Contact Us

Mapping Workforce Skills

Designing the SOC to Help American Workers

June 1, 1995 / By Daniel Flaming and Odessa Dubinsky
Underwriter: the U.S. Department of Labor

Mapping_workforce_skiills_img_01Occupational Information in the Context of National Priorities

The Employment Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor requested the Economic Roundtable to prepare an expert paper on the guiding concepts that should be used in redesigning the national occupational classification system for capturing information about workers and jobs. The future Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system will be the central source of information for an issue at the heart of the nation’s domestic agenda full employment and optimal use of skills for American workers.

The paper is based on three assessments concerning the adequacy of currently identified user groups for defining public priorities to be served by the future SOC.

  1. Occupational classification data is not an end in itself. It is a tool for obtaining answers to questions and solutions to problems that are important for aiding and improving working conditions of our society. The views of current users are valuable to the extent that they competently identify what occupational information is needed and how it should be used to address labor force issues.
  2. It appears that only 54% of respondents to previous surveys were individuals who consult an occupational classification system even once a week. This suggests that some organizations being surveyed may have been marginal users of occupational classification information.
  3. The SOC does not have an identifiable constituency of users. Its primary use is for identifying crosswalks between other systems. It offers no independent classification definitions or data. Consequently, it makes more sense to view it as an opportunity for a system yet to be created rather than a system with an existing constituency.

Survey of Labor Market Experts

To probe beyond boundaries of previous surveys, the Economic Roundtable initiated and sponsored an independent survey of expert users in 1993, to obtain views from highly knowledgeable individuals who use occupational information for employment and training programs and research, as well as labor organizers and personnel administrators in business who have informed perspectives and deal with workforce issues that should be illuminated by national occupation information. This survey focussed specifically on the relationship between the societal goals identified as important by individuals and the information they believe is needed in a revised system. To the best knowledge of the authors, this is the only survey that has investigated user views about the public interests (i.e., needs of indirect users) that should be served by an occupational classification information.

Conclusions from Survey

A wide net was cast to draw on the insights and opinions of expert individuals in diverse positions with rather different approaches to the potential use of an occupational classification system. Despite some diversity in origin, they share a remarkably strong consensus on the necessary information that an occupational classification system should contain, and the major problems currently experienced by users. There appears to be broad user support for changes that would transform the SOC into a classification system:

  • that can help unemployed workers find new jobs that will utilize their skills as well as provide current labor market information;
  • in which the most important classification variables are skill measurements;
  • that provides information about tasks performed in occupations and industries that use each occupation; and
  • in which information is up-to-date and accurate.

The primary use envisioned for the future system by users is to provide information useful to workers in their search for employment. By improving the quality and accessibility of information available to workers, and to those such as counselors who assist in matching workers with jobs, a broader social interest is enhanced. The most important kind of occupational information for supporting this end concerns skill transferability. Users place high priority on an accurate, up-to-date system with specific information that will offer workers:

  1. A common language for enumerating the skills they possess.
  2. An effective system for identifying jobs which require their combination of skills.

Fully Integrated, “Real Time” Information

A potential strength of the new SOC is its capacity to fully integrate the wealth of occupational information collected by job analysis with the employment statistics and demographic information collected through OES surveys and the Census. An uncomplicated and widely accepted occupational classification which simplifies and aids the connection among these data sources will have a synergistic effect in increasing the power of the information.

A new SOC that supports integration of data from multiple sources should also have built-in capabilities for improving the integrity and labor market-relevance of its own classification structure by identifying cross-occupational linkages that indicate transferability of skills or experience.


The future SOC should be designed to:

  1. Serve the needs not only of Direct Users, but also Indirect Users, who are the intended beneficiaries of the public investment in producing occupational information.
  2. Provide information that is tangibly helpful for achieving the highest priority societal interest for occupational unformation identified by all user groups, namely helping workers who need jobs become employed.
  3. Use a classification system based on worker skills.
  4. Provide current, accurate information, including descriptions of essential skills and competencies, tasks performed, and industries in which occupations are found.
  5. Support projections of future employment.

Fully integrate all publicly produced employment information about workers and occupations, including occupational classification data from the DOT, industry employment data from the OES, worker demographic information from the Census, and earnings and employment data from the public employment services.

Chapter Headings:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Occupational Information in the Context of National Priorities
  3. Uses and Users of the New SOC
  4. Survey of Labor Market Experts
  5. Meeting User Needs Through the Future SOC
  6. Recommendations
  7. Postscript
  8. Survey Instrument.
Area of Work: Economy, People
Tags: Labor Market, occupational classification, occupations, skill measurement, skill transfer, Skills, SOC, Standard Occupational Classification system