1. Overview of SOC extension project

Some Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) users reported that the existing four-digit structure is not detailed enough for their needs.

The SOC extension project aims to address this need by creating an additional level of detail within SOC 2020. This level of the classification is termed "Sub Unit Group" (SUG) and is comprised of six digits. The development of the extension has been informed by extensive stakeholder engagement and data investigation. The result has been an increase in the number of occupational groups from 412 to 1,565.

Users of the SOC have told us that a more detailed SOC has potential to:

  • give better understanding of labour market trends

  • enable planning for future changes to labour markets

  • improve careers advice services for individuals

  • provide a universal product enabling a standardised approach to occupational groupings

This work remains experimental in nature, which means that supporting material has not been developed and statistical production to this level is not currently available. Longer-term goals relating to the extended framework may, however, include the development of supporting material, adoption into questionnaire design, statistical production, SOC 2020 index matching, and automatic updates. Feedback on the framework itself is welcomed. We are also interested to hear from potential users regarding supplementary materials that would support them in the adoption of the framework.

View the full extended SOC framework (xlsx, 139.5kB).

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2. Methods used to create the extended framework

The development of the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) extension has been informed by several work streams, while activities were overseen by a steering group chaired by Sir John Holman.

User engagement

Throughout 2019, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) worked with Professor Peter Elias from the University of Warwick's Institute for Employment Research (IER) to conduct an extensive engagement exercise with key stakeholders. A total of 19 meetings were held with organisations identified as having significant knowledge of and interest in the SOC and the extension project.

Participants included:

  • Careers Wales

  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

  • Department for Education (DfE)

  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)

  • Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU)

  • Home Office

  • Learning and Work Institute

  • National Audit Office

  • Nesta

  • Northern Ireland Statistical and Research Agency (NISRA)

  • NHS Digital

  • Office for Students

  • Scottish Government

  • Skills Development Scotland

  • The Gatsby Foundation

  • University College London (UCL)

  • Welsh Government

Online survey of stakeholders

A stakeholder database of over 1,000 stakeholders was developed, representative of Minor Groups across the classification. Stakeholder mapping identified the degree of awareness and level of interest from stakeholders, which enabled targeted engagement across the database.

The survey tool was hosted on the ONS Consultation Hub for 16 weeks between June and September 2019. The survey asked:

  • whether and how often respondents used the SOC

  • whether the current version of SOC was detailed enough for their needs

  • whether they felt their occupational area was sufficiently represented within the SOC

  • which areas would benefit from more detail

  • for examples of the additional detail required

  • for examples of job titles and descriptions within respondents' occupational area

A total of 183 responses were received by the electronic survey, which included representation across all nine Major Groups, 92% of Sub Major Groups and 79% of Minor Groups.

There was significant support for adding greater detail to the SOC, with around two-thirds of stakeholders indicating that there were areas where they would like to see greater detail added. Specific examples of where respondents requested greater visibility and detail within the classification included:

  • cyber security

  • event planning

  • the green economy

  • engineering

  • the craft industry

Desk-based research

The extension has been further informed by a range of alternative classifications and secondary data sources.

Survey data

2011 Census, Labour Force Survey and DLHE (Destination of Leavers from Higher Education) provided evidence of reported job titles from survey data. The use of this data helped identify quantitatively where disaggregation may be necessary and achievable.

International classifications

International classifications such as O*net (USA) were used for cross reference of occupational groups.

Bespoke classifications

Bespoke classifications adopted by stakeholders such as HESA (Higher Education Standards Agency), Careers Wales and NHS digital were used to inform where user demand lay. Additional consideration was given to classifications developed by private companies such as Burning Glass, who collate job adverts from several thousand sources such as employment websites, specialised job portals, and company websites into a single database.

Online research

Online research, including career websites and job vacancy portals, was used to understand the different skills and duties involved in job titles and to determine whether they were sufficiently distinct from others within the unit group to warrant disaggregation.

Quality assurance

The combined output of both primary and secondary research was used to objectively inform the development of the SOC extension structure.

Draft SUGs were developed by an officer within the classifications team using the evidence available from the sources outlined in the previous section. These were then quality assured by colleagues with additional research being carried out as necessary until agreement was reached that the breakdown was appropriate and supported by the available evidence. Any queries that remained were escalated to IER for guidance.

Stakeholder feedback was invited on each completed major group in turn. A final opportunity for feedback was then offered on the framework in full. The final date for comment was 6 November 2020. A total of 577 queries, requests and recommendations regarding the framework were received from stakeholders. These have focused primarily on major group 2 (215) and major group 5 (140). Approximately 50% of stakeholder contributions resulted in amendment or clarification within the framework.

Principles of development

Following stakeholder feedback, the production of the extended SOC has been informed and guided by the following principles.

Each SUG within the classification should consist of a distinct and identifiable set of jobs. Considerable similarity must exist in terms of skill level and skill specialisation of the component tasks which define each job within the SUG. The exception is for the ****/99 categories, which are defined as catch-all categories.

The ****/99 SUGs consist of two types of jobs:

  • those which do not fit within any other SUG within the unit group, yet are not yet sufficiently well established to constitute a SUG in their own right; these can be denoted by the phrase "not elsewhere classified" (n.e.c.)

  • those which are not well defined so that clear allocation to a SUG within the unit group is possible; these could be denoted by the phrase "nothing otherwise specified" (n.o.s.)

A SUG should be recognisable by its name. Names of SUGs should not be ambiguous. The nomenclature of a SUG should reflect the name of the unit group. There should be a good balance between the need for more detail in the classification in all areas, not just in areas where the identification of a SUG appears straightforward or demand has been identified from a specific SOC user.

Further details about our research including meeting minutes, stakeholder feedback reports, methodologies and findings are available on request by emailing SOCExt@ons.gov.uk.

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3. Next steps

A significant amount of work has gone into the framework development and its publication signifies an important milestone to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) extension project.

Exploratory research and stakeholder engagement remain ongoing to determine priority areas and how these can best be delivered.

Viability of statistical production

The feasibility of statistical production at the extended level is being explored internally. Statistical production relies on the adoption of the extended SOC to existing surveys. Potential challenges to this exist in terms of automatic match rates, data quality and sample size restrictions.

Despite this, a move towards matching survey data to the extended level of the SOC and subsequently, statistical production, remains in scope. Further work is required to identify how the challenges may be overcome.

Themed markers

The ability of a more granular SOC to identify science, technology, engineering and mathematics, plus medicine and health (STEM+MH) occupations from non-STEM+MH, was viewed as an important benefit from the extended SOC. The ONS has proposed adding further benefit by applying a marker to the framework, enabling STEM+MH occupation groups to be clearly identified and clustered together. Aggregation of this kind has the potential to enable statistical production in instances where the low numbers at a Sub Unit Group level would be restrictive.

Stakeholder engagement also revealed several additional themed areas of interest including craft occupations, digital economy, green economy, and key workers. This could eventually lead to a suite of markers allowing Sub Unit Groups to be aggregated by themes to produce statistics.

Index matching

The SOC 2020 index contains approximately 30,000 job titles. Usability of the framework may be enhanced by the matching of index entries to the extended framework. This would enable the look up of any job title to the relevant 6-digit SOC code. The matching of the index is also the first step towards enabling the automatic coding of survey data.

SUG descriptions

Occupation descriptions are currently available at the unit group level of the SOC. There may be potential to expand this to include descriptions at the SUG level. This would be a labour-intensive exercise requiring the collation of information from a wide range of sources and further engagement across employment sectors. Further research is required to inform understanding about the user need for this work and its level of importance.

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