment can aid in decision making.