Pinpointing Opportunity

GIS is helping employers and employees find each other in sprawling Los Angeles County.

by / April 16, 2002
Los Angeles County has found a unique way to combine GIS and workforce development efforts. The county is using a new Web portal to link the unemployed to jobs, to help those with low-paying jobs access educational opportunities in their area and to help businesses find and hire skilled employees. The portal is part of an overall effort to integrate regional economic development initiatives with education and workforce-development resources within the county.

The portal, launched in late December, was developed by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Collaborative; one of six regional collaboratives funded by a consortium of state agencies, said Linda Wong, project director of the Los Angeles Regional Workforce Preparation and Economic Development Collaborative.

Wong said the portal uses GIS to allow prospective employees to find educational training facilities and programs that can help them improve their job skills. Using maps, prospective employees can locate facilities close to where they live -- especially valuable in an area the size of Los Angeles County.

"It's a pilot to see how it can be done and let other organizations take a look at the template we've developed for possible replication," Wong said.

The collaborative also performed a detailed labor-market study in three industries in the county -- food processing, metal manufacturing and apparel -- to collect the information behind the maps.

"We collected education and training data for all three industries, and that data is very comprehensive," she said. "We used GIS software to map out all of those education and training resources in the county."

The collaborative also collected business data for the three industries that local economic-development agencies and chambers of commerce can use to get a better picture of their strength.

"The Web site's templates give people an idea of how the information could be assembled and mapped out using GIS technology," Wong said. "This is applicable to any region in the state. If a local economic-development agency conducted an analysis of the major industries within their region, the agency would be able to map out the business information as well as the training components."

Visitors to the Web site can use two drop-down menus to search for education or training information by a particular city in Los Angeles County. Or, visitors can narrow their search by ZIP code.

"The impact is much greater if you can actually see things on a map, as opposed to just getting the information in a text format," Wong said. "The point of mapping is to get a sense of where the largest concentration of companies are within a given industry. Then if you overlay that business information with education and training resources, you can find out at a glance whether employers have access to education and training for their employees in addition to recruiting new hires from schools and programs."

Wong sees GIS as a valuable tool for economic development initiatives of the future.

"More and more professionals in the economic-development field are resorting to GIS mapping because it gives them a much more powerful, visual depiction of what's in their region with regard to industries, individual companies and resources that can help to grow the regional economy," she said.

Closing the Generation Gap

Los Angeles County-based companies should also benefit from the site, said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., one of the agencies involved in the collaborative.

"Most companies just don't know what's out there for them in terms of resources, and a lot of people looking for jobs have no idea about the vast array of jobs available," Kyser said. "What you find a lot of times is that industries that are vibrant are facing what you call 'generational shifts,' and this doesn't get reported in the general news media."

He cites the metal fabrication industry as a prime example of an industry facing a generational shift.

"A lot of people that were hired right after World War II are getting ready to retire," he said. "This is an industry that requires a lot of on-the-job training, pays good wages, but young people just don't know about it. A lot of young people have no real clue as to what's out there for them. Because of budget pressures, a lot of the craft programs in the high schools have disappeared.

"Hopefully, those young people will understand that there is something out there," he said. "They don't have to be a busboy in a restaurant."

Similarly, companies that need access to training for metal fabrication often don't know where those training facilities are, Kyser said.

"We have a small-business base," he said. "Only one percent of the business establishments in Los Angeles County have 500 or more workers. With a lot of these firms, the person who's operating it is busy and doesn't feel he or she has the time to do a little research."