Exploring Careers Using Labor Supply and Demand Data

Monday, August 13, 2018
Andrew Berger-Gross

One important factor to consider when pursuing a career is how much competition you will face from existing jobseekers. This article demonstrates how LEAD’s North Carolina Labor Supply/Demand data can also be used to inform career decisions.1

The North Carolina Labor Supply/Demand data provides estimates of the number of jobseekers (labor supply) and job openings (labor demand) in North Carolina and its regions. In an earlier article, we described how researchers can use these data to track the tightness of our state’s labor market. This article shows how the same data can be used to compare the employment prospects of various careers in our state.

In this article, we use two hypothetical jobseekers as examples. The first, Sophia, is willing to locate anywhere in North Carolina and wants to pursue a career with the best employment prospects. The second, Jerron, would like to remain in the Western part of the state, does not want to commit to a 4-year course of study, and has specific preferences about the type of job he will accept—but still wants to identify careers with the best employment prospects given those limitations.

Sophia first wants to decide on a general field to pursue, what we refer to here as a “Career Cluster”. 2 Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics has the tightest labor market among the 15 Career Clusters reported on our website, with a “supply/demand rate” of 1.3 jobseekers (labor supply) per job opening (labor demand). A tight labor market is advantageous to jobseekers, since they are competing with a relatively small number of applicants for a given position.

Each broad Career Cluster consists of narrower Career Pathways. The Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics cluster is composed of two pathways: Engineering and Technology, and Science and Mathematics. The former has a very tight labor market, with less than one jobseeker per job opening, while the latter offers relatively less opportunity for jobseekers, with nearly four jobseekers per job opening

Clearly, the Engineering and Technology pathway is a promising field for those with the required skills and experience. If Sophia has a Bachelor’s Degree, or is able to obtain one, she may want to consider a career as a Mechanical Engineer. LEAD rates this as a “5-star” occupation, due to its high median wage (around $80,000 per year) and rapid growth projected over the next 10 years. Mechanical Engineering is the top-rated occupation in the Engineering and Technology pathway, according to LEAD’s Star Jobs methodology. Star Jobs information is included on LEAD’s Labor Supply/Demand website, with a list of occupations broken out by Career Pathway, Career Cluster, and educational requirement.

Jerron, unlike Sophia, has several limiting factors. He wants to work in the Western region of the state—in the Asheville area—and intends to enroll in post-secondary education at his local community college, but is not interested in completing a four-year Bachelor’s program. For this region and education level, the tightest labor market is in the Health Science cluster. However, Jerron would prefer to avoid healthcare jobs, and chooses instead the Transportation, Distribution & Logistics cluster, which is nearly as tight as Health Science and is more in line with his career interests.

Within this cluster, region, and education level, the Transportation Operations pathway has the tightest labor market, with only 1.2 jobseekers per job opening.3

Given his limitations and preferences, Jerron may want to consider a career as a Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Driver.  LEAD rates this as a “4-star” occupation, with a relatively low median wage (around $38,000 per year) but a large number of job openings projected over the next 10 years.

These examples demonstrate the role that data on labor supply and demand can play in the career exploration process. Of course, these examples are overly simplified—in the real world, individuals at all stages of their careers weigh numerous considerations when deciding which jobs to apply for, or which educational programs to enroll in.  But whatever their personal needs and preferences, these data can help jobseekers understand which fields offer the best employment prospects.

General disclaimers:

Data sources cited in this article are derived from surveys and administrative records and are subject to sampling and non-sampling error. Any mistakes in data management, analysis, or presentation are the author’s.

1 See here for a detailed explanation of our methodology.

2 We group occupations according to the National Career Clusters Framework, as defined by AdvanceCTE(formerly the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium). This taxonomy was developed as an organizing tool for curriculum design and instruction, and can help students choose a course of study that leads to their preferred career.  Note that the National Career Clusters Framework differs in several respects from NCWorks Certified Career Pathways.

3 The Transportation, Distribution & Logistics cluster contains a total of five Career Pathways, but three of these pathways are too small to report in the Western region for this education level.