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Needs Assessment of Chosen Industry

Once you have identified the industry, you must begin to learn more about its challenges and needs. By definition, a sector partnership focuses on solving workforce problems affecting multiple employers in a defined industry and region. In order to identify the workforce issues within an industry and region, a needs assessment should be performed. This process will begin with the use of labor market information, and continue through primary data collected from employers and other partners.

What exactly are you finding out about an industry? Sector partnerships are not only focused on new jobs, but can also consider career advancement, the workforce pipeline or additional skill and training requirements. The needs assessment typically consists of reviewing existing information and gathering new information through various means, such as surveying and interviewing.

Secondary Data

Once you’ve chosen your target industry, it’s time to start learning about those that will be the likely target of the activities of your sector initiative – the workers! You’ll want to know what types of occupations are employed in that industry and in what proportions, as well as how much those jobs tend to pay and what characteristics and skill requirements they have.

Staffing Patterns

A staffing pattern describes the distribution of occupations within a specific industry. Some states will publish state-specific staffing patterns, and some of the proprietary data providers will generate staffing patterns for any region. These are great resources if you can get them. But if you can’t, don’t worry – at the 3 digit NAICS level, your region probably has a similar employment pattern to other regions around the country, so you can simply use the national staffing patterns.

Staffing patterns are available for individual industries from BLS, and this is a quick and easy way to get a sense of the key occupations in the industry. For the most detailed information, in a format that’s easy to manipulate and sort, you can download the staffing patterns for all industries here. You want the file called “National 3-digit NAICS Industry-Specific estimates” (or 4-digit NAICS if you’re working at that level of data), for the most recent year available.

This is a VERY large file, so you’ll want to select only the rows that pertain to the industry or industries you’re interested in, and copy them into a new spreadsheet to work with. Once they’re there, you can construct a data table about those occupations, using the data points described below, following the technique described in the industry section, and illustrated in this sample table. Details on what all the columns and notes mean are included in a separate file from the dates, so be sure to review it to know which columns you are interested in and what the various non-numerical notations mean. (Tabs A & B)


The staffing pattern table includes several different wage options, including hourly and annual wages, available as medians or averages and at a variety of percentiles. This data is useful to gain a perspective on the relative pay scales of the different occupations within the industry, but remember that this is national data. The same occupation in that industry in your region might pay a higher or lower wage, depending on a variety of local factors, such as cost of living. (Tabs A & B)

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You can get occupational wage information for your region from the same labor market information source you used during the industry identification step. As with the industry data, you may have to look at a couple of different geographies if your region doesn’t exactly match up to what’s available.

Also, at the state or local level, in most cases the occupational wage data is only available for all workers in that occupation across all industries, not for a specific industry sector, so you should take that into account when looking at local data. The extent to which this matters will vary a lot by the occupation. For example, cashier wages might be fairly uniform across all industries, but wages of registered nurses or other health professions will generally be much lower in a residential care facility versus a hospital or doctor’s office.

Occupation and Worker Characteristics

BLS publishes data on the characteristics of workers employed in each occupation. This includes the likelihood of part-time employment, likelihood of unemployment, and data related to most significant source of education and training, as well as the educational attainment cluster of occupational holders aged 25-44. Data for the 2006-2016 time period are included on Tab C of the accompanying spreadsheet, and an explanation of the data can be found on the BLS website.

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The educational attainment cluster data is a relatively new addition to the data set, and is very helpful for understanding the various paths to an occupation. Historically, we tended to rely on the "most significant source of education" data piece as a proxy for worker education level requirements. However, this data only reflects the mostly likely form of training that will result in a worker becoming skilled for that occupation. The educational attainment cluster data looks at the actual educational attainment of workers in that occupation aged 25-44. Combining these two data sets together can yield important clues towards employer hiring practices. For example, the most significant source of training for an occupation might be "long term on the job training," leading one to conclude that this occupation would be a good choice for someone without a degree. However, if the educational attainment level of most occupation holders is "college/some college," then it is likely that a worker without higher education may find it hard to compete.

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Note that this data is national data, and cross-industry. So while it can give you some important clues towards the occupations in your target industry, you will want to review these assumptions with employers in the industry to understand how things may be different in your region or among your specific employers. (Tabs C & D)

Additional Occupational Characteristics and Requirements

The O*Net Center publishes detailed profiles of each occupation, including numerical measures of knowledge, skill and ability requirements, tools and technology used on the job, and specific job tasks.

Information about Labor Supply

You will also want to learn about the characteristics of potential workers in your region. This includes data on age, gender and educational attainment available from the US Census Bureau, as well as unemployment data. Another good source of labor supply data are labor shed studies published by economic development firms specializing in business attraction. These reports attempt to quantify not only the unemployed workers, but also the underemployed, and include a variety of other information about the region's labor market. Availability of these reports will vary from region to region - talk to your economic development partners to learn if one has been conducted in your area.