In the face of unprecedented unemployment, prior investments in digital operations and a data trust allowed the state, with data analytics company Qlarion, to fast-track a job referral website.
More than 800,000 Virginians filed unemployment claims since state lockdowns started, officials with the Virginia Employment Commission told media on June 11. The Washington Post reported the state had almost as many unemployment claims during the pandemic as in the last five years combined.
Fortunately, prior investments in digital services left the state with some options. Before end of business on June 12, Virginia had launched a new online portal for handling job applications, along with a dashboard of data analytics.
Built upon the state’s existing relationship with data analytics company Qlarion, the Virginia Career Works Referral Portal processes job applications and coordinates training and certifications for the thousands of suddenly-unemployed. Data analytics come in a separate Virginia Career Works Dashboard, a public database of charts and graphs about the state and regional labor markets, unemployment rate, wages, supply and demand, workforce program outcomes and other metrics.
Qlarion CEO Jake Bittner said his company oversaw the project and built the data analytics component, while the front-end portal was done by Pairin, which makes skills-matching software, and the data trust component was done by the data networking company BrightHive.
Echoing a point in Virginia’s news release, Bittner said the government was able to simply fast-track the project because it had been under development for almost a year and a half.
“The ultimate goal was really to have this system be used by the workforce center workers, to help people who come into the center [building] itself and use it there, and then they were going to slowly roll it out over the Internet,” he said. “But of course those workforce centers were closed, because of the shutdown.”
In the news release, Virginia’s Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy stressed that to best serve people looking for work, the goal was to put the full spectrum of services they’d need behind a single virtual door.
Technologically speaking, Bittner said Virginia was well-placed to do that because it had already done work on the key component: a data trust, a legal and procedural framework for how organizations would share data and work together.
“You have numerous agencies with different secretaries. … They all have some component of it, whether it’s education, social services, employment, whatever it might be,” he said. “There are different organizations that have to somehow work together to provide a comprehensive program for residents, so it was that concept of a data trust … where the data can flow back and forth between these organizations, in a governed way.”
Several states have reported such payoffs over the past few months from prior technological investments in digital infrastructure, enabling everything from telework to digital services, unemployment processing, grant disbursal, job applications and skills-matching.
Bittner said his company, which launched in 2011 and has many clients in health care and government across the mid-Atlantic and northeast, has been impressed with Virginia’s preparedness. He said without having done some of the heavy lifting in advance, particularly when it comes to the data trust, they would have had months of work to do instead of days or weeks.
“What I’ve seen from our work in Virginia in the last two, three years or so is … they were starting to think about these things, and do some things from a data perspective to get their house in order,” he said. “It’s based on creating a governed structure that’s around trust, which is not something you can buy. It has to be created and built over time. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can benefit from it.”
Bittner added that among his government customers, across the board, the pandemic has led to a higher interest in commercial cloud adoption.
“I think we’re seeing a mentality that, ‘We’re going to have to figure out how to make this happen, because it’s going to happen,’” he said.
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