October 17, 2011; Source: Community College WeekAlthough it doesn’t boast a sleek design or an innovative interface, the practical thinking behind a new technology initiative called “Credentials That Work” might have even impressed Apple guru Steve Jobs. Community College Week reports that Jobs for the Future http://www.jff.org, a nonprofit that works to identify, develop, and promote education and workforce strategies, has developed a new computer program that uses artificial intelligence technology to mine and aggregate online job market data to show local employment trends in real time. Designed as a combatant to the country’s high unemployment rate, JFF has shared the technology with a network often community colleges in the US as part of a yearlong pilot program.

John Dorrer, program director at Jobs for the Future, told Community College Week that the value of this new technology is in helping education institutions prepare students for future workforce trends. “We do a good job at long-term forecasting. But what happened in the past does not necessarily tell us what will happen in the future” he said. Instead, the new JFF program draws on current online job postings to provide a snapshot of employer demand and needed skills within local areas.

Community College Week points out that “the initiative represents a concession to the fact that ‘help wanted’ ads have migrated from the pages of newspapers into the world of digital technology” but notes that the lack of precision with some online postings still presents a challenge. As an example JFF has found through past research that job postings for retail, food service, construction and building maintenance positions are undercounted online and often filled in other ways, and that posting duplication is common in most fields.

Intended not as a stand-alone answer to the country’s high unemployment rate but instead as a way to enhance the relevance of employment information that colleges are already getting from government sources and local businesses, the program aims to help community colleges “tailor programs and course content to their markets and ensure that students are prepared to build marketable skills in growing careers.”–Anne Eigeman