Occupational, skills and course classification systems (2)

In the last article, I described the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system used in the UK to classify and describe occupations. People often tend to assume that the same system is used in other countries, especially in Europe. It is not so simple. The USA also calls its classification system SOC, but uses a considerably different system. Similarly there are different classification systems in different European countries.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) produces the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO). The present version – ISCO08 – is an update on the previous version – ISCO98. ISCO is often used as a tool for comparing occupations and labour markets in different countries and teh Office of National Statistics (ONS) tries to provide some alignment between the UK SOC system and ISCO08.

The LMI for All database provides access to the skills required in different occupations drawn from the USA O*Net survey. As a USA based system O*NET skills and associated data is tied to the US SOC system. We use a ‘fuzzy search’ process to match up the different  classification systems. We use O*Net simply because it is the most detailed data available of the skills required for different jobs although the European Union is developing its own ESCO skills directory.

The EU also produces some comparative data, based on the European Labour Force Survey, which each European country contributes data to and on surveys undertaken by the CEDEFOP agency on future skills demands. Because of how this data is collected, it tends to be less detailed than other data available at UK and national level in Europe.

One of the most frequent questions we are asked is what course people should do for a particular occupation. This is a perfectly sensible question, but the answer is not so easy. As wee have seen occupations are classified under SOC, according to the nature and the general degree of difficulty and hence level of qualification required for the job. But courses at university level are classified under a system called JACS (Joint Academic Coding System) which is a way of classifying academic subjects. JACS is a hierarchical system with codes made up of a letter followed by three numbers. The hierarchical logic was built into the codes themselves – so for example, if the F group is Physical Sciences, F100 is Chemistry, F140 is Environmental Chemistry and F141 is Marine Chemistry. Quite simply the two systems do not match up. And even if one attempted to look at different subjects and try to work out what jobs people might do you would end up with a one to many table.  JACS is will be replaced in 2019 and 2020 by the HE Classification of Subjects (HECoS). It contains a similar number of codes to JACS and defines subjects at a similar level of granularity. However, unlike JACS, HECoS is a simple list of subjects with no inherent hierarchy.

We have a number of ideas about how it might be possible to link courses to occupations and new AI technologies seem to have a lot of promise. We will post more on this laetr in the year.


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