The Journal of Rehabilitation

Where Vocational Rehabilitation Consumers Work According to the Standard Occupational Classification System

By incorporating the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) into case service documentation with the start of the 2007 fiscal year (FY) on October 1, 2006, the Rehabilitation Service Administration's (RSA) vocational rehabilitation (VR) program joined other federal agencies in using a standardized approach to classifying occupational information (Levine & Salmon, 1999; RSA, 2006). As a result, the SOC replaces the outdated Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) as the formal system to classify the type of occupation achieved by VR consumers (Mariani, 1999; U.S. Department of Labor, 1991). Since the concept of employment is central to many rehabilitation practitioners and people with disabilities (Fraser, Vandergoot, Thomas, & Wagner, 2004; Martz & Xu, 2008), it is important to explore and describe this baseline occupational information for consumers of the VR program and the general United States population. Preceding this analysis is a brief history on classifying occupations followed by an overview of the SOC.

Classifying Occupations

The first occupational classification system in the United States was developed with the 1850 Census of Population (Levine & Salmon, 1999; Levine, Salmon, & Weinberg, 1999). The government surveyed the population for the "profession, occupation, or trade of each person over 15 years of age" (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009a, Schedule no. 1 section). From this one question to 23 million residents across 30 states, 322 occupations were identified including cotton-gin maker, drover, lath maker, rag collector, and stevedore (Levine et al., U.S. Census Bureau, 2009c). Eventually, the census surveys included not just one, but multiple questions regarding the nature of work performed (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009b). The U.S. government has since been collecting occupational data on its residents for almost 160 years.

Following the rapid expansion of U.S. manufacturing in the early decades of the 20th century, a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system was created to systematically organize expanding industries (Levine et al.). An important aspect of the SIC was that it conformed to the existing industrial structure of the United States (Pearce, 2009). For example, industries were classified by a four-digit code and represented agriculture, communication, construction, electric, finance, fisheries, forestry, gas, insurance, manufacturing, mining, real estate, retail, sanitary services, services, transportation, and wholesale trade. The most recent version of the SIC was hierarchically sectioned into divisions (e.g., Division I: Services), major groups (e.g., Major Group 83: Social Services), and industrial groups (e.g., Industrial Group 8331 : Job Training and Vocational Rehabilitation Services) (U.S. Department of Labor, 2009). The SIC was used for many decades until it began to show signs of stress as the nation shifted to a service-oriented economy with the introduction of new industries such as information technology, healthcare, and high-tech manufacturing (Levine et al., 1999). In addition, the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) opened up trade with Canada and Mexico, signaling the need for an international industrial classification system.

In 1997, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) replaced the ailing SIC with the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) (Murphy, 1998). The NAICS is hierarchically organized by groups of industries with similar production processes and can be individualized by participating countries to meet their own needs (Levine et al.). NAICS' six-digit classification codes allows for greater flexibility in structure than the SIC (Murphy). The highest level of aggregation represents industrial sectors (e.g., information), followed by subsectors (e.g., broadcasting and telecommunications), industry groups (e.g., radio and television), international industries (e.g., radio broadcasting), and national detail (e.g., radio stations) (Murphy).

Despite the creation of a standardized system for industrial classification during the 1930s, federal agencies quickly and independently developed their own occupational classification systems to meet their individual needs. Thus almost immediately began a dual occupational taxonomy foci, one on the characteristics of the industry (i.e., SIC, NAICS); and one on the characteristics of work (Cassio, 2009). For example, the Bureau of the Census (i.e., Census of Population, Current Population Survey), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (i.e., Occupational Employment Statistics Survey), and the Department of Labor (DOL) (i.e., DOT) each developed their own classification system with a focus on the similarities of job content rather than industry type (Levine & Salmon). Other federal agencies independently collecting and classifying occupational data on the characteristics of work include the Department of Education, the Bureau of Health Professions, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Defense.

The presence of multiple occupational data-gathering and reporting systems became problematic for two reasons. First, most systems were incompatible with each other. Although crosswalks and other "bridging" techniques were created, limitations to comparisons across data systems meant that analysis of two or more data sets would yield incomplete occupational information (Levine & Salmon, 1999). Second, changes in the national economy were difficult to incorporate into the classification systems. The DOL and Census Bureau began to alter their systems during 1960s, thereby, causing the government to reconsider the state of occupational classification (Levine et al., 1999).

In an effort to overcome the problems associated with multiple occupational classification systems, OMB created the first SOC in 1977 and included "all occupations for which work is performed for pay or profit" (Levine et al., 1999, p. 36). The SOC was quickly revised before the 1980 census in order to promote standardization across multiple federal agencies (Levine et al.). However, several agencies continued to use separate classification systems from the SOC. In 1994, after years of a lack of direction on the SOC and inadequate funding, OMB invited a multitude of federal agencies to form a committee and discuss revising the SOC to meet the needs of all agencies. Some of the agencies represented in the revision process included the BLS, Census Bureau, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, DOE, DOL, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, NSF, and OPM (Levine et al. …

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