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BLS Survey on Contingent Workforce Reveals more Continuity than Change

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released new contingent and alternative worker survey data on June 7, 2018. The BLS conducted the survey in May 2017 as a supplement to the Current Population Survey. Surprisingly, rates for this type of work have slightly decreased since the last survey in 2005.

BLS defines “contingent workers” as “people who do not expect their jobs to last or who reported that their jobs are temporary. They do not have an implicit or explicit contract for continuing employment.” People working under “alternative employment arrangements,” include “independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary help agency workers, and workers provided by contract firms.”

Workforce observers were anticipating larger leaps in the percentage of people participating in the contingent and alternative workforce. The percentage of those workers as part of the overall workforce has slightly declined (although the actual number of people in those jobs has increased as the U.S. population has grown overall). Here are a few statistics from the BLS release:

  • In May 2017, 3.8 percent of all workers held contingent jobs, compared with 4.1 percent in February 2005.
  • Independent contractors (including independent consultants and freelance workers in the “alternative” work category) represented 6.9 percent of total employment, down from 7.4 percent in February 2005.
  • Contingent, full-time workers earned 23 percent less ($685) in median weekly earnings compared to their non-contingent (“traditional worker”) counterparts ($886), according to the May 2017 survey.
  • Contract company workers earned a median weekly wage of $1,077, the highest amongst alternative workers. Earnings for independent contractors ($851) were comparable to those of traditional workers ($884). On-call ($797) and temporary help agency workers ($521) earned less than other alternative workers.

Several reasons may have contributed to the relative continuity in workforce rates between the 2005 and 2017 surveys:

  • These latest figures did not include results from four new BLS questions covering job solicitation and payment through websites and mobile apps (electronically-mediated employment). BLS continues to analyze those data and expects to release those figures by the end of September 2018. With the increasing use of services such as Uber and Lyft, and online job platforms such as “Task Rabbit,” the results should interest those following debates about the “future of work.”
  • BLS conducted its 2005 contingent worker survey in the month of February. Because BLS conducted this latest survey in May, the demand for seasonal work may have affected the results, although the significance of this impact is uncertain.
  • The survey asked respondents to address the jobs for which they worked the most hours. Therefore, contingent and alternative work would have missed the cut in instances where workers spent most of their hours in traditional employment, but still held an alternative or contingent job “on the side” – as a way to make some extra money to supplement their main employment income.

Given current funding, BLS has no definite plans to conduct a similar survey in the future. This is one of the reasons WDQC has often joined other organizations in calling for BLS’s funding to at least keep pace with inflation.

For more information about the different categories of contingent and alternative workers, and more detailed data broken down by key demographic groups, visit the BLS’s Economic News Release webpage on Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements.

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign
Workforce Data Quality Campaign invited to OECD in Paris

On April 5 and 6 in Paris, France, WDQC Director Bryan Wilson participated in an “Expert Workshop on Strengthening the Governance of Skills Systems,” held by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  OECD is an international organization consisting of 35-member countries.  OECD asked Bryan to speak on “integrated information systems for skills,” and fully supported his participation.

OECD’s mission is, “to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.” OECD conducts research, develops policy recommendations, and sometimes facilitates agreements between governments. One of OECD’s four areas of focus is skills, ensuring that, “people of all ages can develop the skills to work productively and satisfyingly in the jobs of tomorrow.”

The OECD Center for Skills has worked recently to advance skill strategies in more than ten countries. Through this experience, the Center has learned how nations struggle to develop a systemic approach to skill policies. Four main challenges are: poor coordination among government agencies and levels of government, lack of collaboration with stakeholders, inefficient financing mechanisms, and lack of effective data and information systems. OECD is now proceeding to identify good policy practices to address these four challenges.

The purpose of the Expert Workshop was to provide feedback to OECD regarding their draft document outlining good policy practices in these four “dimensions”.  Being aware of WDQC’s work, they invited Bryan to speak as one of two external experts on good practices around workforce data and information systems. In all, the meeting was attended by 10 external experts, 22 OECD staff, and a representative of the European Commission. 

Many of the draft document’s points about workforce data and information systems would be familiar to an American audience: the need for accessible data for decision-making, the usefulness of longitudinal information systems, the need for cross-program data and data that crosses levels of government, and information on skill supply and demand.  The document suggested that mechanisms to support information systems include: bodies for coordinating workforce information across agencies, results-based management and accountability, and regular evaluations and transparent reporting of results.

In his comments at the Workshop, Bryan appreciated that OECD included integrated workforce data and information systems as one of four “dimensions” to systemic skills policies. He offered some suggestions for additions to the draft document.

Information systems should enable better decision-making among three primary sets of actors: policymakers, institutions or providers, and consumers.  As briefly mentioned in the document, to create integrated information systems, governments should establish longitudinal data systems that collect administrative records on program participants, administrative records on employment and earnings, link the records together, and are capable of aggregating information on individuals over time. A robust system must be based on individual unit data.

Governments should establish data tools that take data from longitudinal information systems and present the information in ways that are actionable by policymakers, institutions, and consumers. There should be dashboards designed for policymakers that show the key characteristics (such as costs and participant demographics) and educational and labor market outcomes of programs, using consistent methods and metrics to make the results easier to understand and to facilitate coordination across programs.

There should be transparent reports for consumers that show key characteristics and outcomes of programs of study at local institutions or providers, again, using consistent methods and metrics so that information is comparable, and consumers can make more informed decisions. There should be institutional feedback reports that similarly provide information on characteristics and outcomes of institutions and their programs of study, so that they may make more informed decisions about program improvement. Finally, there should be supply and demand reports that compare the number of newly trained workers per year to the number of job openings per year by field of study and level of education or training.

To implement these things require addressing certain challenges (a somewhat different list than in the draft document):

  • Creating administrative record-based information systems that are inclusive of all types of providers of skills training and the different types of credentials they produce, and comprehensive records of employment and earnings;  
  • The use of consistent metrics, horizontally and vertically across programs;
  • Getting policy-makers to use the information to inform their investments in skills training and other decisions; and
  • Wide and effective dissemination of consumer information.

As OECD’s project continues, Bryan offered to connect OECD staff to examples of good practices from American states.

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign
Advisory Group to Secretary of Labor Grapples with Opportunities for Strengthening Labor Market Information

The Workforce Information Advisory Council (WIAC), the expert group representing national, state, and local data users and producers, met recently to shape their recommendations for the Secretary of Labor. The topic of wage record data arose several times, and echoed WDQC’s administrative wage record agenda to improve information for workforce data consumers.

WIAC members have developed a number of draft recommendations that could improve workforce and labor market information. Some of these recommendations would call on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to:

  • Maintain or fund a comprehensive resource of credentials, including certificates, degrees, industry certifications, and licenses, to ensure data quality and to promote a common understanding of what these credentials mean in the labor market;
  • Expand and more frequently update information available on occupations, including skill requirements, and the transferability of skills between occupations and industries;
  • Require or incentivize the enhancement of state quarterly Unemployment Insurance (UI) wage records by including additional data elements, such as occupational title, hours worked, and work site.  

WIAC members discussed the obstacles toward enhancing wage records. Wage record enhancement would require expertise to cross-walk job titles with occupations, as well as more time upfront to clean the data after adding new fields. Adopting requisite technology would be costly and challenging for some states. Moreover, some business and state workforce agency leaders might doubt the value of enhancing wage records, and anticipate that such changes would require more time and resources from them.

Nevertheless, enhancing wage records could be beneficial in that:

  • The LMI system could gain more insight into full and part-time work and occupations, and the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program could produce a sustainable wage time series analysis – resulting in better information on the emergence, growth, and decline of occupations;
  • Students would have a better indication of which education and training programs could lead them into well-paying careers;
  • Businesses could benefit from improved analyses of retention and recruitment decisions;
  • Educators and workforce boards could see more evident career pathways and skills gaps;
  • UI agencies could eventually lower benefit pay-out as alignment of education with business needs improves. Students would have greater prospects for employment and retention as they obtain relevant knowledge and skills for in-demand occupations.

In addition to discussing what the DOL could do to improve workforce and labor market information, the WIAC discussed recommendations from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. The Commission recommendedcreating a national service to securely match data across agencies. They also recommended creating a single federal source for quarterly wage record data.

WIAC meeting attendees considered the challenges of establishing a single source of state quarterly wage data at the federal level. They referred to the U.S. Census Bureau’s challenges in reaching and sustaining agreements with each state for the Census’ Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program that holds data on wage records for very restrictive uses. Moreover, some WIAC members echoed the ongoing concerns of state agency representatives who felt that their agencies have been short-changed by not receiving data from the federal government, such as IRS data, in exchange for providing their state wage record information. They also expressed concern about the Commission’s proposal to group state agency representatives in the same category as external researchers when accessing the Commission’s proposed National Secure Data Service, since external researchers would be required to incur fees. State agencies thought this unfair, given that they would be providing data to the service.

On the second day of the meeting, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta briefly addressed the WIAC to convey his vision for greater emphasis on skills development and outcomes, rather than on the number of people served by the workforce system.

Overall, the WIAC is giving substantial consideration to putting the nation on a path toward better workforce outcomes. In the coming months, WDQC looks forward to seeing and sharing the WIAC’s next round of draft recommendations, and providing comment.

Further reading:

  • For background documents on the WIAC convening, including subcommittee draft recommendations, visit the WIAC website and click on the tab labelled “Meetings.”
  • See this WDQC fact sheet on why having information related to occupation on wage records would be more valuable than having information only on industry-type.
Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign

Last week, Montana’s Department of Labor & Industry (MTDLI) and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) released a new report entitled "Meeting State Worker Demand: A report on the Labor Market Outcomes for Montana Colleges." The report answers two particularly important questions:

          (1) Are Montana’s colleges producing enough graduates to meet employer demand? and

          (2) What are Montana graduates’ employment outcomes one, three, and five years after graduation?

This report will be helpful for policymakers and program managers, who can make policy changes (such as creating more or different education and training programs) to ensure that the state’s education and training system is meeting the skill needs of Montana employers. Students can also use this information to make better decisions about their educational options.

The report contains data from sixteen colleges who participate in the Montana University System data warehouse, as well as two other institutions that submitted data solely for this report. This data was linked with Unemployment Insurance (UI) wage records maintained by the MTDLI, tax data maintained by the Department of Revenue (DOR), and two and ten-year labor market projections produced by MTDLI in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Linking education and DOR data allowed Montana to get more accurate graduate employment outcomes than many other states have been able to get for similar reports. Because self-employed persons do not participate in the UI program, they cannot be found in UI wage records. Linking with the DOR data allowed the state to find those who are self-employed and others who do not participate in the UI program. In order to comply with strict confidentiality requirements, the DOR provided only aggregate level data to MTDLI.  

WDQC applauds Montana not just for making better information available to policymakers and students, but for committing to using this data to impact policy. The state has already used this data to inform the development of new college-sponsored apprenticeship programs, to create new career pathways, and to inform Missoula College’s strategic planning.

To learn more about Montana’s data infrastructure and use, please visit Montana’s state page


Posted In: Data and Credentials, Workforce Data Quality Campaign

Advisory Group Releases Workforce Information Agenda

  ·   By Christina Pena,
Advisory Group Releases Workforce Information Agenda

The Workforce Information Advisory Council (WIAC), an official 15-member body of labor market information (LMI) experts representing national, state, and local data users and producers, recently published their vision of challenges and opportunities for strengthening LMI.

The full report provides general background, as well as details on the following opportunities:

  • Aligning education and workforce training with industry needs;
  • Informing career decisions of students and workers;
  • Determining the effectiveness of workforce training and education programs;
  • Understanding the characteristics of the workforce;
  • Making workforce and LMI more accessible and relevant to end users; and,
  • Enhancing government data sharing, collaboration, and funding among statistical agencies.

The WIAC also published two shorter guides: a three-page reference brief, and a one-page infographic.

The three publications will be useful for introducing wider audiences to the importance of LMI, and for engaging workforce stakeholders in actions to improve and leverage the system to strengthen the economy.

In operation since 2016, the WIAC works under the mandate of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and will continue to deliberate and advise the Secretary of Labor.

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign

CT Bill Codifies SLDS and Standardizes Intake Forms

  ·   By Jenna Leventoff,
CT Bill Codifies SLDS and Standardizes Intake Forms

Connecticut recently enacted HB 5590, which, in relevant part, codifies the state’s existing longitudinal data system and creates a universal intake form for persons seeking assistance at American Job Centers or Workforce Development Board facilities.

The bill helps promote the sustainability of cross-agency data sharing in Connecticut by formally establishing the state’s existing longitudinal data system, P20 WIN, to link data from participating agencies for audit and evaluation purposes. The bill also codifies the system’s existing executive board, which oversees the system, and adds two members to the board: the Commissioner of Early Childhood, and the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management. These new members are expected to provide data on early childhood programs, and ensure that the system coordinates with other state initiatives.

Furthermore, this bill requires the state’s Labor Commissioner to develop a universal intake form for persons entering American Job Centers or Workforce Development Board facilities. The Commissioner must then use the information from the standardized intake forms for an annual report to the General Assembly, including: the number of people using American Job Center or Workforce Development Board services; the employment rates and average wages of persons who utilized those services; the number of people in various pathways; and the industry sectors in which completers find employment. By standardizing its intake forms, Connecticut will be better able to compare programs and assess how its workforce system is narrowing the middle skills gap.

These bills provisions were effective on July 11, 2017, the day the bill was passed.

WDQC applauds Connecticut’s efforts to improve workforce data, and learn more about the effectiveness of its workforce training and education programs. 

Posted In: Connecticut, Workforce Data Quality Campaign

WDQC Participates in NY Wage Data Bill Review

  ·   By Jenna Leventoff,
WDQC Participates in NY Wage Data Bill Review

Last week, WDQC Policy Analyst Jenna Leventoff attended a meeting in Albany, New York about potential amendments to New York Assembly Bill 2164-B. The meeting was hosted by the bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Harry B. Bronson.

Assembly Bill 2164-B requires New York’s Department of Labor to provide wage data to three workforce data clearinghouses located within academic institutions in the state. The clearinghouses would be required to evaluate workforce programs and issue reports. This bill would build on a 2013 amendment to State Labor Law Section 537 to allow the New York State Department of Labor to share wage records with government agencies (including public universities) by significantly increasing the state’s analytical capacity. To date, the bill has passed the New York Assembly, and will soon be considered in the New York Senate.

Meeting participants included New York state data users and experts, such as representatives of the State University of New York (SUNY), the City University of New York (CUNY), the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals (NYATEP), and the Center for an Urban Future. WDQC was invited to provide a national context for the collection and use of workforce data.

During the meeting, participants discussed the value of labor market and wage data, including how it can help promote program improvement, economic development, policymaking, and student decision making. Participants also provided advice as to the types of data agreements the state could enter into, and what the composition of the clearinghouse’s Board of Advisors should be. 

WDQC is pleased to provide input as this bill moves forward, and is thankful to Assembly Member Bronson for working to enable better use of existing data in New York. 


Posted In: New York, Workforce Data Quality Campaign

KY Postsecondary Feedback Report Now Interactive

  ·   By Jenna Leventoff,

For the first time, the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS) has made their Postsecondary Feedback report interactive. The report shows what happens to students at Kentucky’s public postsecondary institutions after they graduate. Previous versions of the report were published online, but static. With this change, students can more easily make informed decisions about their education options.

The Postsecondary Feedback Report provides information about graduate’s employment and wages, as well as information about further postsecondary education. Information can be broken down by institution and degree level. While the tool does not break down outcomes by major or program, it does break down outcomes by type of program, such as business, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and trades.

Kentucky Dashboard

The report utilizes data from the Kentucky Longitudinal Data System (KLDS). You can learn more about KLDS by visiting Kentucky’s state page.  

WDQC applauds Kentucky for making more information about education and training options available to students and their parents, as well as to educators and program managers, in an easy to understand format. Our staff is available to provide assistance to other states looking to create data tools. 

Posted In: Kentucky, Workforce Data Quality Campaign
RI Uses UI Records and LMI to Make Dislocated Worker Determination

In December 2016, Rhode Island’s Governor’s Workforce Board passed a new policy clarifying the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)’s definition of “dislocated worker.” Under this new definition, the state estimates that more than twice as many dislocated workers will be eligible to receive services paid for by federal grant funds already awarded to the state. The state will use unemployment insurance (UI) records and labor market information (LMI) to determine whether workers are dislocated.  

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the availability of Sector Partnership National Emergency Grants (SP NEGs) to help develop sector strategies to enhance services for dislocated workers. Although Rhode Island was awarded a SP NEG grant for its Real Jobs Rhode Island sector partnership, the state had difficulty using those funds to provide services to dislocated workers. That’s because the state couldn’t easily get the participant labor history information it needed to determine if each participant was, in fact, a dislocated worker. Many participants were served outside the One-Stop system (the entities that typically collect this information), and others had a hard time providing accurate and detailed information about their employment history.

However, Rhode Island’s new dislocated worker policy no longer requires the state to collect documentation from participants to prove dislocated worker status. The new policy allows the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training to access the worker employment information it already has, in the form of UI records. Under the new policy, if a worker has received UI compensation in the past, the state will compare the participant’s current earnings to the average earnings someone in their industry would have made had they not been dislocated. The state determines projected earnings by utilizing LMI. If the worker is earning less than projected, that participant is considered dislocated, and eligible to be served using federal SP NEG funds.

Moving forward, the state hopes to automate this calculation, and to use data from UI records to automatically populate federally required reporting templates.

Rhode Island’s new dislocated worker policy was created by a collaboration between the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, and Brown University’s Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab (RIIPL), which aims to help state agencies create evidence-based policies.

Posted In: Rhode Island, Workforce Data Quality Campaign
Workforce Data Explained: Using Data to Narrow California Skills Gaps

WDQC interviewed Jillian Leufgen, Program Analyst with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy, about the strides made toward understanding student success in California’s labor market.

California Community Colleges is the largest system of postsecondary education in the United States. The system uses LaunchBoard to link education data and wage records to provide community college employees with information about outcomes of career and technical education programs, and Salary Surfer provides similar information for the public.

Additional Resources:

  • AB 1417 (2004): legislation that led the Chancellor’s Office to design and implement a performance measurement system
  • Since the video was produced, a flurry of activity has happened in California. The state legislature passed SB 66 (2016) to allow sharing of data on licenses to track impact on employment and wages. California Community Colleges also aligned performance data with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
Posted In: California, Workforce Data Quality Campaign
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