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.
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.
11 – Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting
21 – Mining
22 – Utilities
23 – Construction
31-33 – Manufacturing
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.
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.