Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Minnesota's online job search and career planning tools going nationwide

By Brad Allen | Published Wed, Apr 21 2010 9:54 am

Minnesota may be known for its lakes and loons, grumpy old men on ice, medical devices and mosquitoes, but it’s also becoming nationally recognized for innovative online employment and career self-help tool

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) developed a one-stop website, Job Skills Transfer Assessment Tool (JobSTAT), that knits together a rich set of different databases — from skill-matching tools and salary information for particular jobs, to hot jobs in demand, green jobs and actual job openings posted by employers around the state.

Launched April 1, the site has attracted positive attention from several other states as well as the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

DEED — which has managed DOL’s national job search website, CareerOneStop, for more than a decade — was recently awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to enhance the national site, adding many of the same features as Minnesota’s website, as well as additional features.

Minnesota’s JobSTAT: Answers from different databases
As the economy lurched into the deepest recession in decades, Minnesota’s jobless numbers swelled and the states’ 49 workforce center offices were swamped with the newly unemployed. Steve Hine, director of research for labor market information at DEED, imagined that those newly unemployed were walking into those workforce centers with lots of questions:

What other jobs and careers am I qualified for with my experience and skills? What’s the salary range for a particular job? Are jobs growing or declining for the new career I’m interested in? What education is required and where can I find courses that will help me quality for a new career? What jobs in my field are available near where I live?

Hine also knew his department was sitting on top of “different buckets of information” that could help a job seeker answer those questions. One site contained tools to match the skills learned on one job with the requirements in a different job. Another site contained national and regional salary information for various occupations. A third site listed “occupations in demand,” and a separate site contained job openings posted by Minnesota employers.

As job hunting, career searches, resume posting and applications become almost exclusively web-based, even for entry level positions, online databases and tools can seem scattered, difficult to use and confusing, even for the computer savvy. Hine recognized that there was no easy way to sort through all the information and evaluate career options. But with pressing priorities elsewhere, the department “never had an opportunity to pull it all together in a way that made sense for the user,” Hine said.

With the rapid rise in unemployment, he recognized a need to “break down the silos of information ... [and] put it together in a package” providing useful, timely and accurate information in an easily accessible way for Minnesota job seekers.

But it was the aggressive marketing pitch by an outside vendor trying to sell the state an online job-matching tool that finally motivated Hine to act. “The tool was limited,” he said. Designed to quickly place people into jobs, it eliminated options where someone “might need to brush up on skills or take a course ... [and] led to downward mobility,” Hine observed.

After the presentation, Hine was asked for his reaction, and he said his department could come up with a better alternative for less money.

“Darned if they didn’t take me up on it!” he said.

With federal stimulus funding available, Hine was able to pull together a small team working in collaboration with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) to develop the rich tool Hine had envisioned for job seekers. The part-time effort began last fall and cost about $25,000 in staff time, Hine estimates, compared with the annual $100,000 fee the private vendor had been asking for the more limited product.

Minnesota managing national job search site

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