A Legislator’s Guide to Workforce Data


Degrees and credentials are increasingly important for workforce success.

It’s estimated that 65 peStudents sitting around tablercent of jobs will require postsecondary education by 2020. However, as the cost of college continues to rise and student debt burdens more and more Americans, many students as well as adults and policymakers are seeking strategies to ensure degrees and credentials truly lead to careers today and in the future.

Business leaders and employers are also seeking a skilled workforce that is properly trained for jobs. At the same time, colleges and universities are interesting in seeing where their graduates are employed after degree completion.

All of these stakeholders­—students, parents, employers, policymakers and institutions— are turning to new and increasingly available workforce information and data to help them make informed decisions. States are seeking to use this data to create processes and groups to ensure investment in postsecondary education is coordinated to meet future industry needs in their state.

Questions Workforce Data Can Answer
  • Are degree earners in my state finding jobs in their fields upon graduation?
  • What is the average wage of degree earners in a certain industry sector?
  • Are short-term credentials and certificates paying competitive wages in my state? In what fields?
  • What are the emerging fields and jobs in my state/region?
  • What fields have shortages of qualified workers and what fields are saturated with overqualified employees in my state/region?

Defining Workforce Data

Workforce data is information that comes from many different sources, such as schools and colleges, job training programs, state unemployment records and real-time information from job posting sites. Some of this information is gathered by local, state and federal agencies and some by companies, organizations and institutions. Data from any one of these sources is valuable to understanding a region or state’s workforce needs and resources. However, looking at all the data in one big picture can provide students, parents, policymakers, college administrators and employers with important information to make important choices. 


Types of Data

The Workforce Data Quality Campaign divides workforce data into five different sources: educational data, employment data, workforce program data, public benefits data and labor market information.

  • Education data includes the individual student records that schools and colleges from preschool to postsecondary keep to track the progress and development of students, including completion and types of degree or credential earned.
  • Employment data is collected through state agencies, most often on a quarterly basis, to inform the state and public about the employment status and wage records of citizens in the state or region.
  • Workforce program data includes records from state or federal programs that have reporting requirements, as well as programs sponsored through different trade organizations, career technical education (CTE), apprenticeships and adult education services. This would include programs administered or funded through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
  • Public benefits data refers to information on individuals or families who receive public assistance due to underemployment and unemployment. This includes unemployment insurance benefits, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The data collected includes how long individuals and families have received assistance and how much they have received.
  • Labor market information is the analysis of job markets by local areas, regions or states based on real-time job postings of businesses and industries in the area. Companies such as Burning Glass are helping states and cities make these real-time analyses of labor market data. 

Data Alignment

Traditionally, data from any of the above sources were collected by a local or state entities that would publish the aggregated information, such as education or employment data. The information would exist solely in one place, perhaps on an agency’s webpage or in an annual report where it is available for the general public to view. However, recent years have seen efforts to make this data more accessible and transparent to stakeholders. This recent interest has led to many state, regional and national initiatives and polices to align and share the data that is being collected across agencies, creating longitudinal data systems. Aligning data from early childhood through the workforce can be useful for many reasons, including providing accountability and feedback to schools and programs, improving performance based on data information and empowering consumers to make important career decisions.

State Policies to Align Data

Recognizing the value of workforce data to economic development needs in states and regions, many states have enacted legislation or created initiatives to link education and labor data. Below are some examples of state action in this area.


The Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS) was created through executive order in 2012 and codified through legislation in 2013. It builds upon previous work under the state’s P-20 Data Collaborative. KCEWS serves many purposes, including maintaining the Kentucky Longitudinal Data System (KLDS), collecting and linking data from various education and workforce entities, and providing reports to policymakers, state agencies and the general public.

Kentucky Senate Bill 83, enacted in 2013, outlines the purpose of the KCEWS as being “to collect accurate education and workforce data in the Kentucky Longitudinal Data System in order to link the data and generate timely reports about student performance through employment to be used to guide decision makers in improving the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s education and training programs.” The statute also identifies the various state agencies that must provide education and workforce data to the KLDS, including the Council on Postsecondary Education, the Department of Education, the Early Childhood Advisory Council, the Education Professional Standards Board, The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority and the Kentucky Commission on Proprietary Education, among others.

Building on the work of the KCEWS, in 2014, the legislature enacted House Bill 87.  It requires that employment and earnings of graduates from public postsecondary institutions also be reported to the KLDS and be made available to the public through individual institutions and the KLDS website, as well as to high school guidance and career counselors. In 2017, KCEWS integrated the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet’s Workforce Intelligence Branch with the goal of further aligning data and information.


California is working to connect and align K-12, community college and workforce data to provide students, parents and policymakers more information on graduation rates and graduate earnings. The California Legislature enacted policy in 2004 that required the Chancellor’s Office of Community Colleges to report to the governor and legislature on the earnings of graduates, but it wasn’t until 2007 that Assembly Bill 798 allowed the chancellor’s office access to quarterly unemployment wage data in order to connect student records with wage information. In 2014, the Legislature enacted Assembly Bill 2148, which requires the California Workforce Investment Board to develop an annual report or workforce metrics dashboard to measure the success of workforce programs, including adult education programs. Other statewide initiatives, including Cal-PASS Plus, are underway to connect community colleges and participating K-12 schools to evaluate CTE programs and connections between K-12, higher education and the workforce.


Policymakers in Minnesota enacted a law in 2008 that allows the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education to share student data and create the Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System (SLEDS). SLEDS is governed by the Minnesota P-20 Education Partnership, which was also created through legislation in 2008. Furthermore, the Department of Employment and Economic Development links the wage and employment records to the postsecondary graduation data on Minnesota’s Graduate Employment Outcomes webpage. The purpose is to share the information with potential and current students, parents, college and career counselors, and policymakers. The data tool currently provides information for students with degrees in specific fields, along with their projected earnings one year through five years past graduation. The American Institutes for Research published a study about career earnings for majors in the state. 

State Policies to Use Data 

Matching and aligning the data from K-12 and higher education and the workforce is only the first step underway in most states. The bigger task is how to analyze the data that is being collected in order to improve student success, both in school and the workforce. This includes evaluating programs on whether or not they are serving their purpose. For example, analysis can show whether certain high school programs are preparing students for college based on college remedial courses taken and dropout rates. Data can also show whether students who take certain job training programs are later employed in the corresponding field and whether their earnings are in line with others employed in that field. States are employing a variety of strategies to use data to carry out this analysis. 

State Data Dashboards

Several states have begun using data to develop data dashboards that are intended to show legislators and other policymakers how certain programs are performing. Ohio, Texas, and Washington were among the first states to develop these dashboards and a number of states have followed suit in recent years. In 2018, Virginia passed HB 1006 which requires the Virginia Board of Workforce Development to advise and oversee the development of a strategic workforce dashboard. The dashboard will include information relating to state labor market conditions and projected employment growth and decline. The National Skills Coalition published a report on using dashboards for state workforce planning in 2016.

Pathway Evaluators 

Another strategy for using data to evaluate education and workforce success is the use of pathways evaluators. Pathway evaluators are tools to help policymakers and legislators understand which programs or services are effective in achieving workforce outcomes. In order to create pathway evaluators, the analysis must identify a target population of interest, review program participation, and document the shared outcomes of participants in this program. Once this data is collected and analyzed, policymakers will have a better understanding of the effectiveness and impact of these programs. Several states have made use of this analytical approach to review education and workforce outcomes in their state. Texas has used pathway evaluators to review persistence as well as apprenticeship program participation and outcomes by gender. Washington used data from this analysis to inform the creation of its I-BEST program. The National Skills Coalition published a report on using pathway evaluators for state workforce planning in 2015.

National Initiatives

While states work to connect their own data, many national organizations are diving even deeper into the available data and working to provide more up-to-date, or real-time, information for workforce stakeholders, especially state policymakers. Below are just a few examples of the national initiatives underway.

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) is a national nonprofit that helps states and institutions with policy and strategic decision-making on higher education issues. Among its many projects is the Information Center for State Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis, which helps provide state policymakers with timely information and data on individual states. NCHEMS also focuses on identifying the credentials being produced at institutions and comparing them to what the employer demands are in the regions where the credentials are being awarded. The hope is to develop a real-time supply and demand model to help policymakers and other stakeholders better understand what skills are being produced and how those credentials match what is needed in the workforce.

National Skills Coalition, State Workforce and Education Alignment Project:

The National Skills Coalition created the State Workforce and Education Alignment Project (SWEAP) in 2015. It aims to provide state leaders with system-wide information and data on workforce education and training programs. The initiative’s goal is to make it easier for state elected officials to get a better view of how the workforce training programs are performing in each state, including the federal and state workforce and training programs, alongside the traditional pathway of college to a career. SWEAP looks at training programs that may fall under WIOA—including dislocated workers, adult basic education, vocational rehabilitation, and corrections employment and training programs, among others­—to evaluate how those programs are doing at preparing a skilled workforce. The evaluation of these programs hopes to answer questions such as:

  • Do program participants earn credentials?
  • Do they get jobs and how much do they pay?
  • Are programs creating career pathways to middle-skill jobs?
  • Which pathways work best for which people?
  • Which occupations have skill gaps?
  • Are workers being trained with the right skills for those jobs?

SWEAP staff are currently working in four states—California, Mississippi, Ohio and Rhode Island—to develop dashboards, workforce skills supply and demand tools, and evaluations of pathways to college and careers.

College Measures

College Measures is a partnership between the American Institutes of Research and Optimity Advisors that uses workforce data to help inform students, parents and policymakers on graduate earnings. College Measures has created online tools that make available data on two- and four-year college outcomes, enabling students and parents to make smarter decisions and institutions and policymakers to see which programs and studies are leading students to valuable, high-paying jobs. College Measures has conducted national studies on graduate earnings and specific studies in Florida, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

There is growing interest by state policymakers in having information on how students are doing in the workforce and where there are gaps in skills and training needs. There has also been growing interest in how states and organizations are responding to the need for more data. Policymakers can play a vital role in ensuring alignment of data and protecting privacy to help provide stakeholders with relevant, current and meaningful information to evaluate education outcomes and workforce needs. 

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources 

NCSL Career Pathways Page 

Other Resources 

Roadmap for K-12 and Workforce Data Linkages, Data Quality Campaign, July 18, 2018