Within Analyst, we use something called the Occupational Information Network or O*NET to match skill sets with specific occupations. This allows us to draw very accurate comparisons between the knowledge and abilities required for any job, which helps create career pathways both for learners and for those already in the workforce.
The following post has been adapted from our US blog.
The purpose of the EMSI-O*NET project is to create a standard set of skill and knowledge descriptors for occupations in the United Kingdom that will facilitate inter-occupational competency analysis. The scope of the project is to translate a reduced set of O*NET descriptors from their United States context to that of the United Kingdom.
What is the O*NET database?
The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) database is a comprehensive set of information on key attributes and characteristics of workers and occupations. This database is organised by the O*NET content model.
Every occupation requires a different mix of knowledge, skills and abilities and is performed using a variety of activities and tasks. These distinguishing characteristics of an occupation are described by the O*NET Content Model, which encapsulates the key features of an occupation into a standardised, measurable set of variables called ‘descriptors’. The hierarchical model starts with six domains describing the day-to-day aspects of the job and the qualifications and interests of the typical worker. The model expands to 277 descriptors collected by the O*NET program, with more collected by other American Government agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) was developed under the sponsorship of the US Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA) through a grant to the North Carolina Employment Security Commission.
EMSI has been performing a particular type of cross-occupational skill-transferability analysis in the US using three domains of the O*NET Content Model: Knowledge, Skills and Abilities. Within these three domains are 120 descriptors, each containing two values: level and importance. Using these descriptors, EMSI calculates a compatibility index between occupations. For the UK, we have created a reduced set of descriptors. There are 43 descriptors for the UK, which include the entire domain of Knowledge (33 descriptors) and the Basic Skills subset of the Skill domain (10 descriptors).
This image shows the skills transferability between IT strategy and planning professionals and Computer software engineers, systems software.
The knowledge is very similar between two occupations, except that IT workers have slightly more knowledge of Customer & Personal Service and Law & Government. Notice that many of the skills overlap, with a slight discrepancy in Monitoring.
Creating the UK-O*NET
In order to do skill transferability analyses in the UK, we had to create O*NET descriptors for UK-SOC codes. We begin by comparing O*NET-SOC occupations to UK-SOC occupations and find the closest match(es) based on task descriptions, education levels and job titles. In cases where there is a one-to-one correlation between the occupations, we assign the O*NET descriptors for the US occupation to the UK occupation. However, in the majority of cases, UK-SOC occupations may contain multiple US occupations, cut across US occupations, fall in between US occupations, or simply have no correlation. In the rare cases where there is a fair match with a single occupation, we take the single US occupation as a base and modify the O*NET descriptors to match with the UK task descriptions. In cases where a UK occupation matches fairly with multiple US occupations, we will either split the UK occupations into sub-groups which will correspond with the US occupations and their descriptors or combine the US occupation descriptors into a single set of descriptors that will describe the UK occupation. In cases where the match is more doubtful, more extensive modification of O*NET descriptors will take place to match the UK occupation, taking into account task lists, titles, education and experience typical of that occupation.
Four common procedures happen when modifying US descriptors to match a UK occupation:
- Adding/removing specialisation
- Shift in emphasis
This modification generally affects only one or two O*NET descriptors and is based on a comparison of task lists. If we are satisfied that the US-UK occupation match is good, but the UK task description includes an additional class that the US description doesn’t, we modify the Knowledge and Skills according to that specialty. For example, one of the primary tasks listed for a UK medical secretary is taking down notes in shorthand from dictation. The O*NET-SOC task description does not include shorthand, so we will boost scores for the skill descriptor ‘Active Listening’ and the knowledge descriptor ‘Clerical’. Or in another case, that of Travel and tour guides, the UK description places emphasis on the fact that many posts require knowledge of foreign languages, which is not at all highlighted in the corresponding US description. So while the ‘shape’ of the descriptors is accurate, we will assign higher levels to the knowledge descriptor ‘Foreign Language’ to the UK occupation.
In both the US and the UK, there are some jobs that do essentially the same thing and therefore have a similar descriptor ‘shape’. But for a variety of reasons, the necessary levels of education and training are different as a whole. For example, entry into Healthcare practice managers occurs at a lower education level in the UK than is common for the US equivalent. Despite this, the task descriptions are consistent and the ‘shape’ of the occupation is virtually the same. In this case, we will lower a number of descriptors to correspond with the lower level of training required for the occupation.
Shift in emphasis
The third form of modification is a shift in emphasis. This occurs when there is a good match with education and tasks, but one aspect of the job is more prominent in the US while a different one is more prominent in the UK. These shifts usually take the form of a movement from soft skills to hard skills or from a sales emphasis to a service emphasis, which usually changes a handful of descriptors. For example, the occupation ‘Production and process engineers’ in the UK is best matched to ‘Industrial engineers’ in the US. However, ‘Production and process engineers’ are concerned primarily with the technical details of the layout and flow of production, while the US ‘Industrial engineer’ has somewhat broader concerns, which embrace less technical matters as well. Because of this, we rescore descriptors to more narrowly focus on hard skills for ‘Production and process engineers’.
The last form of modification is performed after an initial scoring of all occupations is done. In this process, we perform comparisons across occupations to ensure that the level scoring from occupation to occupation is done in a consistent manner. When outliers are found, we re-examine the scores and adjust accordingly so that the occupation scores are contextually accurate within the universe of occupations. This ‘scaling’ can take the form of any of the first three forms of modifications described above.
That completes the procedure for modifying O*NET to the UK occupations.