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Report offers direction for Midwest's displaced auto workers on how to navigate career change

The final piece of a major research project aimed at helping displaced auto workers in Indiana and other Midwest states focuses on how they can be helped to find other career paths and how to best pursue them.

"Given restructuring in the auto industry, many displaced workers need help to find suitable alternative jobs," said the report, released last week. "The innovative pathway cluster and skills gap analyses developed in this study offer valuable guidance to displaced workers charting pathways to new career opportunities.

"The operating principle for the pathway cluster concept is that workers will seek, and be most productive in, occupations that are most similar to their current or former jobs," the report added.

Navigating Change

Navigating Change

Print-Quality Photo

The report, "Navigating Change: Exploring New Career Pathways in an Evolving Labor Market," is part of the 18-month Driving Change project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, which focused on employment needs in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

The Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) in Indiana University's Kelley School of Business and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development worked together to conduct the analysis, write the report and develop the Web-based resources.

"Even before the Great Recession, the auto sector was hemorrhaging jobs. Auto sector employment in the tri-state region fell by nearly 58 percent from 2000 to 2010. Only a small percentage will return to the industry as it recovers, but where are all those other workers going to find jobs?" said Jerry Conover, director of the IBRC.

"What is exciting about this analysis and the tools we've developed is that it highlights new job options that matches workers' skills as well as their personality and individual strengths," Conover added.

The report outlines seven "pathway clusters," which are not based on industries and functions, but on similarities and differences of worker or job characteristics, in order to help direct displaced workers from one job to another. Job transitions within given clusters would be easier than from moving from one cluster to another.

"The technique used to group occupations into pathway clusters breaks new ground," said Timothy Slaper, director of economic analysis at the IBRC, who directed the research. "Pathway clusters differ from other approaches because they take a wider range of job and, most significantly, worker attributes into account."

Not only are occupations in a given pathway cluster similar in terms of their knowledge and skill requirements, the pathway cluster analysis also measures the degree to which worker traits such as being "highly social" or "attentive to detail" make occupations more or less similar, the report said.

"While auto occupations are concentrated in the production, construction and engineering pathway cluster, there are dozens of occupations in the same pathway cluster in other industries that may make good target occupations for a displaced worker," Slaper said.

According to the report, the two auto manufacturing occupations that have experienced the largest job losses have been team assemblers and assemblers/fabricators -- accounting for more than 57,000 displaced workers in the three states. More than 60 percent of these workers have only a high school education and likely would benefit from additional training.

The report highlights new online resources created by the IBRC that can help these and other workers and those advising them about how much time will be needed to transition from one occupation to another, based on differences in knowledge and skill levels between the old and new jobs.

One is a "time trip" tool that provides a displaced worker with a set of suitable occupations based on his or her earnings and occupation histories and the estimated level of preparation needed for the new occupation.

The report also describes a new tri-state training program database of green and growing occupations that complements the time trip results, so workers can match the most suitable professions with postsecondary educational, technical and vocational programs in their regions.

While the trip-time measure is not perfect, it is a great advance over many previous career pathway tools because it provides users an understandable measure of a worker's skills gap, Slaper said. The training program database also can be useful to education and workforce development policy makers.

"For economic development practitioners trying to cultivate the growth of firms or attract new investment, it may expose a region's training weak spots," he said. "If a region does not have a specially trained workforce, what educational programs are nearby to fill the gap?"

The authors said new career pathway resources described in the report complement the financial support available through state and federal assistance and training programs and should help those programs be more effective, both for job seekers and workforce development and training staff.

The report, the time tool and training program databases, together with all the Driving Change analysis and research results, are available free of charge on the Web at