Economists and software design experts at Strathclyde University have created a tool that can predict future skills demands in Scotland.
The interactive Scottish Labour Market Intelligence model could also be used by the Scottish Executive and Scottish higher and further education funding councils to examine the impact of change on particular disciplines.
Its chief author and designer is Iain McNicoll, Strathclyde's professor of applied economics and former director of the Fraser of Allander Institute, which researches the Scottish economy.
He said the system was "unapologetic" about analysing the demand for skills, something that had been largely lacking. "We know a lot about the supply of education. Everyone knows how many people are in training, but almost nothing about whether we need these people. We are training into a vacuum," he said.
The SLMI professional model aims to be a tool for policy-makers, advisers, consultants and economic commentators. Various "bolt-ons" are planned, including one for higher education.
It is based on data from 1996 to 1999, covering 128 separate industries, 371 occupations and 30 levels of qualifications from none to postgraduate degrees. Users can check how a downturn or upturn in the economy would affect demand for a particular industry's job prospects.
The model can also analyse the social class composition of the workforce, predicting the effecton social class of changes in the economy and the job market.
It will run on any personal computer with Excel 97 or higher. The results of the analysis can be viewed and sorted by direct, knock-on and total effects, and the system produces graphs and charts that can be imported in packages such as PowerPoint.
Using the SLMI model to predict the effect of a £100 million drop in agricultural exports, for example, shows a loss of 2,137 jobs. About 912 of these are in the agricultural industry, but there are also job losses in industries serving agriculture: some 200 jobs in vehicle distribution and repair would go, and 136 in health and veterinary services.
A 10 per cent fall in demand for printing and publishing would not only mean 124 authors and journalists would lose their jobs, but 26 restaurant and pub staff. The legal industry has a direct effect on some 6,000 jobs, but a knock-on effect on another 4,000.
There is likely to be considerable interest from the private sector, given Scotland's track record in attracting inward investment and the need for businesses to be able to do their own accurate economic forecasting.
Richard Marsh, a core member of the SLMI team and Fraser of Allander research fellow, said: "The SLMI model will also prove invaluable to the public sector because of the policy-making that creates conditions favourable to economic success - including how funding is allocated to different skills and disciplines in further and higher education."
The SLMI professional edition costs £5,000.