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Can I Get Those Digits? Understanding Occupation and Industry Codes

Image of boxing gloves colliding with text reading NAICS vs SOC The Clash of the Codes!

What do you do for a living?

It’s one of the standard “getting-to-know-you” questions, and the answer is typically straightforward. “I’m a mechanic,” you’ll say, or “I’m a teacher.”

But if you say that to someone who works with labor market information (and is obnoxious), they might reply, “Oh, do you mean an Adult Basic and Secondary Education and Literacy Teacher or Instructor–or a Secondary School, except Special and Career/Technical Education, Teacher?”

Yes, occupational designations can get pretty complicated. However, after reading this brief intro to occupational coding, you’ll be able to stun them by responding, “Neither. I’m a 25-2021.”

Why does this matter?

When people try to find wage and employment information for specific occupations or industries, they usually know the job title by its common name rather than its official classification name. This can make it tricky to find an occupation title that most closely matches the work performed. That is why our data search tool lists occupations and industries according to their classification codes. Understanding how the classification systems are organized can save you major headaches and help you find information much faster.

Coding Systems

While other coding systems exist, the two most relevant are the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), and the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system.

NAICS is for Industries

NAICS is the standard system used by federal statistical agencies that collect, analyze, and distribute economic data. Adopted in 1997, the NAICS was developed jointly by the United States, Canada, and Mexico to allow better comparability in business statistics among the North American nations. It replaced the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system, which had been in use since the 1930s.

NAICS Coding Structure

NAICS uses a 6-digit hierarchical classification system. More digits there are, the more specific the classification will be. Here’s how it breaks down:

2-digit = Sector

3-digit = Sub-sector

4-digit = Industry Group

5-digit = Industry

6-digit = Nation-specific

 

At the 2-digit level, NAICS divides the economy into 20 sectors. The first five are goods-producing and the remaining fifteen are service-providing sectors.

Goods-Producing Sectors:

11 – Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting

21 – Mining

22 – Utilities

23 – Construction

31-33 – Manufacturing

Service-Providing Sectors:

42 – Wholesale Trade

44-45 – Retail Trade

48-49 – Transportation and Warehousing

51 – Information

52 – Finance and Insurance

53 – Real Estate and Rental and Leasing

54 – Professional and Technical Services

55 – Management of Companies and Enterprises

56 – Administrative and Waste Services

61 – Educational Services

62 – Health Care and Social Assistance

71 – Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation

72 – Accommodation and Food Services

81 – Other Services (except Public Administration)

 

SOC is for Occupations

The Standard Occupational Classification is the standard system used by federal statistical agencies. SOC has only been around since 2000, when it replaced the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) system, which had been in use since 1939.

SOC Coding Structure

SOC codes assign 6-digit codes to each occupation and occupational group. There are always two digits, followed by a dash, then four more digits. It classifies employment at four levels of detail: Major Group, Minor Group, Broad Occupation, and Detailed Occupation.

Image diagramming the 4 SOC levels. Major groups are represented by the first 2 digits and always end with 4 zeroes. Minor groups are represented by the 3rd and 4th digits and always end with 2 zeroes. Broad occupations are represented by the 5th digit and always end with a zero. Detailed occupations are represented by the 6th digit and never end with a zero.

The SOC has 23 major groups.

11-0000 Management Occupations

13-0000 Business and Financial Operations Occupations

15-0000 Computer and Mathematical Occupations

17-0000 Architecture and Engineering Occupations

19-0000 Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations

21-0000 Community and Social Service Occupations

23-0000 Legal Occupations

25-0000 Education, Training, and Library Occupations

27-0000 Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media Occupations

29-0000 Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations

31-0000 Healthcare Support Occupations

33-0000 Protective Service Occupations

35-0000 Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations

37-0000 Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations

39-0000 Personal Care and Service Occupations

41-0000 Sales and Related Occupations

43-0000 Office and Administrative Support Occupations

45-0000 Farming, Fishing, and Forestry Occupations

47-0000 Construction and Extraction Occupations

49-0000 Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations

51-0000 Production Occupations

53-0000 Transportation and Material Moving Occupations

55-0000 Military Specific Occupations

 

Job titles can vary from organization to organization, and often the name a layperson uses for a certain occupation is wildly different than its official title in a classification system. Knowing the structure of these classification systems can help you find an occupation’s name faster than an alphabetical list of titles.

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