Measures of Education and Training
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides information about education and training requirements for hundreds of occupations. BLS uses a system to assign categories for entry-level education, related work experience, and typical on-the-job training to each occupation for which BLS publishes projections data. The assignments allow occupations to be grouped to create estimates of the education and training needs for the labor force as a whole and estimates of the outlook for occupations with various types of education and training needs. This classification system replaces the earlier 11-category education and training system used for the 2008–2018 projections. In addition, educational attainment data for each occupation are presented to show the level of education achieved by workers who are employed in the occupations.
BLS assigns occupations to a designation within three categories: typical entry-level education, related work experience, and typical on-the-job training. (Detailed definitions [PDF] for the categories are available online).The categories and assignments within each are as follows:
Typical entry level education—represents the typical education level needed to enter an occupation. The assignments for this category are the following:
- Doctoral or professional degree
- Master's degree
- Bachelor's degree
- Associate's degree
- Postsecondary non-degree award
- Some college, no degree
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Less than high school
Work experience in a related occupation—indicates if work experience in a related occupation is commonly considered necessary by employers for entry into the occupation, or is a commonly accepted substitute for formal types of training. The assignments for this category are the following:
- More than 5 years
- 1-5 years
- Less than 1 year
Typical on-the-job training—indicates the typical on-the-job training needed to attain competency in the occupation. The assignments for this category are the following:
- Long-term on-the-job training: more than 1 year
- Moderate-term on the job training: 1-12 months
- Short-term on-the-job training: 1 month or less
In some cases, assigning education and training categories can be straightforward. Some occupations, such as physicians and lawyers, are governed by federal and state laws and regulations that give clear guidelines, regarding the education or training required for a given occupation. In other cases, the choice of categories is less clear. BLS economists determine the typical path to entry for an occupation and apply it across all three categories. Multiple paths to entry are not captured by the classification system. For occupations with multiple paths to entry, the classification system captures the typical path, and the occupational profile narrative in the 2012-13 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook (available in late March 2012) will give a full description of alternate paths in the “How to Become One” section. For example, the typical entry path for registered nurses is an associate’s degree, with no work experience and no on-the-job training requirements. However, the Handbook profile will note that registered nurses can also obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program.
BLS economists assigned occupations to categories on the basis of analyses of qualitative and quantitative information. Sources of quantitative data include educational attainment data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) and data on education, work experience, and on-the-job training requirements from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). In addition, economists evaluated qualitative information obtained from educators, employers, workers in the occupation, training experts, and representatives of professional and trade associations and unions.
Educational attainment data
Education attainment data from the ACS are a useful analytical tool that complements the category system. These data present the percent distribution of workers currently employed in an occupation, broken down by their highest level of education attained. The ACS collects demographic and employment information from about 3 million households annually. The educational attainment data published by BLS are based on the Census Bureau’s microdata files.
Occupational statistics in the ACS are coded under the Census Bureau’s 2002 Census occupation classification system. Both the BLS category system and the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data—the source data for the National Employment Matrix, are coded based on the federal government’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Although the Census Bureau’s system also is based on the SOC, it does not provide the same level of detail as the matrix. As a result, some detailed SOC occupations have the same educational attainment data, because they are combined in the Census Bureau’s occupational classification system. (For a full discussion of the National Employment Matrix, including its use of the SOC and OES data, see the BLS projections methodology).
The educational attainment data presented in Table 1.11 Educational attainment by detailed occupation use 5 years of ACS microdata from 2005–2009. The data, on workers 25 years and older, present the highest level of education attained by those in the current workforce. Five years of data are used to generate the estimates, to improve their reliability.
The educational attainment distributions allow data users to better discern whether there are multiple education and training possibilities. For example, because 87 percent of speech-language pathologists have at least a master’s degree, this is a clear indication that getting a master’s degree is the typical way to become a speech-language pathologist. However, educational attainment data for other occupations may be more varied; for example, 29 percent of computer support specialists have “some college, but no degree”; 16 percent have an “associate degree”; and 34 percent have a “bachelor’s degree.” The educational attainment distribution for computer support specialists suggests that there is more than one way to enter this occupation. Data show the highest level of education the survey respondent has attained—not necessarily the level of education required for the occupation.
Educational attainment data: limitations
The ACS is a household survey. Errors in interpretation of the survey questions and coding errors may result in inaccurate responses. A likely example of response or coding errors can be seen in the physician and surgeon occupation. To practice medicine, physicians must attain a first professional degree among other requirements, as governed by state laws; however according to ACS data, 2 percent of physicians and surgeons had attained only a master’s degree as their highest level of education.
The educational attainment data do not always closely reflect the education assignment in the category system. One major difference is that the category system reflects typical entry-level educational requirements, whereas ACS data report the level of education attained by workers already in the occupation. This can lead to cases in which the attainment data reflect a higher level of educational attainment than the category selection. For example, a majority of claims adjusters, examiners, and investigators have an “associate’s degree or higher,” but the education category assignment for the occupation is “high school diploma or equivalent,” as workers typically can enter the occupation with the lower level of education. In other cases, the category assignment reflects a higher level of education than the attainment data show. For example, occupational therapists are assigned to the master’s degree category, but more than half have only a bachelor’s degree. This occupation reflects a change in entry requirements over time. By contrast, the educational attainment data are only a picture of the recent workforce and may not reflect requirements imposed on entrants to the occupation. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, new entrants to occupational therapy will need at least a master’s degree, because the organization that accredits occupational therapist education programs does not accredit bachelor’s degree programs.
In addition to respondent or coding errors, there are a number of reasons that the educational attainment data may not match the category assignment. Examples are: underemployment, individual choice, and the trend of “upskilling,” in which the educational attainment of workers continues to rise over time. Also, because of changing entry requirements, individuals entering an occupation may need a higher level of formal education than for those persons who are already working in it.
The former 11-category system
BLS previously used a system that assigned occupations to a single category, which described the "most significant source" of education or training. This prior system combined different dimensions of education, training, and work experience in a related occupation into 11 categories; and BLS analysts could choose only one for each occupation. BLS chose to revamp this system, as the combination of different dimensions of education, related work experience, and on-the-job training in one category did not provide a complete picture of the path needed for many occupations.
For example, for some occupations, both postsecondary education and on-the-job training are important; but in the previous system, these were two distinct and mutually exclusive assignments. Other examples are occupations for which education and work experience in a related occupation are both important factors for entry.
In addition, the previous system did not include any assignment for education below the postsecondary level. In the new system, this problem is eliminated; the entry-level education categories include “high school” and “less than high school.”
Last Modified Date: May 4, 2012