It can be difficult to start your future career search, especially if you don’t have a strong sense of what types of jobs you’re looking for. Where do you even begin?
Reviewing labor market data for the careers that interest you is a great place to start. These stats can give you a quick — but realistic — overview of the industry you’re considering. It’s a one-stop-shop for info about future pay, required education, and even job availability. See how to find this data, and what to look for as you review it.
What is labor market data?
You can research jobs and careers endlessly online, but labor market data can provide a big-picture view of what the industry is like in the real world. Job market data includes stats about average earnings, education level, demographics of the workforce, forecasts for the future of the industry, and more.
Information like this can prove valuable as you weigh different career paths. You’ll get an idea of the types of industries that employ workers in certain jobs, where the majority of jobs are located, your future earning potential, and the supply and demand of the labor force.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*NET Online compile and share a lot of this information, so those are smart places to start your search. Private companies such as PayScale also collect self-reported data from millions of workers.
5 key data points to review
It’s easy to get overwhelmed as you start wading into all these statistics and trends. To simplify things, focus on learning these key points about each career you’re considering.
Determining the average amount that workers make in a specific job is perhaps one of the most important parts of career research. First, it gives you an idea of the type of lifestyle you could afford once you’re established in your career. But it can also help you price out your potential education costs. With an estimated salary in hand, you can better determine how much you can afford in student loans, for example, or what a reasonable cost for additional training might be.
Labor data will also include the types of education or training that most workers have in a given field. Jobs that require advanced degrees typically pay more, but that comes with a trade-off — the more education is required, the longer you’ll have to study before you can enter the job market and the more you could owe in student loans. A job that allows for on-the-job training, on the other hand, might pay less but allow you to start working sooner.
Number of jobs
How many jobs are available in your desired career, and how is that expected to change in the coming years? A thriving, growing industry is a good indicator that you’ll be able to find a job when you’re ready. Jobs that are in decline or have a smaller footprint may be more competitive, especially for first-time job seekers who are new to the industry.
Plenty of jobs, such as nurses or teachers, are available in every part of the country. But other industries can be tied to a specific geographic location. For example, a career in politics may require you to live near Washington, D.C.; a worker in the entertainment industry might be based in a major city such as Los Angeles or New York; a computer programmer could find the best job opportunities near Silicon Valley. While the rise of remote work may make your location less important in the future, there are still some careers that are tied to where you live.
No one can predict the future, but having an idea of an industry’s trajectory can be useful when choosing a career. A career in a growing industry could provide job security since the number of open positions will likely continue to increase in future years. Again, looking to the future could also help determine how much you should invest in a chosen career.
Why labor market data is so important
By reviewing a few key data points about each career that interests you, you can get a clearer picture of what your job prospects might be when you’re ready to start work. But more importantly, you can get a better sense of what your work life will actually be like.
Are you likely to earn enough to support your expected lifestyle? Are the education or training requirements attainable to you? Will you be able to live in a location that fits your personality? It’s wise to answer these questions before committing to a career path, and researching labor market data can help you do just that.