Revising the Standard Occupational Classification System for 2010: The Standard Occupational Classification System, Recently Revised for 2010, Assists Federal Statistical Agencies in Organizing the Occupational Data They Collect, Analyze, and Disseminate; Agencies Have Begun Using the New System for Data That Will Be Published with a Reference Year of 2010

Article excerpt

The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system is used for classifying all occupations in the U.S. economy, including private, public, and military occupations, in order to provide a means to organize occupational data. This article describes the process used to revise the 2000 SOC system for 2010, the scope and nature of changes incorporated, new and improved features, and plans for implementation and future revisions.

Statistical classification systems describe complex groups of interrelated items in a rational manner in order to promote consistent data collection. An optimal system would allow sharing and merging of data and information to support decision making across organizations with disparate missions. With this goal in mind, occupational classification schemes such as the SOC system examine the millions of jobs in the economy and organize them into occupations on the basis of their similarities as determined by the schemes' classification principles.

Almost every job is similar to a number of other jobs, even though the exact group of tasks is often, but not always, unique to each worker. Workers in an establishment perform specific sets of tasks that are largely dependent on factors such as the size of the establishment, its industry classification, and the tasks performed by other workers in the same establishment. Under both the 2000 and 2010 SOC systems, jobs are grouped into occupations on the basis of classification principles--the tenets forming the basis on which the system is structured. To fill the need for enhanced guidance on assigning codes and titles to survey responses and other coding activities, the 2010 SOC system augmented the classification principles with precise coding guidelines. (See the box on page 33.)

Occupational data are important to a wide variety of people and institutions, including job training providers, employment agencies, jobseekers, students, business and government officials, and researchers who study the supply and demand of labor. These people and institutions need data that are comparable across data sources and supported by specific and current descriptions of the type of work performed in each occupation.

History of the SOC system

The Federal Government published the first SOC manual in 1977 in an attempt to unify agencies' independent collection of occupational data. The 1977 SOC system was revised for 1980, but neither of these systems was universally adopted. Many agencies continued to collect occupational data by use of classification systems that differed from the 1980 SOC system.

In response to a need for a common occupational classification system, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) chartered the Standard Occupational Classification Revision Policy Committee (SOCRPC) (1) in 1994 and tasked it with devising a uniform classification system. The OMB asked the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to chair the SOCRPC and coordinate the work of the Committee. The SOCRPC and the OMB developed and published the 2000 Standard Occupational Classification Manual and established the Standard Occupational Classification Policy Committee (SOCPC) to monitor the implementation of the new SOC system and carry out periodic revisions. Chester Levine, Laurie Salmon, and Daniel Weinberg described the history and characteristics of the 2000 SOC system and documented the 2000 revision process in a May 1999 Monthly Labor Review article. (2)

To accurately describe the labor force, classification systems must adapt to change in a timely and systematic manner. Determining how often to revise the SOC system in order to capture and report detailed employment, wage, and other data required balancing the need for an up-to-date taxonomy against the ability to track occupational changes over time and the desire to minimize disruption to survey collection processes and data series. In light of these factors, the revision of the 2000 SOC system was targeted for the year 2010. …