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Developing a skills taxonomy

February 6th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

This morning’s mailing from the Marchmont Employment and Skills Observatory reports that NESTA have launched an interesting new Tool – a UK skills taxonomy:

“Skill shortages are costly and can hamper growth, but we don’t currently measure these shortages in a detailed or timely way. To address this challenge, we have developed the first data-driven skills taxonomy for the UK that is publicly available. A skills taxonomy provides a consistent way of measuring the demand and supply of skills. It can also help workers and students learn more about the skills that they need, and the value of those skills.” NESTA

It should help with careers guidance and is ideal for people looking at the return to differing career choices and how you get there. NESTA began with a list of just over 10,500 unique skills that had been mentioned within the descriptions of 41 million UK job adverts, collected between 2012 and 2017 and provided by Burning Glass Technologies. Machine learning was used to hierarchically cluster the skills. The more frequently two skills appeared in the same advert, the more likely it is that they ended up in the same branch of the taxonomy. The taxonomy therefore captures ‘the clusters of skills that we need for our jobs’.

The final taxonomy can be seen here and has a tree-like structure with three layers. The first layer contains 6 broad clusters of skills; these split into 35 groups, and then split once more to give 143 clusters of specific skills. Each of the approximately 10,500 skills lives within one of these 143 skill groups.

The skills taxonomy provide a rich set of data although requiring some work in interpretation. The six broad clusters of skills are:

The ten clusters (at the third layer) containing the most demanded skills are:

  1. Social work and caregiving
  2. General sales
  3. Software development
  4. Office administration
  5. Driving and automotive maintenance
  6. Business management
  7. Accounting and financial management
  8. Business analysis and IT projects
  9. Accounting administration
  10. Retail

The five skill clusters at the third layer with the highest annual median salaries are:

  1. Data engineering
  2. Securities trading
  3. IT security operations
  4. IT security standards
  5. Mainframe programming

The five clusters with the lowest salaries are:

  1. Premises security
  2. Medical administration
  3. Dental assistance
  4. Office administration
  5. Logistics administration

While the taxonomy is based on web data collected between 2012 and 2017, the approach has teh potential to be developed on the basis of real time data. And it is likely to be only one of a number of tools produced in the next two years using machine learning to analyse large data sets. The use of real-time data from web vacancies is receiving a lot of attention right now.

There is also interest in the idea of skills clusters in the ongoing debate over the impact of Artificial Intelligence on jobs and employment. Rather than whole occupations disappearing (and others surviving) it is more likely that the different skills required within occupations may change

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