How to Interpret Occupational Information Included in the Handbook
The Occupational Outlook Handbook is best used as a reference; it is not meant to be read from cover to cover. Instead, start by looking at the table of contents, in which related occupations are grouped in clusters, or look in the alphabetical index for specific occupations that interest you. For any occupation that sounds interesting, use the Handbook to learn about
the type of work that is performed in the occupation, the working conditions, the education and training requirements, the possibilities for advancement, earnings in the occupation, the job outlook, and related occupations. Each occupational statement, or description, in the Handbook follows a standard format, making it easier for you to compare occupations.
Three sections"Tomorrow’s Jobs", "Sources of Career Information", and "Sources of Education, Training and Financial Aid"highlight the forces that
are likely to determine employment opportunities in industries and occupations through the year 2014 and indicate where to obtain additional information. The current section is an overview of how the occupational statements are developed and organized. It highlights information presented in each section of a Handbook statement, explains the source of the information, gives examples of specific occupations in some cases, and offers some hints on how to interpret the information provided.
Unless otherwise noted, the source of employment and earnings data presented in the Handbook is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly all Handbook statements cite employment and earnings data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey. Some statements include data from outside sources. OES data may be used to compare earnings among occupations; however, outside data may not be used in this manner, because characteristics of these data vary widely.
The numbers in parentheses that appear just below the title of every detailed occupational statement are from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET)a system used by State employment service offices to classify applicants and job openings, and by some career information centers and libraries to file occupational information.
You can use O*NET to search for occupations that match your skills, or you may search by keyword or O*NET code. For each occupation, O*NET reports information about different aspects of the job, including tasks performed, knowledge, skills, abilities, and work activities. It also lists interests, work styles, such as independence, and work values, such as achievement, that are well suited to the occupation. O*NET ranks and scores the descriptors in each category by their importance to the occupation.
This section discusses what workers do on the job, what tools and equipment they use, and how closely they are supervised. Individual job duties may vary by industry or employer. For instance, workers in larger firms tend to be more specialized, whereas those in smaller firms often have a wider variety of duties. Most occupations have several levels of skills and responsibilities through which workers may progress. Beginners may start as trainees, performing routine tasks under close supervision. Experienced workers
usually undertake more difficult tasks and are expected to perform with less supervision.
Some statements mention common alternative job titles or occupational specialties. For example, the statement on accountants and auditors discusses a few specialties, such as public accountants, management accountants, and internal auditors. Some statements—such as that on advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations, and sales managers—discuss titles or specialties that are detailed OES survey occupations. For these occupations, such as sales managers or marketing managers, separate employment projections are developed and their O*NET codes appear at the beginning of the statement.
Information in this section may be updated for several reasons. One is the emergence of occupational specialties. For instance, webmasters—who are responsible for the technical aspects of operating a Web site—constitute a specialty within computer scientists and database administrators. Information also may be updated due to changing technology that affects the way in which a job is performed. For example, the Internet allows purchasers to acquire supplies with a click of the mouse, saving time and money. Furthermore, job duties may be affected by modifications to business practices, such as organizational restructuring or changes in response to government regulations. An example is paralegals and legal assistants, who are increasingly being utilized by law firms in order to lower costs and increase the efficiency and quality of legal services.
Many sources are consulted in researching changes to the nature of the work section
or any other section of a Handbook statement. Usual sources include articles in newspapers, magazines, and professional journals. Useful information also appears on the Web sites of professional associations, unions, and trade groups. Information found on the Internet or in periodicals is verified through interviews with individuals employed in the occupation, professional associations, unions, and others with occupational knowledge, such as university professors and counselors in career centers.
This section identifies the typical hours worked, the workplace environment, physical activities and susceptibility to injury, special equipment, and the extent of travel required. In many occupations, people work regular business hours—40 hours a week, Monday through Friday—but many do not. For example, waiters and waitresses often work evenings and weekends.
The work setting can range from a hospital, to a mall, to an offshore oil rig.
Truck drivers might be susceptible to injury, while paramedics have high job-related stress. Semiconductor processors may wear protective clothing or equipment, some construction laborers do physically demanding work, and top executives may travel frequently.
Information on various worker characteristics, such as the average number of hours worked per week, is obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS)—a survey of households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for BLS.
After knowing what a job is all about, it is important to understand how to prepare for it. This section describes the most significant sources of education and training, including the education or training preferred by employers, the typical length of training, and the possibilities for advancement. Job skills sometimes are acquired through high school, informal on-the-job training, formal training (including apprenticeships), the U.S. Armed Forces, home study, hobbies, or previous work experience. For example, sales experience is particularly important for many sales jobs. Many professional jobs, on the other hand, require formal postsecondary education—postsecondary vocational or technical training, or college, postgraduate, or professional education.
In addition to training requirements, the Handbook mentions desirable skills, aptitudes, and personal characteristics. For example, meeting and convention planners must have excellent interpersonal skills, organizational skills, attention to detail, and the ability to work under pressure. For some entry-level jobs, personal characteristics are more important than formal training. Employers generally seek people who read, write, and speak well; compute accurately; think logically; learn quickly; get along with others; and demonstrate dependability.
Some occupations require certification or licensing for entry, advancement, or independent practice. Certification or licensing usually requires completing courses and passing examinations. Some occupations have numerous professional credentials granted by different organizations. In this case, the most widely recognized organizations are listed in the Handbook.
Many occupations increasingly are requiring workers to participate in continuing education or training in relevant skills, either to keep up with the changes in their occupation or to improve their advancement opportunities.
Some statements list the number of training programs. For example, the statement on
pharmacists indicates the number of colleges of pharmacy accredited by the American Council
on Pharmaceutical Education. The minimum requirements for Federal Government employment cited in some statements are based on standards set by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Revisions to the training section may focus on changes in educational, certification, or
licensing requirements, such as an increase in the number of hours of required training or in the number of States requiring a license. Information also is updated if new skills are needed to complete the job, such as those arising from the adoption of new technology.
Information in this section comes from personal interviews with individuals employed in the occupation, Web sites, published training materials, and interviews with the organizations that grant degrees, certifications, or licenses, or are otherwise associated with the occupation.
This section reports the number of jobs that the occupation provided in 2004, the key
industries in which those jobs were found, and the number or proportion of self-employed
workers in the occupation, if significant. Self-employed workers accounted for about 8
percent of the workforce in 2004; however, they were concentrated in a small number of
occupations, such as farmers and ranchers, childcare workers, lawyers, health practitioners, and the construction trades.
BLS develops the National Employment Matrix, which presents current and projected employment for 336 detailed industries and 754 detailed occupations over the 2004–14 period. Data in the matrix come primarily from the OES survey, which reports employment of wage and salary workers for each occupation in almost all industries. The CPS survey provides information on the total number of self-employed and unpaid family workers in each occupation. The CPS also provides employment data on agriculture and private households. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) furnishes employment data on Federal Government workers.
Because total employment in each occupation combines data from several different sources, employment numbers cited in the Handbook often differ from employment data provided by the OES, CPS, and other employment surveys. This may be a source of confusion for some readers.
When significant, the geographic distribution of jobs and the proportion of part-time workers (those working less than 35 hours a week) are mentioned, reflecting CPS data. On the basis of OES survey data, some Handbook statements, such as those on textile, apparel, and furnishings occupations, list States that employ substantial numbers of workers in the occupation.
In planning for the future, it is important to consider potential job opportunities. This section describes the factors that will result in employment growth or decline. Projecting occupational employment is the final step in the employment projections process. (A more detailed description of the projections process is discussed in the Handbook section entitled “Assumptions and Methods Used in Preparing Employment Projections.”) The job outlook section reflects the occupational projections in the National Employment Matrix. Each occupation is assigned a descriptive phrase on the basis of its projected percent change in employment over the 2004–14 period. (All of the phrases are listed at the end of this section.)
Many factors are examined in developing employment projections and updating the job outlook section. One is job growth or decline in industries that employ a significant percentage of workers in the occupation. If workers are concentrated in an industry that is growing rapidly, their employment will likely also grow rapidly. For example, the growing need for business expertise is fueling demand for consulting services. Hence, management, scientific, and technical consulting services is projected to be among the fastest growing industries through 2014. Projected rapid growth in this industry helps
to spur faster than average growth in employment of management analysts.
Demographic changes, which affect what services are required, can influence occupational growth or decline. For example, an aging population demands more health care workers, from registered nurses to pharmacists.
Technological change is another key factor. New technology can either create new job opportunities or eliminate jobs by making workers obsolete. The Internet has increased the demand for workers in the computer and information technology fields, such as computer support specialists and systems administrators. However, the Internet also has adversely affected travel agents, because many people now book tickets, hotels, and rental cars online.
Another factor affecting job growth or decline is changes in business practices, such as restructuring businesses or outsourcing (contracting out) work. Corporate restructuring has made many organizations “flatter,” resulting in fewer middle management positions. Also, in the past few years, insurance carriers have been outsourcing sales and claims adjuster jobs to large, 24-hour call centers in order to reduce costs. Jobs in some occupations, such as computer programmers and customer service representatives, have been “offshored”—moved to low-wage foreign countries.
The substitution of one product or service for another can affect employment projections. For example, consumption of plastic products has grown as they have been substituted for metal goods in consumer and manufactured products in recent years. The process is likely to continue and should result in stronger demand for machine operators in plastics than in metal.
Competition from foreign trade usually has a negative impact on employment. Often, foreign manufacturers can produce goods more cheaply than they can be produced in the United States, and the cost savings can be passed on in the form of lower prices with which U.S. manufacturers cannot compete. Increased international competition is a major reason for the decline in employment among textile, apparel, and furnishings workers.
In some cases, the Handbook mentions that an occupation is likely to provide numerous job openings or, in others, that an occupation likely will have relatively few openings. This information reflects the projected change in employment, as well as replacement needs. Large occupations that have high turnover, such as food and beverage serving occupations, generally provide the most job openings—reflecting the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or who stop working.
Some Handbook statements discuss the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings. (The phrases used to describe that relationship appear at the end of this section.) In some occupations, there is a rough balance between job seekers and job openings, resulting in good opportunities. In other occupations, employers may report difficulty finding qualified applicants, resulting in excellent job opportunities. Still other occupations are characterized by a surplus of applicants, leading to keen competition for jobs. On the one hand, because many young people who have the educational and personal qualifications necessary to learn tool and die making may
prefer to attend college or may not wish to enter production occupations, employers
report an insufficient number of entrants to fill all job openings for tool and die
makers and some other production occupations. On the other hand, glamorous or
potentially high-paying occupations, such as actors or musicians, generally
have surpluses of job seekers. Variation in job opportunities by industry,
educational attainment, size of firm, or geographic location also may be discussed.
Even in crowded occupations, job openings do exist. Good students or highly qualified
individuals should not be deterred from undertaking training for, or seeking entry into,
This section discusses typical earnings and how workers are compensated—by means of
annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, piece rates, tips, or bonuses.
Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance,
tenure, and geographic area. Almost every statement in the Handbook contains 2004
OES-survey earnings data for wage and salary workers. Information on earnings in the
major industries in which the occupation is employed, also supplied by the OES survey,
may be given as well.
In addition to presenting earnings data from the OES survey, some statements
contain additional earnings data from non-BLS sources. Starting and average salaries of
Federal workers are based on 2005 data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers supplies information on average
salary offers in 2005 for students graduating with a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D.
degree in certain fields. A few statements contain additional earnings information from other sources, such as unions, professional associations, and private companies. These data sources are cited in the text.
Benefits account for a significant portion of total compensation costs to employers.
Benefits such as paid vacation, health insurance, and sick leave may not be mentioned,
because they are so widespread. In some occupational statements, the absence of these
traditional benefits is pointed out. Although not as common as traditional benefits,
flexible hours and profit-sharing plans may be offered to attract and retain highly
qualified workers. Less common benefits also include childcare, tuition for dependents,
housing assistance, summers off, and free or discounted merchandise or services.
For certain occupations, the percentage of workers affiliated with a union is listed.
These data come from the CPS survey.
No single publication can describe all aspects of an occupation. Thus, the Handbook lists the mailing addresses of associations, government agencies,
unions, and other organizations that can provide occupational information.
In some cases, tollfree telephone numbers and Internet addresses also are listed.
Free or relatively inexpensive publications offering more information may be mentioned;
some of these publications also may be available in libraries, in school career centers,
in guidance offices, or on the Internet. Most of the organizations listed in this section were sources of information on the nature of the work, training, and job outlook discussed in the Handbook.