Can big data save labor market information systems?

By Eric Johnson

Labor markets desperately need information to function effectively and efficiently, making labor market information systems critical public investments. Yet government systems face significant challenges in collecting quality data, turning it into useable market intelligence, and disseminating it in a timely, relevant manner, a situation more acute in developing countries. The rise of private, real-time labor market information (LMI), such as web-based job posting analytics, social network inferences, crowdsourcing, and mobile phone polling, has garnered interest and questioned the dominance of traditional approaches. This brief explores the use of real-time LMI and presents interviews conducted with international donor officials to gain their perspectives on its applicability in developing countries. I suggest that real-time LMI is unlikely to supplant traditional LMI collection anytime soon, and I dispel notions that these new approaches might leapfrog current data collection challenges. Real-time LMI can provide useful in special cases and for supplemental analysis, an additional lubricant for labor markets that suffer from weak data. Policy that supports the improvement of traditional LMI and promotes access to real-time LMI is warranted.


Johnson, E. (2016). Can big data save labor market information systems? (RTI Press Policy Brief No. PB-0010-1608). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press.

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Eric JohnsonEric Johnson, PhD, is a senior research economist in the Workforce and Economic Opportunity Division at RTI International. He currently co-directs RTI’s Center for Global Youth Employment, with a focus on youth employment research and development. Dr. Johnson is an accomplished development professional with 15 years of experience bridging the worlds of academia, policy, and practice. He previously worked for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) where he served in Ghana and Vietnam, and was the agency’s lead for Higher Education and Workforce Development, while acting as deputy director of USAID’s Office of Education. Dr. Johnson received his PhD from Columbia University in education and political science.

Contact RTI Press

To contact an author, request an exam or review copy, or seek permission to use copyrighted content, contact our editorial team.