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How to Interpret and Use Labor Market Information

Interpreting labor market information can seem like a lot of work. But if you take it step by step and seek input and advice, the process may not seem so overwhelming.

Find Labor Market Information

The most effective way to get labor market information is to read everything you can about different occupations, says Kim Boydell. He is president of an economic analysis center.

Labor market information is available at the national, state and local levels.

The key labor market source in the United States is the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are many other resources to complement this information.

States also have other helpful labor market information resources, such as college and university business and economic research centers, chambers of commerce and industry associations.

In other words, the more sources you research, the better.

"For example, most associations will highlight the benefits of their fields," Boydell says. "But look behind the headlines and glamour to see what the job is like on a day-to-day basis. Compare the occupational descriptions from associations and other sources of information, such as people working in those fields."

Know if Your Career is in Demand

Before investing large amounts of time and money in education and training, learn about the demand for jobs that you are interested in, says Laurel Dukehart. She is a nationally certified School-to-Work program technical assistance provider.

"If demand is high, you can afford to be choosy about the employer you want and the job location," she states. "On the other hand, if there are few positions available for what you want to do, there could be a lot more competition."

When looking at job demand, focus on what wages are rising in particular occupations and where the competition exists in the industry, Boydell says. He points out that high school students need to realize that any tight job market is liable to have changed once they graduate from university, college or technical school.

To compensate, he advises that students look not at a specific career, but at an entire field.

For example, in the scientific field, there may be a shortage of marine biologists. Yet students interested in that career may want to consider jobs in research and education, Boydell says.

During your education, "look for a wide range of careers that fit [your] interests," Boydell says. "Then look at it more closely before graduating."

Geographic location is a factor that you always need to take into consideration. You need to consider what region the stats apply to, and where you may want to work.

O'Reilly tells students that they need to ask themselves if the information about job availability in Canada or the United States applies to where they live or want to live.

"It may or it may not -- which is why it's so important to check it out -- in your local newspaper, unions and associations and human resource departments of local companies and industries," she says.

Know that job demand may reflect the population. For example, a small town won't need as many doctors as a large city.

If you do discover the demand for your career of choice is low, do not give up your goals. Follow your heart for success.

"Never let labor market information keep you from pursuing a dream," O'Reilly says. "There are so many ways to shape what you want to do if you use creativity -- your own or someone else's."

Determine Your Wage

Learning about salaries is a reality of interpreting labor market information.

Labor market information shows the median averages one can expect to earn. "Median" means 50 percent of workers earned below that wage, and 50 percent earned above that wage.

What many young people don't understand, says Dukehart, is that they begin a new job at a "starting wage." They then move up on the earnings pay scale after they gain experience. A good career plan requires that one stays with their work to reach higher pay levels.

"Wage data may lead to disappointment if you use it to figure out exactly what you might earn when you start a job. But it is still useful to compare occupations, as long as they have been analysed using the same rules," says Dukehart.

Plus, you need to determine if your estimated salary range will satisfy your lifestyle. Sometimes, people take a lower salary to do the work they love.

You also have to factor in your cost of living, which will vary depending on your location. It costs more to live in a big center than in a small town. In many cases, jobs in the major centers will pay more to compensate for the higher cost of living.

Learn About Job Growth

Determining your occupation's job growth through labor market information takes careful consideration.

Look at the numbers carefully. Realize that a job may be growing fast, but the actual number of job openings can still be quite insignificant.

If there are two doctors in a small town, and two more jobs for physicians open up, you could say demand for doctors has doubled. That sounds pretty good. However, only two jobs have actually opened up!

Put It All Together

Finding reliable labor market information is one of the first steps to planning your career. But be careful to sort out what is relevant to your situation.

A lot of information exists out there. If you don't have a process for narrowing down what you need, you may be overwhelmed. And it could stop you from doing anything, O'Reilly says.

"Always check it out from both sides," she says. "If you get it from a college, go to the employers. If you get it from a local employer, go to the association or educational institution or government. If you get it from an association, ask a worker in the field and an employer."

If you are confused, seek advice from your school counselor career adviser or a professional in the field you are interested in.

"Find and use support," says O'Reilly. "Any support you can find to help you take action to search out and make appointments and phone. And look in unlikely places to get that information."