Working better: three ways to improve labour market information for young people

Working better: three ways to improve labour market information for young people

TechPathways London’s Caitlin McMillan spent a day at Nesta’s Working Better conference and came back with three key messages for improving careers information and advice in the 21st-century jobs market.

Exploring labour market information at Nesta's Work Better event.


How we can anticipate what jobs and skills will be in demand in the future and how can we best help people to navigate into jobs that are right for them?


Those were the important questions at the heart of innovation think tank Nesta’s ‘Working Better’ conference on 23 October, which brought together 100 experts, policymakers and practitioners to explore new approaches to creating an inclusive, future-oriented system for jobs and skills using data and design.


We’ve been regularly using Nesta’s labour market data in the Tech Pathways London programme, including Precarious to prepared, The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030 and Making Sense of Skills and, as I expected, the day-long event was rich in ideas and discussion, offering a wide range of fascinating insights, case studies and questions.


Three themes stood out for me across the various speakers.


How can we unify the language of the labour market?


One of the most common insights from the speakers was the idea that much communication of jobs information is made more confusing by a lack of continuity in the language used. The same job role could have two different names at two different companies. The same fundamental skill could be described in many different ways.


This is particularly problematic as job searches, and even CV evaluations, become increasingly automated. If candidates aren’t searching for the correct keywords, or the AI system can’t recognise that someone with skills in ‘digital marketing’ may also want to look at jobs in ‘social media management’, then both candidates and employers could lose out.


This rings very true in a school context, and particularly with relation to tech. Most people don’t know the difference between a software developer and a software engineer. Chances are that is true for some of the people writing the job descriptions too – so how is a young person interested in that field supposed to navigate it? Continuity of language would be a good place to start.


What are we optimising for when we give people labour market information? What are the outputs? Do they help us to define the inputs?


Something that was frequently interrogated throughout the day is why labour market information is useful. What does it help us to do? What is the point of giving it to people? Central to this is the question of what information we should be gathering in the first place.

From an education perspective, knowing what skills are likely to be increasing in demand can help us to best prepare the young people we work with for the 21st-century job market. It can boost our confidence in giving careers advice, and help us to point young people in the right direction.


We need to collect data on what doesn’t work as well as what does.


We tell children frequently that mistakes are good because you can learn from them. That is only true if you acknowledge those mistakes and respond to them. It turns out that, when it comes to jobs programmes, we aren’t so good at that. A lot of programmes are reinventing the wheel, running back over ideas that have been tried before and found wanting.


In some ways, technology can really help us with this. Sharing information has never been easier, and a simple Google search could show you if your brilliant idea for careers speed dating in schools has been tried before and whether there are any pitfalls to avoid. But! This only works if people share their insights, successes and failures alike.