Is it time to admit that LMI needs a rethink?

Every Careers practitioner understands the value of Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) and the worth of placing advice and guidance in the context of the reality of the world of work their clients will be engaging with. Be it the skill requirements of tomorrow, typical salary expectations for roles or the projected demand and fall in employment sectors, there is no debate on the importance of targeting LMI activities and information throughout an employability program or guidance interview. And, looking at the range of data that is considered LMI,

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What is LMI?

you can see why.

This is reinforced by guidance

gatsby lmi

DfE School Careers Guidance

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CDI Employability Framework 2020

so it’s presence becomes a fundamental aspect of any CEIAG quality monitoring process.

LMI also has the backing of research both in graduate employability schemes

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and in the wider theory context

theory lmi

and is a unit in Careers Adviser training.

Despite this though, there seems to be a lot of evidence that LMI, or rather how LMI is currently being used isn’t winning the hearts and minds of young people in a whole range of career related decisions.

When making decisions about Higher Education for example it seems that the views and opinions of parents are the most valued by young people

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and LMI as presented can fail to remold the inner beliefs of young people that have already taken hold.

Over the past few years, we have spoken to hundreds of students about their next steps. They have consistently emphasised that their parents are their most trusted sources of information and often the “makers or breakers” for students weighing options. Students in Teesside, for example, explained that their sense that colleges or universities are “selling” HE courses was a major turn-off.

Many parents can hold sceptical views about HE, sometimes based on misconceptions. Our 2018 report on parental engagement with university outreach showed that although most, regardless of socio-economic group, want their children to go to university, they also have deep fears about debt, living costs and employment prospects.

These positive or negative views the young person holds towards certain educational pathways are subsets of the general views they have already soaked up regarding the value education can bring to their lives.

It also seems parents and siblings can have significant sway over young people’s decisions and views across the range of career related decisions.

1. Family members remain an important source of information

It is to be expected that family members are a key influence on young people’s educational decisions, with many pupils telling us they discuss their options with their parents and siblings. Some though were surprisingly aware of biases their parents may have.

There should be important lessons here for those who design LMI materials, those who deliver them and those who hope that LMI can assist with their future talent pipelines and, I would propose, lessons could be found in a controversial place.

Much LMI delivery is based around data and presenting statistics in memorable ways through display

reports

or regional websites to improve the awareness of relevant data. Publishing these statistics in charts and graphs is following the Rationalistic use of LMI described by Staunton

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I would argue though that, as the studies above show, their impact is brief and and insubstantial compared to pull of the family, tradition and community.

This was something that the marketing minds behind the Brexit campaign (in it’s many guises) gleefully and successfully embraced during and after the referendum campaign. Brexit is (still) an emotive issue but putting aside your reaction to the outcome, any observer would surely conclude that the messages of the Leave campaign resonated and hit home with greater impact than anything the Remain campaign produced.

The Remain campaign forlornly churned out numerous press messages based on sourced economic impact work with data and statistics hoping to sway voters by pointing out the economic risks of leaving the EU

Rather than accentuating the positive, Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, sought to scare the electorate into voting their way, arguing that a vote for Leave would plunge the U.K. economy into a recession and cost the average household about sixty-two hundred dollars a year.

Almost all economists agree that the E.U. has been good to Britain. But the sixty-two-hundred-a-year figure was so large, and so specific, that many people didn’t believe it.

Without rehashing an issue that has divided families, generations and the country for three years now, my concern is not with the economic validity of those arguments but that they are weaker arguments to make than the more emotive campaign waged by the Leave side.

Remain also had problems with the message. Its task was inherently more difficult than that of Leave: the arguments for staying in the EU are complicated, economic, numerical, hard to explain and often dull, while the arguments for leaving are simple and emotional.

Posters using queues of refugees to criticize historic immigration levels under EU control or proclaiming that Turkey will soon join the EU are both clearly reprehensible in their message of fear and the highly debatable nature of their accuracy but these were the wilder extreme of the messages disseminated by the campaign to Leave.

Overall their brand and communications tapped into key narratives felt by, demonstrably, a majority of the country; that immigration was too high, that public services were not coping, that the old adage that working hard will bring success had been broken and that the very politicians elected to represent them were not listening to those communities. Again, it is not the validity of those grievances or how culpable the EU is for them that I want to raise, only that they landed with their target audience. One of the main players behind the campaign, Dominic Cummings outlined the reasons for this as

The closest approximation to the truth that we can get is that Leave won because of a combination of 1) three big, powerful forces with global impact: the immigration crisis, the financial crisis, and the euro crisis which created conditions in which the referendum could be competitive; 2) Vote Leave implemented some unrecognised simplicities in its operations that focused attention more effectively than the other side on a simple and psychologically compelling story, thus taking advantage of those three big forces; and 3) Cameron and Osborne operated with a flawed model of what constitutes effective political action and had bad judgement about key people

and it’s his point 2 that LMI campaigners can learn from. Find what resonates with your target audience and tell a story that appeals to that narrative. As we have seen from the studies above, these messages should not just land with young people but also their parents and carers as well if you want to appeal to culture and change decisions.

It feels remiss in a post such as this to not offer some suggestions to clarify how I think this could work for LMI messaging so here goes:

If you want to encourage more young people from disadvantaged or traditional working class backgrounds to apply for your historically privately educated or middle class industry? Those communities feel that there is an us/them approach in those employment spaces and remove those roles from their realistic routes because of this. So use role models at the center of your campaign materials but not, as many firms currently do, as inspirational beacons but as disruptors, shaking up the establishment. Paint them as people who had to fight hard to succeed but they did and no they need your help to battle for their space alongside the more privileged colleagues they work with every day. The pitch is not to follow in the role models footsteps but to join them in this space. This approach would build motivation about wanting to overcome barriers to industries that have been erected to keep people some different backgrounds out.

Trying to increase aspiration to work in your historically low wage sector such as the care industry? Use the lack of local, respected industries that many communities feel do not exist in their area. So forget about using LMI to increase awareness of the growing demand for workers in the sector and use LMI to show the accessibility of work in local communities and show how the work is valued and relied upon in those communities. This would alter the perception of care work to position it as a bedrock of the community with a higher status within that local community.

These are quick suggestions that would still be highly reliant on targeted advertising spending using digital marketing or behavioural science expertise to have any hope of achieving impact on decisions and culture but, I hope, they show how LMI could be framed using narrative to appeal to audiences that require more tailored approaches to reach them. This is something that FE College marketing departments are already utilising based on market research

We discovered we could split our prospects into five distinct groups, ranging from Career-Driven Chris, who has always known that he wanted to become a chef, to A-level Ali, who is very open about the fact that applying to college is only a back-up to A levels.

Both these students could apply to your college, but clearly both will need very different communications to maximise the chance that they will convert. Chris isn’t interested in “college vs school” type blogs or content; he wants to know the latest news from the hospitality team and the restaurants at which former students have gone on to work. Ali, on the other hand, needs to be convinced that a vocational option is a viable alternative to A levels.

Weaving LMI into these more tailored messages aid the narrative the institution wants to tell. For the Career minded applicant, they want to hear of the specific local employers hiring graduates directly from the College catering course while for the back-up applicant, the general wage premiums from a range FE courses would be useful data to include in the messaging sent to them.

Returning to the approaches to LMI proposed by Tom Staunton, these proposed uses of LMI are part of the Radical approach

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for they aim to change the status quo by highlighting certain data or choosing to share certain data points over others. This is a much less prosaic use of LMI than the Rationalistic which comes with the danger of hyperbole but, as the Brexit campaign shows, it is this kind of messaging that can elicit stronger and more lasting reactions and decision change from audiences.

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