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Section 3: Understanding Labour Market Information


3.1 What is a labour market?

Here is a working definition of a labour market:

A labour market is a mechanism which matches potential employers of people - the demand for labour – with people who are available for work – the labour supply. Labour markets operate at local, regional, national and international levels, reflecting how economies operate.

Dfee, 2005: 3

Following on from this, labour market information is information about what is happening in the labour market. This focuses on:

  • DEMAND Who is buying labour? – industries and employers What kind are they buying? – occupations , working patterns available
  • SUPPLY what sort of labour is available? number, mix, choices of workers

Within the labour market there are key constructs such as industries (categorised by SIC codes, as explained in the employers section) occupations (categorised by Standard Occupational –SOC – codes) and employers.

Other terms worth considering:

The existence of a Primary (ie jobs with good working conditions and high entry standards) and secondary (ie low pay and standards) labour market

Internal (ie within an occupation, industry or organisation) or external labour market

or core (primary and secondary market positions with secure contracts) and periphery (flexible, temporary work) labour.

Reading: The Discourse of the Labour Market

Marcus Offer’s chapter ‘the Discourse of the Labour Market’ (in your reading pack) is written in the context of careers work and guidance practice. We will look at its relevance to work experience later.

Offer highlights some of the contrasting ways of viewing the labour market. He challenges the classical economic view of a self-regulating market, where supply and demand are balanced.

3.2 Sources of Information about the Labour Market

Labour Market Information might include:

  • Data on the structure of the labour market (the number and type of jobs that exist, which sectors and organizations employ them)
  • (Within this, there is important information on equality within the labour market, e.g. which individuals are employed in different roles and sectors and at what levels)
  • Information on general employment trends (i.e. unemployment rates, skills gaps, projected demand)
  • Information on the way the labour market functions (how people get into jobs and move between them)
  • Information on labour market demand (the types of jobs - role, level, terms and conditions that attract workers)

Some of the sources available to us come from:·

  • Government departments
  • Sector Skills Councils
  • The National Census
  • Local Economic Partnerships· Universities (e.g. destinations data)
  • Research organisations

The recent UKCES research report, Using and Sharing Career-related Labour Market Information, includes a useful overview of forms and uses of LMI on page 10.

The full report can be accessed from this link.

There is a strong current policy interest in ensuring those that need it can get access to labour market information. UKCES has recently released the first pilot version of LMI for All, a data portal which brings together existing sources of LMI in one place as an open data project. (insert pic)

One source that might be useful for you also comes from the same home as the LMI for all project:

Activity: Pick a sector that is relevant to your work. Explore it within this resource. How useful is this information in relation to work experience in this area? Post your reflections to the forum.

3.3 Using LMI with your learners

So, LMI comes from your learners (in terms of their aspirations and the work experience they are seeking) and is used with your learners. As Offer points out, this information forms part of learners' own understanding of the labour market. We all get information about the labour market from a range of sources, formal and informal, which inform our personal constructs of work.

Within your department you will probably have labour market information to be used in a variety of ways. In order to be useful this information has to be up-to-date, organised in such a way that it is easy to find the required data, accessible to everyone who needs it and relevant to the type of service you are offering. It is likely that it will need to be searchable by employment type and/or sector. Other forms of LMI will be mediated, presented to learners only when they are in direct contact with you or a colleague.

One of the challenges for those managing work experience is how to maintain and use their labour market intelligence. We all need to determine for ourselves, as appropriate to our role and settings, how far it is our role to have the LMI to hand, and how far we are there to facilitate learners' sourcing it for themselves. We can model, with learners, appropriate use of LMI by showing how we find it, assess its validity, interpret it and use it.

Reflection: Think now about how you use LMI in your interaction with learners?

Do they come to you expecting to be given information? Do you expect to have it? How do you respond when you don't have that information to hand?


Consider the following case studies: How would you provide LMI to each of the following:

  • Someone considering midwifery and wanting some relevant work experience?
  • Someone looking for part time work locally?
  • Someone looking for a placement related to their course?