The New Geography of Skills

Using regional skill shapes to build a better learning ecosystem

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Strada Institute for the Future of Work, in partnership with Emsi, introduces the concept of skills shapes, a real-time analysis of the labor market that looks at the unique skill demands associated with specific career fields, regions, and individuals. Skill shapes provide a concrete method any region can use to identify local talent gaps for any industry and calibrate learning pathways to fill them

Key Findings

The New Geography of Skills gives cities and regions a new way to compete for talent. In order to build a new learning ecosystem, employers, educators, and state and regional leaders need actionable information to educate and train workers more effectively.

State leaders — Skill shapes enable policymakers, workforce investment boards, and economic developers to understand skill gaps and surpluses in specific regions and allocate scarce workforce development funds to the greatest labor market needs and opportunities for targeted workforce training.


Employers — When employers understand the talent supply in their region, they can target recruitment efforts and engage in upskilling and reskilling their incumbent workforce, as well as better communicate their skills needs to workers, learners, and learning providers.


Learning Providers — As employers’ needs come into focus with the use of skill shapes, learning providers can align curriculum development to real-time workforce needs.


Learners — Understanding not only the kinds of jobs but also the specific skills that are in demand in a region, learners can identify the learning experiences they need to compete for better jobs.

The rapid pace of technological change in recent years has caused jobs to change and new skills to emerge. Educators have struggled to keep pace, as have employers, who have struggled to articulate the skills they need.

In “The New Geography of Skills,” Strada Institute for the Future of Work and labor market analytics firm Emsi, a Strada affiliate, examine a possible source of aid: Skill shapes, a real-time analysis of the labor market that looks at the unique skill demands associated with specific career fields, regions, and individuals. The Institute and Emsi examined skills shapes in several metropolitan areas and explored a number of notable trends.


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A better understanding of skill shapes empowers stakeholders to design “precision education”—learning programs that are personalized, aligned with regional workforce demands, and efficiently designed to help learners keep pace with rapidly evolving skill demands.

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Using case examples, this report explores how skill shapes in three career fields — manufacturing, digital marketing, and cybersecurity — vary in select regions (metropolitan statistical areas). The research found that every community has its own unique set of skill shapes that are influenced by forces impacting that market, especially the unique mix of employers and dominant industries. Professional profile data can identify a region’s available skills and, combined with a skill shapes model, identify the gaps where the demand for specific skills exceeds the talent supply. Understanding these gaps is essential to design and develop well-calibrated learning pathways to close them.

This analytical process provides a concrete means to put skill shapes into action, empowering state, city, and regional leaders with a means to identify local talent gaps and address them with precision through just-in-time training programs.

These supply-and-demand gap analyses can be performed for any region in any industry.

Authors and Contributors

Michelle R. Weise, Ph. D.

Author Long Life Learning

Andrew Hanson

Director of Research
Strada Education Network

Yustina Saleh, Ph. D.

Senior Vice President of Analytics

Strada Institute advances our understanding of the changing nature of work, so that we can design and create the learning ecosystem of the future.

As a labor market analytics company, Emsi uses data from a large number of sources to connect people, education, and work.


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