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Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Customizing survey methodologies to create a comprehensive, public database on the evolving U.S. job market

The American economy, by many measures the world’s largest, depends on the achievements of a robust, productive, and constantly changing workforce. Keeping track of the workforce, and informing the public about it, is part of the mission of the U.S. Department of Labor.

In 1938, the U.S. Department of Labor began documenting the many occupations of American workers. The main repository of this information was the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, a printed book containing detailed descriptions of the characteristics of jobs we hold. By the 1990s, the federal government realized that a printed publication could no longer keep up with a changing labor market. Business leaders, policymakers, and people in the workforce now relied on electronic databases, and it was time for the Department of Labor to follow suit.

The Advent of O*NET as a Comprehensive Resource of Occupational Information

The search for a dynamic, science-based solution led the Department of Labor to launch the National Center for O*NET Development, a unit within the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The O*NET Center was charged with creating, populating, and maintaining an online database that has since become the most comprehensive standard source of occupational information in the United States.

RTI has provided sampling, data collection, data processing, and data analysis services to the Center since 1997. In addition to the Center, we work with North Carolina State University and the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO), which also provide data analyses and other research services for O*NET.

Comprehensive Expertise and Innovation in Statistical Sampling, Data Collection, and Data Management

Our role on the O*NET project is an important one. We collect data from job incumbents and occupation experts using paper and web questionnaires that cover all the occupations in the U.S. workforce—including the knowledge required, work styles, education and training, work activities, work context, and tasks performed. Additional data on skills and abilities are provided by occupational analysts at HumRRO, based on their review of the data we collect from incumbents.  

Reaching members of all the different occupations is a monumental undertaking. Although it is relatively easy to reach people in the more common occupations, some of the newer or less common occupations, such as data warehousing specialists or hunters and trappers, require special sampling techniques and customized data collection protocols. These challenges benefit from our broad and diverse survey experience and our flexibility and willingness to try new and innovative methods.

O*NET is the largest and longest-running establishment survey in RTI’s portfolio. Since starting data collection in 2001, we have surveyed more than 225,000 job incumbents and 10,000 occupation experts in more than 900 occupations. Keeping the database current is an ongoing effort that is expected to continue indefinitely.

A Valuable Resource for Students, Veterans, and Others Seeking a Career Path

The three main websites built on O*NET data—O*NET Online, My Next Move, and My Next Move for Veterans—together attract more than 3 million visitors per month. O*NET sites are a frequent destination for guidance counselors, student advisers, and soon-to-be graduates of the nation’s high schools and colleges.

When layoffs send large numbers of people into the job market, or waves of veterans return to the private sector, the sites serve as a valuable resource. Anyone looking for a job, comparing potential career paths, or researching the labor market can find relevant information on O*NET.

In addition to job seekers, the sites provide data to researchers and developers. Dozens of other sites built by state workforce agencies, colleges, human resource and training companies, and even international businesses and agencies use O*NET data to reach their respective audiences.

The job market will always be affected by technology, demographics, globalization, and other factors. We are committed to keeping O*NET current to better serve the needs of both workers and policymakers. Our work will help provide essential information as the nation’s economy continues to evolve.