The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) refers to the database of worker and occupational attributes that succeeds the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) as the primary source of information for occupations in the U.S. economy. Although the DOT had held this title for many years, numerous events— including the explosion of new occupations that accompanied the Internet and technology age, the decline in blue-collar industrial/manufacturing occupations, the dynamic nature of many of today’s jobs, and theoretical and methodological advances in our understanding of work and job analysis—necessitated a new system for collecting and disseminating occupational information. The DOL responded by sponsoring the development of a computerized repository of occupational information that would permit rapid revision of the data, as well as easy access by the many individuals who wished to use the data therein.
With a strong theoretical framework, a procedure for updating content on a regular basis, an online viewer, associated career exploration tools, and links to current labor market data, O*NET offers current, diverse data on key occupations in the U.S. economy. Although no occupational information or classification system can be optimal for every purpose, O*NET provides many users with many ways of exploring the world of work.
The occupational taxonomy included in O*NET products and tools differs from that used in the DOT so as to reflect the changing world of work. First, job analysts aggregated the more than 12,000 DOT occupations into a more manageable number of occupational units (OUs). The initial aggregation yielded 1,172 OUs, which have been further refined to the approximately 950 occupations that now constitute the Standard Occupational Classification System (SOC). Some DOT occupations were not aggregated and stand as SOC occupations today, whereas other SOC occupations comprise hundreds of DOT occupations. Consistent with the dynamic nature of today’s world of work, new occupations continue to be added, whereas others are removed. Also contained by O*NET are crosswalks of SOC occupations to other classification systems such as the DOT and the Military Occupational Classification.
Second, O*NET describes occupations using an expansive set of variables drawn from a content model. The content model is a theoretical framework that specifies 21 types of occupational descriptors:
- Generalized Work Activities
- Work Context
- Organizational Context
- Occupational Knowledges
- Occupational Skills
- Labor Market Information
- Occupational Outlook
- Work Values
- Work Styles
- Basic Skills
- Cross-Functional Skills
- General Knowledge
These 21 classes of occupational information, in turn, can be placed into one of six broad categories:
- Worker characteristics such as abilities and interests
- Worker requirements including basic skills and education
- Experience requirements such as training and licensing
- Occupational characteristics including occupational outlook and wages
- Occupational requirements such as work context and generalized work activities
- Occupation-specific information including tasks and machines/tools/equipment
The variables of the content model can also be categorized according to whether they are worker-oriented or job-oriented and whether they apply to a specific occupation (within-occupation) or many occupations (cross-occupation). Worker-oriented variables that cross occupations include skills, abilities, and interests; those applicable within occupations include occupational skills and knowledge. Job-oriented variables that cross occupations include generalized work activities and organizational context; those applicable within occupations include tasks and machines/tools/equipment.
Each of the 21 classes of occupational descriptors defined by the content model comprises multiple variables on which each occupation receives ratings on appropriate scales such as importance, level, and frequency or extent. In all, the O*NET database describes each occupation using more than 275 variables. For example, there are 52 abilities that span the cognitive (oral comprehension, number facility), physical (gross body equilibrium, stamina), psycho-motor (finger dexterity, speed of limb movement), and sensory (far vision, speech recognition) domains. Similarly, the 35 skills span six domains, including basic skills (mathematics, writing), social skills, (negotiation, instructing), and systems skills (systems analysis, judgment and decision making).
Each occupation receives ratings of importance, level, and frequency or extent on each of these variables. A sample ability rating scale is given in Figure 1.
Initially, trained job analysts provided ratings of each O*NET occupation, but the National Center for O*NET Development is leading an effort to augment the O*NET database with ratings from job incumbents. Occupational experts are also used for occupations having few incumbents or for which incumbents are difficult to locate, and job analysts continue to provide abilities ratings for all occupations. Incumbent data currently are added for approximately 200 occupations annually. Collectively, these data provide a rich, common language that can be used to describe occupations in the U.S. labor force.
The O*NET System
The O*NET database is part of the O*NET System, which also includes the O*NET OnLine viewer and O*NET career exploration tools.
O*NET OnLine is a viewer that is available on the Internet. Hosted by the National Center for O*NET Development, the viewer affords O*NET users several options for using information provided in the O*NET database. For example, the viewer permits individuals to search for occupations via keywords or occupational codes, explore various job families, find occupations that match their skill profiles, or crosswalk occupations from other job classification systems to their counterpart SOC occupations.
Career Exploration Tools
DOL offers several vocational assessment tools that can be linked to the occupational information in the O*NET database. With an eye toward whole-person assessment, the O*NET career exploration tools (provided in both paper-and-pencil and computerized versions) allow individuals to determine their standing on abilities (Ability Profiler), vocational interests (Interest Profiler), and work values (computerized Work Importance Profiler, paper-and-pencil Work Importance Locator).
- Donsbach J., Tsacoumis, S., Sager, C., & Updegraff, J. (2003). O*NET analyst occupational abilities ratings: Procedures (FR-03-22). Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization.
- Levine, J., Nottingham, J., Paige, B., & Lewis, P. (2000). Transitioning O*NET to the Standard Occupational Classification. Raleigh, NC: National Center for O*NET Development.
- McCloy, R., Campbell, J., Oswald, F., Lewis, P., & Rivkin, D. (1999). Linking client assessment profiles to O*NET occupational profiles. Raleigh, NC: National Center for O*NET Development.
- Peterson, N., Mumford, M., Borman, W., Jeanneret, P., & Fleishman, E. (1999). An occupational information system for the 21st century: The development of O*NET. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- S. Department of Labor. (1991). Dictionary of occupational titles (Rev. 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.