Shawna Sykes ’93 Just the (Employment) Facts

Shawna Sykes ’93

As a workforce analyst for the Oregon Employment Department, Shawna Sykes deals with complications: huge piles of arcane facts on the labor market gathered from government reports, academic research, and civilian sources. Her task is to compile this information into neat, understandable packages for various constituents in Tillamook, Clatsop, and Columbia counties. Her work has far-reaching implications for Oregon’s economic health.

From large employers looking ahead to their next labor contract to mom-and-pop businesses thinking about adding one counter position, she provides data to help them decide if the cost of employee turnover is higher than the cost of raising workers’ wages.

“A big part of my job is interpreting the data: its source, limitations, reliability, and applicability,” Sykes says. “For example, when press releases come out indicating an increase in ‘nonfarm payroll employment,’ I need to know what types of employment that figure includes, how the figure is calculated, and what the margin of error is for the data. Also—and here’s the key—I have to be able to explain that information to employers who know little about economics and make it relevant to their businesses.”

Sykes’ role packs a punch in her tricounty region. Government agencies, policymakers, and legislators use the information she provides to decide the best ways to spend the public’s money. Armed with statistics such as which jobs are in demand (or soon will be), the number of available workers in a particular industry, which sectors are thriving, the going wages for various jobs, unemployment rates, population figures, and education levels, legislators determine what programs are needed. An analysis of her data can lead to adjustments in education, spending, loan programs, transportation and housing plans, zoning, and just about any other public issue in the community.

“Many of my efforts help Oregonians land family-wage jobs so employers don’t need to look beyond the state’s borders for workers,” Sykes says. “I’m proud of that.”

“We’re in the information business,” Sykes says. “Between our office hours and these Web sites, we’re able to give people the information they want 24 hours a day.”


—by Beth Luce