The Growing Importance of Data Analytics to Economic and Workforce Development: What I learned at the Annual EMSI User Conference


In September, I had the opportunity to attend and be a panelist at the annual user conference of EMSI, (Economic Modeling Specialists Inc.) in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. EMSI is the industry leader in labor market data for economic and workforce development.

The conference, titled The New Data Age, offered plenty of presentations and panels on emerging trends in data analytics for workforce and economic development while allowing ample time for networking and peer-to-peer discussions. I would like to share some take-a-ways from my conference experience.


Data analytics is increasingly important to the practice
of economic and workforce development.

Digital technologies have made data on businesses, employees, job seekers, wages, economic outputs and multiple other indicators readily available via the web and web-based platforms. While some, such as subscriptions to EMSI come at a cost much is available for free. Those with a cost can save time and provide greater depth to analysis. What this means for economic and workforce development entities is that they must skill-up and become adept at business analytics to work smarter at devising strategies, providing services, and measuring outcomes.


New tools and techniques become
available all the time.

As more and more data are generated, tracked, and shared, new applications become available. A panel of Emsi executives shared what’s new and up and coming at EMSI, including:

  • Skill cluster methodology, which is new data and research that can identify emerging jobs in real-time to help students and the underemployed identify strategic opportunities for re-skilling for career transitions; and
  • International employment and occupation data supporting economic and workforce development in a global economy.

Old methods are quickly becoming outdated
as the economy changes rapidly.

Understanding industries and occupations according to standard codes is quickly becoming outdated – codes simply can’t keep up with emerging trends and nuances. Dr. Yustina Saleh, Emsi’s senior VP of analytics, and Luke Jankovic, Emsi’s executive VP of higher education, shared Emsi’s new, skills-based data model for defining the labor market. This allows for assessing skill-based clusters and fits what we have found at Camoin:  talent supply and demand dynamic and opportunities exist at cross-sections of sectors and even among sectors that have yet to be clearly defined. Emsi CEO, Andrew Crapuchettes stated it well in his address to the conference, “The economy is more complex than job titles”.   


It is all about skills and competencies at the personal
level as well as the organizational and system level.

Creating opportunities and access for building skills and credentials at the personal level leads to increased talent availability for companies throughout local and regional systems. This includes opportunities for lifelong learning and skill building.

In a presentation titled Talent Market & People Analytics-How they’ll be working together in the years ahead, Al Adamsen of the Talent Strategy Institute provided a presentation that shed light on how to understand and integrate skills and competencies at the personal level into workforce analytics and workforce planning. Al defines people analytics as “The process of generating data-based insight into individual, team, organization, or other group behavior over time, especially insight into what will likely happen in the near future based on a certain scenario, intervention, or other change”.

At the company level, EMSI highlighted its Company Talent Profile tool. This tool provides detailed data at the company level regarding level and type of employment, skills and positions they are trying to hire for, and other companies are searching for the same talent. This provides business intelligence to support business retention, attraction, and training and education programing.


There is excitement as well as anxiety
regarding the future of work! 

Automation, AI (artificial intelligence), gig, and the digital economy call in to question which skills will be valued in the future. In my recent experience at Camoin Associates working communities and regions, there has been pushback on the value of higher education, particularly liberal arts education. This is usually based on the cost of education and its perceived disconnect from employment opportunities. “Not so fast” says Dr. Michelle Weise, senior vice president of workforce strategies at Strada. In her keynote address titled The Future of Work & Transferable Skills: Exploring the Labor Market for Liberal Arts Grads, Dr. Weise presented the initial findings from Strada and Emsi’s research initiative exploring the liberal arts degree in today’s economy. Weise explained “From first job to third job, there’s huge mobility for liberal arts grads,” and “Cultivating our uniquely human skills may be the best way to prepare for an uncertain future”.


The conference also included hands-on, best practices
for economic and workforce developers.

In her presentation on Using EMSI Data for Business Attraction: An Economic Developer’s Approach, Bethany Williams of Lake County Partners stressed that talent and workforce are critical to both business retention and attraction and, in fact, being good at using data for retention will help make your case and develop attraction strategies. In his presentation on How to Amplify Emsi Data with IBISWorld & LexisNexis Data for Rural Communities, Chad Miller of University of Southern Mississippi provided detailed data tools and sources for each step of the targeted industry process and how it all fits together.

In sum, the EMSI User Conference was a great opportunity to learn as well as network and “nerd out” with economic and workforce development colleagues throughout the country. Presentations are available for download at:



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