Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Occupational Change: Pursuing a Different Kind of Work

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Occupational Change: Pursuing a Different Kind of Work

Article excerpt

Occupational change: pursuing a different kind of work

More than half of the 10 million workers who switched occupations in 1986 did so because of better pay, working conditions, or advancement opportunities; however, about 1 in 8 of the workers changed occupations because they lost their previous jobs

An important decision facing young jobseekers is the choice of an occupation. The initial selection, though, is by no means etched in stone, as most individuals are likely to change occupations at some point in their worklife. An occupational change can take place for a variety of reasons--a teenager changing summer jobs, an employee receiving a promotion, a worker choosing to make a career change, or an individual forced to change occupations after losing a job. The most recent measure of such changes, from a January 1987 survey, found that nearly 10 million persons were in different occupations than a year earlier. The majority had changed voluntarily, citing better pay, advancement opportunity, or working conditions as their reason for switching. Some 1.3 million workers, however, were in different occupations because they had lost their previous jobs.

This article explores the characteristics of those workers who make voluntary and involuntary occupational changes, and examines the pattern of their movement between occupations. The data were obtained through a supplement to the January 1987 Current Population Survey (CPS), which asked questions on occupational mobility, occupational tenure, and time with current employer.(1) The principal findings of this study are: * Age is the key factor in determining

occupational mobility. The high mobility rates

of young workers contrast sharply with low

rates among middle-age and older workers. * Higher levels of education are generally

associated with higher rates of voluntary

mobility. However, very occupation-specific

training, such as many

professionals receive, reduces occupational mobility. * Career change--such as the kind that

occurs when a person with some tenure in an

occupation changes both occupation and

employer--is not common. * Involuntary occupational changes often lead

to lower pay in the new job. The majority

of workers changing occupations after job

displacement are leaving goods-producing

industries for jobs in the faster growing

service-providing sector.

The concept of occupational mobility

The distribution of employment by occupation reflects the choices of individual workers and the demand structure of the overall economy. Workers bring their experience, abilities, and desires for certain types and conditions of work to the marketplace. The occupational demand they encounter reflects the technological and economic conditions of the day. The present demand for computer technicians, for instance, would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago; it represents the response of the labor market to a rapidly expanding technology. Changes in the economy's mix of industries--some growing and some declining--also strongly affect the overall occupational distribution, as each industry has unique needs in terms of workers' skills.

Occupational mobility can be thought of as a process that helps ensure the smooth operation of the economy. In most cases, it allows individual workers to improve their job satisfaction through increased pay, status, and responsibility, or through better working conditions. At the same time, occupational mobility is a prime means for the economy to adjust to new demand conditions. Thus, relatively free movement of workers between occupations can be beneficial, from the standpoint of both the individual and the economy.

The January 1987 CPS supplement measured occupational mobility through a single question regarding the labor force status of individuals. …

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