Fulfilling Gatsby Benchmark 2 in schools and colleges can be challenging at the best of times. Labour market information (LMI) comes in multivariate forms, some more digestible than others, and different sources of LMI provide different parts of the picture.
Explaining LMI to young people who are trying to make difficult educational and work-related decisions is therefore not easy, especially when we know that teenagers’ career aspirations are often mismatched to labour markets and skills gaps.  The past 12 months have if anything made this task even more challenging, as Covid-19 continues to dramatically impact the labour market and its associated employment opportunities. How can careers leaders best support school and college students to make good LMI-informed decisions in the current climate?
From labour market information to labour market intelligence
As mentioned above, we are not short of labour market information in the sense of pure data. Resources such as LMI for All, the ONS, data gathered by Local Enterprise Partnerships and even live jobs board information all tell us something, but data needs to be mediated by career development professionals in order to tell us anything useful. This is when pure information becomes labour market intelligence.
Take for instance one of the most widely used resources, LMI for All. Several of the datasets incorporated within this tool are drawing on older data (e.g. on pay and earnings, hours, and number of vacancies)  that will not reflect the economic earthquakes triggered by Covid-19, especially on vulnerable sectors such as hospitality and catering and the arts. The data on past, current and future employment and replacement demand is drawn from the Working Futures employment database, the most recent iteration of which was in early 2020, thus not taking into account the seismic shifts brought about by Covid.
This does not at all invalidate LMI for All and other similar resources however – they are still vital tools that provide information on the wider labour market context that existed before Covid and will in time be updated to reflect the new situation.
That said, we should read the information alongside that provided by other sources to help us get a clearer picture of what is happening.
Excellent resources that can help provide that context include the free webinars and blogs offered by EMSI UK, which have done a fine job of tracking changes in employer demand and also regional labour market trends over the last 12 months.
Live jobs boards such as Find an Apprenticeship and Adzuna will also give us a good ‘live’ picture of what is happening in our local labour market, albeit these should not be relied upon for longer-term labour market projections.
These points about how to read LMI do of course apply even in ‘normal’ economic times, but they are worth highlighting during particularly uncertain periods such as this.
Interpreting LMI is not like reading a crystal ball – no amount of data can predict the future with absolute certainty (it certainly did not predict the 2008 financial crash or Covid-19), but if treated respectfully and contextualised with multiple sources of information, it can at least provide us with some landmarks to help us gain our bearings while the tectonics of the labour market are being rearranged.
The key thing is to equip school and college students with some means of making sense of this information so that they can make the most well-informed choices they can.
Building LMI literacy in young people
Gatsby Benchmark 2 states that ‘by the age of 14, all students should have accessed and used information about career paths and the labour market to inform their own decisions on study options.’ 
There is clearly an expectation that not only should LMI be mediated by appropriately trained careers professionals, it should also be accessible and – most importantly – interpretable by young people themselves.
In the current context this has never been more important, and it can be tempting to encourage a superficial reading of LMI data, drawing simplistic and limiting conclusions. A particularly unfortunate example of this in recent memory was a Government backed advert seemingly encouraging those working in the Covid-hit Arts sector to retrain in IT. 
Fortunately it is possible for imaginative career development professionals to do better than this. Here are just a few examples of ways in which LMI can be brought to life in school and in college-based careers activities:
- Encourage class discussion about which jobs and sectors have been hurt by Covid-19 and which have benefited.
Why might this be the case? Will some jobs disappear, or will they just evolve to suit the new situation?
- Ask students to research a sector and give them a selection of different LMI sources.
Students can report back the next week in a presentation, evaluating each source in terms of what it can tell us about the sector and what it cannot.
- Ask students to interview someone they know to find out how the pandemic has impacted their work.
How have different people coped with the challenges of this situation? What can students learn from this?
‘Knowledge is power’; the adage is particularly apposite at the current time.
Quite aside from its grievous impact on public health, the pandemic has thrown into relief the vulnerability of labour markets to sudden shocks and has also served to accelerate some trends (e.g. the growth of online purchasing, the move to virtual working) which were arguably inevitable sooner or later.
By equipping school and college students with the ability to make sense of labour market information, we can greatly increase the chances of helping them find firm ground amid the shifting sands of a post-Covid world.
Oliver Jenkin is a Career Development Consultant at CSW Group with 11 years’ experience helping young people bring about positive changes in their educational and working lives. Oliver is a registered member of the Career Development Institute.