Cities, Data and the Future of Work

By Stephen Goldsmith • May 29, 2018

This post originally appeared on Stephen Goldsmith's Better Faster Cheaper blog on

Technological innovation is remodeling the workforce, transforming the jobs people do as well as how, where and when they do them. While these changes free up workers to focus on more challenging problems and complex decisions, they also are eliminating many of the jobs on which 20th-century middle-class growth was built. An increasing share of the remaining jobs are contract-based, untethered from a specific location, and lacking the benefits that protected workers in previous generations.

City halls and regional economic development organizations have an important role to play in developing jobs and helping workers navigate the uncertainty of the current labor market. However, many of the workforce development tools that have been available to them originated from a social service point of view -- how to help unemployed or underemployed individuals. Today's dynamic economy puts a premium on work support services that help prepare people for trades that will endure as occupations shift. In addition, those working to develop a more prepared workforce, including not only employers but also secondary schools and community colleges, require much better and more current information.

More and more, tools that meet those needs are being developed and put to use. Whereas job reports from the U.S. Department of Labor and other agencies necessarily lag behind day-to-day market trends, cities now have the opportunity to analyze job openings in near real-time. Online job marketplaces and data collected by social media companies like LinkedIn can help a city understand the local supply and demand of labor to an unprecedented degree. With more precise analysis, cities can better monitor that data and identify specific opportunities to improve employment.

Around the country, cities are leveraging market analytics to align labor supply with demand, develop better training programs, and work with institutions to fill education gaps. In March, I moderated the biannual Project on Municipal Innovation conference, which brought together 35 mayoral chiefs of staff at the Harvard Kennedy School where we discussed, among other topics, workforce development strategies for the present and future of work. That conversation highlighted a number of interesting data-driven workforce initiatives.

To increase the number of local hires in the Pittsburgh area, for example, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development worked with private firms to conduct a job market demand analysis for the period from 2015 to 2025. The organization blended information from public sources such as the Census Bureau and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry with job posting data from Burning Glass Technologies, a company that aggregates real-time market insights. The final report projected demand in the city for IT skills such as technical support and software engineering and predicted industry-specific growth in sectors such as robotics and "additive manufacturing," which combines computer-aided design with 3D printing technology. In response, the Allegheny Conference generated a talent pipeline, uniting employers with educators to prepare students for in-demand jobs.

Pittsburgh is also revamping its recruiting process. Imagine Pittsburgh, an online toolkit built to attract talent to the region, provides a glimpse into enticing job opportunities in the area. And in 2016, the Allegheny Conference began a program for college students with high-demand majors to tour with local employers. Additionally, the city publishes market data to help workers determine where they can succeed in the city.

Constant changes in the labor market demand better data and quicker responsiveness to the data. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio took on that workforce challenge in 2014 by rolling out the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline. Informed by regularly updated job posting data from LinkedIn, the Pipeline prepares New Yorkers for high-earning, career-oriented and tech-based occupations. Tech Talent Pipeline Executive Director Lauren Andersen said she aims to "build the capacity of existing infrastructure to continuously align to industry needs, because tech needs today are going to be so different than those of the future." The Pipeline equips students with computer science skills while data systems track the outcomes of different training programs, distinguishing paths that lead to successful careers.

These kinds of localized real-time data also highlight contrasts between the workforce needs of different cities. In Boston, for instance, demand for cybersecurity jobs is greatest in the health-care and retail industries. In New York City it is highest in the finance industry, and in Washington, D.C., the defense and federal contractor predominate. In each of those broad categories, finely tuned information can enable a city government to mold its market's skillsets and construct its particular identity within the national workforce.

The workforce insights from current data that these emerging tools provide allow communities to much more accurately design support services and interventions that will help smooth the disruptions, increase opportunities for their residents and assist workers displaced by today's accelerating workforce transformations.

About the Author

Stephen Goldsmith 

Stephen Goldsmith is the Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. His latest book is Growing Fairly: How to Build Opportunity and Equity in Workforce Development.

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