How Cedefop transforms information on skills into powerful evidence for decision-making
Considering building a house? Well, before taking any action you have to map your needs and wishes and take several decisions: decide on the type of house, the right dimensions, suitable combinations and placement of materials – even colours can make a difference.
But to move from having even the best materials and designs to a solid construction that will meet your requirements, specialists are needed to put things together. The materials to be used, for example, should accommodate your needs, be reliable to ensure stability and sustainability of the construction, and meet regulatory standards. Specialists’ expertise is needed to combine materials, and it is their knowledge about how to best use tools and techniques that will lead to a solid construction.
In essence, developing “skills intelligence” has many similarities to building a house. Quantitative and qualitative data on skills and the labour market are the necessary building blocks to facilitate the work and decisions of various ‘inhabitants of the construction’ (for example policy makers, social partners, local VET providers, career counsellors and learners). But these groups have different information needs and vary in terms of their understanding of key concepts or experience in using and ‘translating’ data so that it becomes useful in their context. It is the role of experts to identify information requirements, use appropriate data, tools and techniques, and develop tailor-made solutions to present the outcomes so that they meet user needs.
Skills intelligence is the outcome of an expert-driven process of identifying, analysing, synthesising and presenting quantitative and/or qualitative skills and labour market information. These may be drawn from multiple sources and adjusted to the needs of different users.
To remain relevant, skills intelligence must be kept up-to-date and adjusted when user needs change. This requires the expert-driven process to be continuous and iterative.
The ‘what’ part
Informed decisions should be backed up by high-quality evidence. Skills and labour market data and information are becoming increasingly available. But even if they are all reliable, are they all suitable for use? It is users’ questions that drive the selection of data and information. For example, “how many people are currently employed as assemblers”, “what is the share of women employed in Germany?”, “what is the share of unemployed office clerks?”, or “are care workers paid better or worse than people employed in similar occupations?”, “what is the future outlook of my occupation?” Once key questions are gathered, information needs can be defined, relevant data and information selected or collected, and then analysed or synthesised in ways that are meaningful to the specific user group.
The ‘why’ part
To support users’ decisions, findings need to be presented in a way understandable to the specific users. This may involve presenting combinations of quantitative data that would not necessarily convey the intended message if presented standalone; or blending quantitative with qualitative information. While in some cases, a simple graph may be sufficient, in others more advanced visualisations could be more suitable to transmit a complex message in a user-friendly format.
The ‘how’ part
As with the construction of a house, expertise is needed to ensure that all the above steps are followed and all requirements are met. Experts in skills and labour market issues, statisticians and data scientists, and user experience or web development specialists (if the goal is to offer skills intelligence online) are needed. It is the experts who will identify users’ information needs; match these with available and reliable data and information; decide on which particular types of information and/or indicators to select; on how to blend them; and on what is the most appropriate way to disseminate/display them for the particular target group. Developing skills intelligence is a process of interlinked steps performed by experts, which transforms fragmented data and information to comprehensive ‘story-telling’, with policy or practical relevance.
Skills intelligence lies at the core of Cedefop’s work and the agency has invested considerably in developing its online skills intelligence tools and databases[i] . In the Skills Panorama, ‘skills intelligence stories’ have been built, keeping in mind typical user questions.
For example, occupation dashboards have been developed after meticulous selection of suitable quantitative data and brainstorming on how to best blend and present information and adapt sequencing to user needs. Appropriate visualisations and supporting texts facilitate the contextualisation and interpretation of information presented. In parallel, analytical highlights – series of short reports - use quantitative and qualitative information to inform skills intelligence users on relevant themes in a succinct way.
Other Cedefop online tools and databases also turn complex and detailed data/information coming from various sources into easy-to-understand and visually engaging messages and insights. For example, the Cedefop Skills Forecast tool presents quantitative data using user-friendly visualisations; the European Skills Index visualises countries’ skill system performance by synthesising a number of quantitative indicators on skill development, utilisation and matching; Matching skills – a database of national policies in EU countries - helps users identify how to better use skills intelligence in skills matching policies and practices; the Financing adult learning database facilitates research on funding arrangements in EU countries, while the Resources for guidance toolkit supports career guidance counsellors with quantitative and qualitative information.
All Cedefop skills intelligence aims to strengthen the links between education and training and the labour market. In an era with rapid technological and social change, which demands more flexible adaptation in both “worlds” and challenges conventional approaches, Cedefop’s skills intelligence can be a valuable tool in stakeholders’ “arsenal” to take evidence-informed decisions.