Assessing the Local Labor Market
An accurate assessment of the local labor market is essential to
establishing business partnerships and designing an effective job
training program. The program strategies you choose will vary depending
on the labor market in which you operate. Whatever your economic
outlook, it is important to understand what drives the local labor
- Which fields are growing;
- Which fields are shrinking;
- Which fields offer the most promising long-term prospects for
- What jobs are available;
- What qualifications they require; and
- How employers hire for those jobs.
Defining the Local Labor Market
How you define the local labor market is unique to your community.
It may be based on:
- Service delivery areas of key agencies;
- City or county lines;
- Areas served by public transportation; or
- Some other appropriate definition.
If the "local" area is defined too largely, it may mask
key differences within the area. Defining the local labor market
too narrowly risks missing employment opportunities in the region.
Sources of Labor Market Information
You do not need to conduct a detailed labor market analysis from
scratch. Much of the information you need is accessible from the
- Review recent newspaper and magazine articles to learn about
new businesses, which industries are experiencing growth or layoffs,
and what issues the business community is facing. (Local newspapers
often publish year-end business roundups.)
- Skim the want ads to see what types of jobs are advertised.
- Try calling the research department at a local newspaper - they
may have collected (and be willing to share) valuable information
about the local job market.
Academic institutions. The economics or business departments
of local universities often collect information and track changes
in local labor market conditions.
Government agencies. The U.S. and State Departments of Labor, Economic
Development, and Commerce compile labor market statistics that are
often available on their Web sites.
Service providers. Talk to local Private Industry Councils (PICs)
or Workforce Development Boards, training providers, and staffing
agencies that serve the business community. They should be in touch
with local labor market trends and needs.
Business associations. Chambers of Commerce, trade associations,
and other business groups can provide information on their members
and on the outlook in their fields.
These resources should give you a basic understanding of your local
labor market, including the major industries, areas of growth, and
size of local firms. Take note not only of the industry leaders,
but also their networks of suppliers and service providers. You
should begin to identify industries to target for further analysis
as well as businesses to approach regarding their hiring needs.
Surveying Local Employers
The next level of analysis is to speak with local employers to
learn more about their specific hiring needs. This can be done as:
- A survey (which employers can return by fax);
- A focus group (with 6 to 10 employers at a convenient location);
- One-on-one interviews (at the employer's office).
Local businesses are often happy to participate; it gives them
an opportunity to share information about what they do. In general,
keep it short:
- A 1- or 2- page survey;
- A 20-minute interview; or
- An hour-long focus group.
Use your initial analysis (described above) to decide which employers
to survey. It may be a cross section of local businesses, employers
in targeted growth industries, or those with the largest number
of entry-level positions.
A couple other key things to remember:
Surveying employers doesn't just provide you with information
-- it also functions as an outreach and marketing tool, to introduce
businesses to the idea of a partnership and show them you are
serious about understanding their needs. Use the opportunity to
identify individuals who might be willing to be involved in a
partnership and who could help market your program within the
Survey questions should be tailored to your specific initiative
and what you already know about the labor market. The following
questions to employers can be used as a guide:
- What are the occupations for which you hire entry-level workers?
- How many openings do you currently have, and what is the outlook
for the future?
- What wages do you pay for those positions? What non-wage benefits
are provided to new hires and when?
- What education levels do you generally expect for these entry-level
positions? What special training is required?
- Are the jobs part time or full time, and what hours do employees
- What wage increases are available at various intervals of
- Who is in charge of making hiring decisions for your firm?
- How do you usually recruit workers? Are you open to considering
new ways of recruiting?
- Is your worksite accessible by public transportation? Are
other transportation options available to employees?
- How much turnover do you experience in entry-level positions?
- How many employees from this community have you hired? Have
you made any effort to hire welfare recipients or other disadvantaged
- What kinds of on-the-job support would be important to you
in considering the employment of welfare recipients or other
disadvantaged job seekers?
Be sure to follow up with employers you have surveyed to thank
them for their time and let them know what you have learned. For
example, send a brief report summarizing the survey findings and
listing the next steps to be taken in response. Let the businesses
know how they can be involved and invite them to participate in