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The path to a more lucrative career could start with this new online tool from the Philly Fed

A new software tool can help people find new jobs that draw upon their existing skills - but pay much more.

Researchers with the Federal Reserve have developed a free software tool to help people upgrade their jobs.
Researchers with the Federal Reserve have developed a free software tool to help people upgrade their jobs.Read morePaul Brady / MCT

Job seekers can increase their earning power with an online database launched this month by the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Cleveland that matches the skills a worker uses in a low-paying job with those in a more lucrative position.

The Occupational Mobility Explorer resulted from a research report released in June that studied the 33 largest labor markets in the United States. The study found that the skills involved in 49% of lower-wage jobs pair up with similar yet higher-paying jobs in the same labor market, according to Keith Wardrip, community development research manager at the Philly Fed and an author of the report. By using the tool, for example, bill collectors in Philadelphia would discover that they have many of the skills needed for a post as a credit counselor, a job that pays about 45% more, Fed officials said.

Fed researchers defined lower-wage jobs as paying below median wages, roughly below a range of $37,000 to $40,000. In Philadelphia, the mark is about $40,000, Wardrip said. Some of the jobs that fall within the lower-wage group include retail sales and food service cashiers, position hard hit by the pandemic.

Researchers found 4,100 “top transitions,” or pairings of occupations that shared similar skills in the same labor market, but with one of the jobs paying at least 10% more. The higher-paying position should also not require a college degree to qualify as a “top transition” job. The online tool includes information on transitions for 257 occupations in Philadelphia: 130 lower-wage and 127 higher-paying occupations.

“You know, roughly two-thirds of American adults don’t have a college degree,” Wardrip said. “And we wanted to shine a light … on the fact that the labor market doesn’t include just two types of jobs: lower-wage jobs and jobs for college-educated people.

“We wanted to figure out through our most recent research and through the tool … how can we help workers transition into the better-paying jobs.”

According to 2018 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 20% of adults have a bachelor’s degree and 8.5% more hold a master’s.

Fed officials called this middle ground of jobs opportunity occupations. “We found that just under 22% of all employment meets our definition of opportunity employment,” Wardrip said.

Though imagined as an aid for workers, the tool also might show employers that many lower-wage workers might have transferable skills in ways that may not be apparent, Fed officials said.

Wardrip cautioned that his tool paired similar jobs, not identical ones. “So some level of reskilling or upskilling will be required,” he said.

Users can find the free online tool at

To find a job with a similar set of skills, and a promise of at least a 10% pay increase, users navigate to a “build your path” screen. There they input their original occupation and metro area from a drop-down menu. The software responds with alternative jobs, scored mathematically by their degree of match.

The fed researchers were quick to point out that their analysis was theoretical, not based on workers from one job to another.

Fed officials said the economic turmoil stirred by the pandemic gave their research an added urgency.

The researchers focused on occupations that would likely be around over the next 10 years. The recommended transitions are all to “destination” occupations projected to grow or decline only slightly over the next decade.

The Future of Work is produced with support from the William Penn Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.