Skilled Technical Workforce


National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics

The Skilled Technical Workforce (STW) encompasses an estimated 16 million individuals without a bachelor's degree but with a post-secondary non-degree credential or training that provides them with STEM knowledge and skills. This workforce segment feeds growth sectors like information technology, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing. Any shortfall could hinder our ability as a nation to grow our economy and compete globally. In 2017, the National Science Board (NSB) raised concerns that the United States is not adequately developing and sustaining a STW with the skills needed to compete in the 21st century.

One of the many challenges identified by the NSB (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Building America's Skilled Technical Workforce. National Academies Press.) is the absence of a national data environment like those available for post-secondary college degrees (for example, U.S. Department of Education, College Scorecard). A national data environment could be used to link non-degree credentials with career outcomes to assess their value and impacts and to study the demographics of the STW. This deficit is a function of the volume of non-degree credentials and the number and types of granting institutions, the vast majority of which are not subject to the federal regulations and reporting requirements that govern colleges and universities. We are working to address this deficit by discovering nontraditional data sources and using them to describe and quantify the skills and non-degree credentials that can lead to STW jobs. These data sources will help policymakers and educators address an urgent problem and empower learners and job seekers to make informed decisions about their future.

The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) funded this work. They are an independent federal statistical agency within the National Science Foundation (NSF). NCSES serves as a clearinghouse for objective data on the U.S. science and engineering workforce and has developed the skilled technical workforce initiative to understand and measure the STW.

We're addressing the need to understand how job seekers enter the STW, maintain relevance, and advance by:

  • Conducting a data discovery process to find and assess data sources that could inform our understanding of the STW and address the data deficits;
  • Analyzing the Adult Training and Education Survey to find out what could be learned about the STW;
  • Evaluating the current metrics and criteria used to assign occupations to the STW; and
  • Using job-ad skills to designate STW occupations and certifications to construct career pathways.


Project Overview

We conducted a data discovery search to access the availability of non-survey data sources (e.g., administrative data from federal, state, and local governments, for -profits, and not-for-profits) with the potential to fill in some of the STW data gaps. Our Skilled Workforce Data Discovery Dashboard displays the data discovery results. Our search resulted in purchasing Burning Glass Technologies (BGT) job-ad and resume data, which includes data on the skills and nondegree credentials demanded by employers and the pathways of job seekers currently in STW jobs.

Without federal guidance on using secondary data, our researchers did an extensive review of the academic literature on the use of the BGT job-ads data. The literature review highlights issues researchers found in using the data and benchmarking results as well as our data profiling and benchmarking. The report, Review of Burning Glass Technologies Job-ad Data, describes this work (Lancaster et al., 2019). Before acquiring BGT job-ads data, we used the Biocomplexity Institute's data profiling framework and exploratory data analyses to assess the fitness-for-use of the BGT job-ad data and conduct our own benchmarking against two federal surveys. The data profiling and benchmarking results are provided in our BGT Profiling and Benchmarking Dashboard.

Until recently, nationally representative work, education, and socioeconomic surveys did not ask about nontraditional forms of education, such as nondegree credentials, training, and skills acquisition. The Adult Training and Education Survey (ATES) is an exception. The ATES is a one-time federal survey directed at adults ages 16 to 65 that focused on nondegree credentials and work experience programs. Our paper analyzes the responses of survey takers whose education level is less than a Bachelor's degree, who have a post-secondary nondegree credential, and are using it in their current STW job. The results are discussed in the paper, What the Adult Training and Education Survey Tells Us About the Skilled Technical Workforce (Lancaster, 2020).

The NSB concerns about the STW were based on Rothwell's (Rothwell JT (2015). Defining skilled technical work. Available at SSRN 2709141.) definition. In 2015, Rothwell defined the STW and operationalized it using the Content Model survey data from the Department of Labor's Occupational Information Network (O*NET). We discuss the issues inherent in Rothwell's metrics, such as the fitness-for-use of Content Model data, in our report on Designating the Skilled Technical Workforce Using O*NET-SOC (2019) (Lancaster et al., 2021). Examples of challenges include but are not limited to the small size of the survey samples, ignoring the sample variability when constructing the metrics, and the age of the survey data, which for some occupations is 10 years old. We establish there is a need to designate the STW using metrics can that keep pace with rapidly changing technological innovations.

In our profiling of the labor market information data purchased from Burning Glass Technology, we found that of the over 33 million 2019 job-ads, only 24 percent of employers requested a nondegree credential, but 93 percent requested a list of skills. We attribute this to the lack of a comprehensive catalog with descriptions of the over 500,000 nondegree credentials (Credential Engine (US). (2021). Counting US postsecondary and secondary credentials.). This finding prompted us to look closely at the skills posted in job ads. We constructed interactive treemaps to explore how skills posted in Burning Glass Technologies job-ads change across industrial regions in Virginia. We also researched how to categorize skills into technical and non-technical, to evaluate whether technical skills can be used to designate STW occupations (Siwe et al., 2022), and explore the relationship between technical skills and salaries (Montalvo et al., 2022).



To research STW career pathways, we constructed network graphs for O*NET's manufacturing career cluster using the list of national certifications on the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop and the certifications requested by Virginia employers in job-ads. Both CareerOneStop and job-ads provide a link between occupations and certifications, which has the potential to shed light on career pathways. The network graph links occupations with similar certifications, which allows us to estimate the degree of centrality for a certification, which is the number of times a particular certification is listed for an occupation. Learners and job seekers can use this metric to assess the demand and value of a certification. We used job-ad data from Virginia as a case study to look at how workers can move from their current job to one with higher pay by acquiring an additional certification.


Distinguished Professor in Biocomplexity, Biocomplexity Institute

Professor of Public Health Sciences, School of Medicine