Minnesota may be known for its lakes and loons, grumpy old men on ice, medical devices and mosquitoes, but it’s also becoming nationally recognized for innovative online employment and career self-help tool
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) developed a one-stop website, Job Skills Transfer Assessment Tool (JobSTAT), that knits together a rich set of different databases — from skill-matching tools and salary information for particular jobs, to hot jobs in demand, green jobs and actual job openings posted by employers around the state.
Launched April 1, the site has attracted positive attention from several other states as well as the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
DEED — which has managed DOL’s national job search website, CareerOneStop, for more than a decade — was recently awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to enhance the national site, adding many of the same features as Minnesota’s website, as well as additional features.
Minnesota’s JobSTAT: Answers from different databases
As the economy lurched into the deepest recession in decades, Minnesota’s jobless numbers swelled and the states’ 49 workforce center offices were swamped with the newly unemployed. Steve Hine, director of research for labor market information at DEED, imagined that those newly unemployed were walking into those workforce centers with lots of questions:
What other jobs and careers am I qualified for with my experience and skills? What’s the salary range for a particular job? Are jobs growing or declining for the new career I’m interested in? What education is required and where can I find courses that will help me quality for a new career? What jobs in my field are available near where I live?
Hine also knew his department was sitting on top of “different buckets of information” that could help a job seeker answer those questions. One site contained tools to match the skills learned on one job with the requirements in a different job. Another site contained national and regional salary information for various occupations. A third site listed “occupations in demand,” and a separate site contained job openings posted by Minnesota employers.
As job hunting, career searches, resume posting and applications become almost exclusively web-based, even for entry level positions, online databases and tools can seem scattered, difficult to use and confusing, even for the computer savvy. Hine recognized that there was no easy way to sort through all the information and evaluate career options. But with pressing priorities elsewhere, the department “never had an opportunity to pull it all together in a way that made sense for the user,” Hine said.
With the rapid rise in unemployment, he recognized a need to “break down the silos of information … [and] put it together in a package” providing useful, timely and accurate information in an easily accessible way for Minnesota job seekers.
But it was the aggressive marketing pitch by an outside vendor trying to sell the state an online job-matching tool that finally motivated Hine to act. “The tool was limited,” he said. Designed to quickly place people into jobs, it eliminated options where someone “might need to brush up on skills or take a course … [and] led to downward mobility,” Hine observed.
After the presentation, Hine was asked for his reaction, and he said his department could come up with a better alternative for less money.
“Darned if they didn’t take me up on it!” he said.
With federal stimulus funding available, Hine was able to pull together a small team working in collaboration with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) to develop the rich tool Hine had envisioned for job seekers. The part-time effort began last fall and cost about $25,000 in staff time, Hine estimates, compared with the annual $100,000 fee the private vendor had been asking for the more limited product.
Minnesota managing national job search site
With the recent multi-million dollar contract to enhance the Labor Department’s Career OneStop site, DEED will add unique features and improve its ease of use and accessibility for a wide population of users, according to Mike Ellsworth, OneStop project manager at DEED.
“There has been a sea change,” Ellsworth said, contrasting the current web-based job-hunting environment with the past. With most job postings online and many companies no longer accepting paper resumes or applications, the web is where employers and prospective employees come together. “Unfortunately, not everybody is as web-equipped as they might be to use on line job searches,” he observed.
While the state’s 49 workforce centers all have computers for job seekers to use, the demand has forced some centers to limit access to no more than 30 minutes, Ellsworth said. In addition, some applicants need training in order to be able to use a computer at all. As a result, the online tools developed need to be accessible to “the lowest common denominator,” with minimal computer skills and content written to a sixth-grade reading level, he said.
Ellsworth also plans extensive usability testing, both for the Minnesota JobSTAT site and the new national site.
He describes a laid-off auto worker who may be thinking, “I lost my job. It’s not coming back. What can I do?” The site, Ellsworth said, will help workers explore new career options where skills from one job might transfer to a different field.
Ellsworth said the tool is designed not just for job seekers and job counselors:
• Businesses will be able to use the tool to evaluate skill requirements of a current and future workforce.
• An economic development agency faced with an employer leaving town can use the tool to identify other potential industries that might make use of a trained workforce.
• And community organizations can use the tool to plan skills development and encourage upward mobility for their clients.
The site will pull information from employer-posted job openings in 48 state job banks into one comprehensive job bank. In addition, Ellsworth’s team is creating a unique database of certification programs available and will integrate national, regional and metropolitan area salary information drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Another unique feature Ellsworth hopes to add is a user account capability, so job-seekers can save and print out the results of their own research.
One feature in the state JobSTAT database that Ellsworth hopes to replicate is a listing of “green industry” jobs, although he acknowledges the difficulty in defining what constitutes a green job. He expects the DOL to announce the first phase by Labor Day with enhancements rolling out through next spring.