1. Introduction

The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2010 has been revised to produce SOC 2020. The main areas of change in SOC 2020 are:

  • a review of the classification of roles as professional or associate professional
  • the reclassification of occupations associated with information technologies
  • disaggregation into less heterogenous unit groups

More information on these changes are outlined in Section 4.

The SOC 2020 Manual will help you use SOC in a consistent way. It provides information to use SOC-based occupational statistics. It will also help you understand the classificatory principles and coding practices, which have produced them. This manual is published in three volumes.

SOC Volume 1 comprises the following sections:

  • Section 2 describes the principles, concepts and conventions according to which SOC has been developed
  • Section 3 outlines the background to the revision process from the 2010 version of the classification (SOC 2010) to the 2020 version (SOC 2020)
  • Section 4 describes the main areas of change included in SOC 2020 and the reasons for them
  • Section 5 summarises how these changes have affected each of the major groups that constitute the highest level of aggregation of the classification
  • Section 6 describes how the changes impact the proportion of people coded into different categories within SOC
  • Section 7 discusses alternative ways of managing the changes between different versions of SOC
  • Section 8 briefly outlines the future approach that will be taken to update SOC

The SOC 2020 structure and description of unit groups are available to download in both excel and csv format from the related downloads section on this page. If you require a PDF version, please email: occupation.information@ons.gov.uk

SOC Volume 2 consists of a detailed alphabetical index of job titles, giving both the SOC 2010 and SOC 2020 unit group to which each is assigned. This is designed for use in coding occupations. To aid consistency in coding practice, guidance notes are provided in SOC Volume 2 covering the way in which the index has been compiled and organised and on how to locate exactly the most appropriate index entry, given the description of the job title typically provided by informants.

SOC Volume 3 details the relationship between SOC 2020 and the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC). This classification of socio-economic positions is based in part on the SOC. The revision of SOC 2010 has required additional work to rebase the NS-SEC on SOC 2020.

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2. Principles and concepts

Objects to be classified and criteria of classification

The object to be classified using the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) is the concept of a “job”. Defined as a set of tasks or duties to be carried out by one person, the notion of a job represents a basic element in the employment relationship. Jobs are usually structured by employers (or by the worker in the case of self-employment) and others, including professional bodies, employer and/or worker organisations and governments, may regulate their definition. Jobs are recognised primarily by the associated job title.

Jobs are classified into groups according to the concepts of “skill level” and “skill specialisation”.

Skill levels are approximated by the length of time deemed necessary for a person to become fully competent in the performance of the tasks associated with a job. This, in turn, is a function of the time taken to gain necessary formal qualifications or the required amount of work-based training. Apart from formal training and qualifications, some tasks require varying types of experience, possibly in other tasks, for competence to be acquired. Within the broad structure of the classification (major groups and sub-major groups) reference is made to four skill levels.

The first skill level equates with the competence associated with a general education, usually acquired by the time a person completes his/her compulsory education and signalled via a satisfactory set of school-leaving examination grades. Competent performance of jobs classified at this level will also involve knowledge of appropriate health and safety regulations and may require short periods of work-related training. Examples of occupations defined at this skill level within the SOC 2020 include postal workers, hotel porters, cleaners and catering assistants.

The second skill level covers a large group of occupations, all of which require the knowledge provided via a good general education as for occupations at the first skill level, but which typically have a longer period of work-related training or work experience. Occupations classified at this level include machine operation, driving, caring occupations, retailing, and clerical and secretarial occupations.

The third skill level applies to occupations that normally require a body of knowledge associated with a period of post-compulsory education but not normally to degree level. Several technical occupations fall into this category, as do a variety of trades occupations and proprietors of small businesses. In the latter case, educational qualifications at sub-degree level or a lengthy period of vocational training may not be a prerequisite for competent performance of tasks, but a significant period of work experience is typical.

The fourth skill level relates to what are termed “professional” occupations and high-level managerial positions in corporate enterprises, or national or local government. Occupations at this level normally require a degree or equivalent period of relevant work experience.

Skill specialisation is defined as the field of knowledge required for competent, thorough and efficient conduct of the tasks that comprise a job. In some areas of the classification it refers also to the type of work performed (for example, materials worked with, tools used, and so on).

Table 1 lists the sub-major groups of SOC 2020 and compares these with SOC 2010. As can be seen from the names of these sub-major groups, the skill specialisation criterion has been used to distinguish groups of occupations within each skill level. For example, health professionals are distinguished from science, research, engineering and technology professionals, and skilled metal, electrical and electronic trades from skilled construction and building trades.

Major group structure of the classification and qualifications, skills, training and experience

The major group structure is a set of broad occupational categories that are designed to be useful in bringing together unit groups, which are similar in terms of the qualifications, training, skills and experience commonly associated with the competent performance of work tasks. The divisions between major groups also reflect the important aim of aligning SOC as far as possible with the International Standard Classification of Occupations 2008 (ISCO-08), in which major groups are distinguished on similar criteria.

SOC 2010 had nine major groups, 25 sub-major groups, 90 minor groups and 369 unit groups. SOC 2020 has nine major groups, 26 sub-major groups, 91 minor groups and 412 unit groups.

Table 2 shows the nine major groups of SOC 2020, defined in terms of the general nature of the qualifications, training and experience associated with competent performance of tasks in the occupations classified within each major group.

Unit group descriptions and the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF)

Over recent years systems have been developed for locating within a single framework the wide range of qualifications available in the UK and Ireland. The Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) was the national credit transfer system for education qualification in England, Northern Ireland and Wales until October 2015. This was replaced with the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) for general and vocational qualifications regulated by Ofqual in England and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) in Northern Ireland; the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW) for all qualifications in Wales; the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) for all qualifications in Scotland; and the Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies (FHEQ) for qualifications awarded by bodies across the United Kingdom with degree-awarding powers. These frameworks combine information on both the difficulty entailed in gaining a qualification and the time needed to achieve that qualification.

As in SOC 2010, each of the SOC 2020 unit group descriptions contains information on “Typical entry routes and associated qualifications”. For reasons of simplicity and continuity, reference to vocational qualifications is again frequently expressed in terms of NVQ/SVQ Levels, and no attempt has been made within the unit group descriptions to relate these to the qualifications frameworks.

Comparing qualifications

The IER has been working with the UK qualifications authorities1 on “comparing qualifications” since 2004. This table illustrates how qualifications are organised in the UK and Ireland.

On one side of the table are the main stages of education or employment, and the columns show the different national qualifications frameworks. By looking at a level and/or qualification in a country, it is possible to locate the nearest levels and similar kinds of qualifications that are used in the other countries. This makes it possible to draw broad comparisons between qualifications and their levels, rather than direct equivalences, for each country.

It is important to note that, because the system continues to evolve, the information provided here is indicative and is subject to change over time. Those wishing to locate specific qualifications within the framework are advised to check up to date, online information. One useful starting point could be the Register of Regulated Qualifications, which contains details of qualifications that are accredited by the regulators of external qualifications in England (Ofqual), Wales (DCELLS) and Northern Ireland (CCEA).

Notes for: Principles and concepts

  1. In England this is the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). In Wales the regulator is the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS) and Northern Ireland this responsibility falls to the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA). The SCQF is jointly managed by the Scottish Qualification Authority, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, Universities of Scotland, Association of Scotland’s Colleges and Scotland’s Government.
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3. Background to the revision process

The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), first introduced in 1990, is maintained by the Classification Unit (CU) of the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The CU conducts this maintenance function by collecting and collating information on new occupational areas and by developing databases of occupational information for the purpose of revising the classification. The CU also has longer-term responsibilities to prepare and publish revisions to the structure of the classification and its associated index.

The ONS has adopted a 10-year cycle for the revision of the UK national occupational classification. While the conceptual basis of the UK national occupational classification has remained unchanged since 1990, the SOC 2020 is now the third revision. Previous articles have described the introduction of the SOC in 1990 (Thomas and Elias 1989), its revision in 2000 (Elias and others 2000), and the most recent revision in 2010 (Elias and Birch 2010).

As part of this longer-term work programme, the ONS commissioned the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and the Institute for Employment Research (IER) at the University of Warwick to help revise SOC 2010.

This section presents a summary of the main changes that have been made to SOC 2010, redefining the national standard as the SOC 2020.

To provide an evidence base for potential revisions to the structure of SOC 2010, the CU has maintained a database of occupational queries arising from a wide variety of users. Through consultation with stakeholders it was indicated that there were certain important areas within SOC 2010 that were proving problematic for those organisations and agencies tasked to prepare occupational statistics. In particular:

  • an increasing number of occupations require the application of knowledge and expertise that is associated with a tertiary level of education; this mainly affects associate professional-level occupations and was seen across a wide range of fields including science, environment, design, health, law, finance, marketing and teaching
  • information technology occupations were developing rapidly, both in terms of their scale and the complexity of their constituent tasks and knowledge requirements; this included roles relating to security, quality and design within the information technology sector
  • the CU identified that many of the occupational groups in SOC 2010 could be disaggregated into smaller and more precise groups, this related to “not elsewhere classified (n.e.c.)” unit groups in the SOC 2010 structure; conversely, several unit groups that failed to reach a target size for statistical viability1 were merged with other unit groups
  • in addition to these issues, every part of the existing classification was scrutinised in terms of several criteria:
    • the extent to which producers of occupational statistics had been able to identify and classify job titles to the appropriate unit group of the classification
    • the size of each unit group and its projected change over the next 10 years
    • the heterogeneity of skills associated with job titles classified to each unit group
    • the demand from users for the identification of new occupational areas within the classification

Finally, the revised SOC 2020 structure was mapped to the current version of the International Standard Classification of Occupations 2008 (ISCO-08). This identified an area where SOC 2010 was not consistent with the structure of ISCO-08 for “Shopkeepers and owners – retail and wholesale”.

The resources used for the revision process

Several major resources were used to inform the revision of SOC 2010. These included:

  • text responses to questions on job titles, brief job descriptions, qualification requirements for jobs, and descriptions of what is made or done at the place of work from 11 quarters of unique responses from employed persons in the Labour Force Survey (LFS), from the January to March 2014 quarter to the July to September 2016 quarter
  • similar information from an economically active 1% sample of the 2011 Census of Population for England and Wales
  • a database of queries logged by the CU from occupational coding activities carried out by a variety of organisations and agencies across the UK
  • the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey (2011 to 2013 and 2014 to 2016), used to identify graduate and non-graduate occupations
  • extensive research using online job adverts

In addition to these sources, the CU and the IER consulted widely with a range of stakeholder organisations with interests in occupational definition and structure. All these organisations gave freely of their time to assist with the revision process.

Notes for: Background to the revision process

  1. A unit group needed an estimated minimum size of 10,000 people in the 2021 Census to be considered statistically viable.
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4. Main areas of revision from SOC 2010 to SOC 2020

Details of the main areas of change are given in the following sections.

Reviewing professional and associate professional occupations

Competent performance of the main tasks in many jobs increasingly requires the application of knowledge and skills that are acquired via higher education. As a result, the number of occupations positioned at the fourth skill level of the classification has expanded. This has implications for the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) structure as professional occupations sit in major group 2, but a growing number of roles in SOC 2010 major group 3, and to a lesser extent major groups 4 to 9, now require a degree-level qualification for competent performance of their associated tasks.

The SOC review team conducted a review of two strands of research to address this issue:

  • Green and Henseke’s (2014) research using quantitative regression analysis methods to identify whether an occupation is graduate or non-graduate
  • Elias and Purcell’s (2013) research using qualitative methods of reviewing job descriptions to identify whether an occupation requires a degree or not

In addition, two further research strands were carried out:

  • analysis of data from the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, which provides information on whether respondents consider that a degree is needed for the job that they are employed in
  • review of online job adverts for the most common job titles within each SOC 2010 unit group, to determine employer requirements

Information from all of these strands of research was used to classify unit groups as “professional or associate professional”, with precedence given to the latter two strands of research listed previously; DLHE data and online job adverts. The following section outlines this process in further detail.

The reclassification of unit groups of SOC 2010 to major group 2 in SOC 2020

Data from DHLE were used to calculate a percentage within each unit group for those stating that their degree-level qualification was a formal requirement to gain employment. Based on these calculations, unit groups outside major group 2 were classified into four categories:

  • professional: 50% or more of respondents in a unit group stated that their qualification was a formal requirement and therefore the whole unit group should move to major group 2
  • associate professional: less than 25% of the respondents in a unit group in major group 3 stated that their qualification was a formal requirement and therefore the whole unit group should remain in major group 3
  • non-professional: less than 25% of the respondents in a unit group in major groups 4 or 6 stated that their qualification was a formal requirement and therefore the whole unit group should remain in major group 4 or 6
  • further research required: 25% to less than 50% of respondents in a unit group stated that their qualification was a formal requirement and therefore the unit group was identified as requiring further research

The outcome of this classification highlighted 40 unit groups in major group 3 and two unit groups in major group 6 as requiring further research. Counts by job title were calculated using DLHE, Labour Force Survey (LFS) and UK census data, which together provided more than 2 million unique records. The 10 job titles with the highest counts for each unit group were then selected to conduct additional research using online job adverts. The aim was to research 10 job adverts for each of the top 10 job titles, resulting in 100 online job adverts per unit group.

When 10 adverts were found for an individual job title, and 50% or more of those adverts stated a degree-level qualification, and/or five years or more experience was the minimum requirement, the job title was identified as being suitable to be moved to major group 2. For some job titles fewer than 10 adverts were found, a lower threshold of number of adverts was set and the next in sequence for top job titles was used for research.

With the combination of the online job advert research and the DLHE percentage proportions, the unit groups marked for further research were classified into four categories:

  1. professional – move whole unit group to major group 2 (see Table 3)
    where at least 50% of the job titles in the unit group were identified as professional

  2. associate professional – unit group remains in major group 3
    where there were no job titles in the unit group identified as professional

  3. non-professional – unit group remains in major groups 4 or 6
    where there were no job titles in the unit group identified as professional

  4. index move – move an individual job title to major group 2 (see Table 4)
    where both the job adverts and DLHE data identified an individual job title as professional but overall the unit group did not meet criteria 1 in this list to move the group to major group 2

Further consultation with industry experts and research was conducted, with the final outcomes shown in Tables 3 and 4.

Information technology occupations

Continuing technological changes together with changes in the way IT occupations are organised and integrated across many functional areas necessitated revision, mainly within major group 2 (Professional occupations).

The main areas of change were the creation of a new minor group for “Web and multimedia design professionals” (214), which now includes application (app) designers from IT business analysts, architects and systems designers, and the identification of cyber security professionals, IT quality and testing professionals, and IT network professionals into their own unit groups. Web development professionals are now included in “Programmers and software development professionals” (2134).

The changes are as shown in Table 5.

Disaggregation of unit groups

Unit groups were assessed to determine whether they could be disaggregated into less heterogenous groups on the following grounds:

  • specific occupations within the group that were distinct and were sizeable enough to necessitate a separate group
  • manager and supervisor roles that were grouped with more junior roles

All unit groups were considered for disaggregation but in practice this particularly affected “not elsewhere classified” unit groups.

Table 6 lists the SOC 2010 unit groups that were disaggregated and the new SOC 2020 groups created.

Aggregation of unit groups

As noted in Section 3, unit groups declining in size that failed to reach the target size for statistical viability were aggregated.

Table 7 lists the unit groups declining in size that were merged with other unit groups.

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5. Summary of the changes to the classification structure introduced in SOC 2020

This section presents a summary of the changes by major group between Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2020 from SOC 2010.

Further details of the relationship between SOC 2020 and SOC 2010 will be published at a later date.

Major group 1 (Managers, directors and senior officials)

Some restructuring has been made to major group 1 to disaggregate several of its unit groups into less heterogenous groups. The minor group “Managers and directors in transport and logistics” has been split to identify directors in this sub-major group (minor group 114) separately from managers (minor group 124). Similarly, “Charitable organisation managers and directors” has been disaggregated from “Functional managers and directors not elsewhere classified (n.e.c.)”, and a series of new unit groups has been disaggregated from “Managers and proprietors in other services n.e.c.”.

“Financial institution managers and directors” was merged with “Financial managers and directors”, as these two unit groups were found to be broadly similar in terms of their constituent tasks.

“Advertising directors” are now included with “Marketing and sales directors” as digital techniques and social media are causing these roles to merge.

A comparison of SOC 2010 and the International Standard Classification of Occupations 2008 (ISCO-08) identified a disparity in how small business owners are classified. SOC 2010 classified this group as “managers” (major group 1) while ISCO-08 classified them as “services and sales workers”. Further investigation identified “Bed and breakfast and guest house owners and proprietors” and “Shopkeepers and owners – wholesale and retail” as candidates for moving out of major group 1 as these occupations did not demonstrate strategic managerial roles.

Major group 2 (Professional occupations)

Various occupations have been reclassified as professional occupations and moved into major group 2. These have tended to be from major group 3, examples include “Graphic designers” and “Marketing and commercial managers”.

A new minor group “Other health professionals” has been created to include “Paramedics” from major group 3 and “Other health professionals n.e.c.”, which includes occupations that have been reclassified to major group 2. Similarly, a new minor group “Finance professionals” has been introduced to include “Finance and investment analysts and advisers” and “Taxation experts”, again these unit groups were moved from major group 3.

Amendments and additions to information technology professions have been made to reflect the changing structure of IT occupations. Growing occupational areas such as “Cyber security”, “IT quality and testing” and “IT network” professionals have meant the creation of new unit groups in the minor group “Information technology professions”. A new minor group was created for “Web and multimedia design” occupations. More widely, the word “telecommunications” has been removed from occupational group names and descriptions, to reflect a decline in telecommunications roles, and a change in terminology to “telecoms”.

Various other professional occupations in major group 2 have been restructured to identify them as separate unit groups. In the sub-major group for “Health professionals”, “Specialist medical practitioners” have been differentiated from “Generalist medical practitioners” and “Nursing professionals” have been disaggregated to include separate unit groups to reflect the structure of nursing roles.

Several “Teaching professionals” groups have been disaggregated including “Nursery education teaching professionals”, “Teachers of English as a foreign language”, “Head teachers and principals”, “Education managers”, “Early education and childcare services managers” and “Other educational professionals n.e.c.”.

Within the minor group for “Engineering professionals”, new unit groups have been identified for “Aerospace engineers” and “Engineering project managers and project engineers”.

“Lawyers” are now included with “Solicitors” as it was found that most lawyers are solicitors and “Chartered architectural technologists” has merged with “Town planning officers” as the group was too small in the population and did not meet the threshold for statistical viability.

“Other researchers, unspecified discipline”, “Psychotherapists and cognitive behaviour therapists”, “Clinical psychologists”, “Youth work professionals” and “Newspaper and periodical journalists and reporters” have also been identified as separate unit groups.

Major group 3 (Associate professional occupations)

Many of the changes made to major group 3 resulted from the review of professional and associate professional occupations. The word “technical” was removed from the major group name to reflect that many technical roles have been relocated to major group 2.

As well as several occupational groups being moved into major group 2, some occupations have been moved into major group 3 from major groups 4 to 9. A new minor group for “Teaching and childcare associate professionals” has been created to include “Higher level teaching assistants” and “Early education and childcare practitioners” from major group 6. Veterinary nurses have been moved from major group 6 and “Merchandisers” from major group 7.

New unit groups have been created for “Database administrators and web content technicians”, and “Information technology trainers”, to reflect changes in the information technology sector.

Some restructuring has been made to major group 3 to disaggregate occupations into more precise groups. Design occupations were disaggregated to differentiate “Interior designers”, “Clothing, fashion and accessories designers”, and other design occupations to be coded as “Design occupations n.e.c.”. “Complementary medicine associate professionals”, “Project support officers” and “Data analysts” were identified as new unit groups.

“Business associate professionals” and “Finance associate professionals” were identified from within the SOC 2010 minor group “Business, finance and related associated professionals”, to create two distinct minor groups. New minor groups were created for “HR, training and other vocational associate guidance professionals”, and “Regulatory associate professionals”.

“Air traffic controllers” were merged with “Aircraft pilots and flight engineers” as the group was too small in the population.

Major group 4 (Administrative and secretarial occupations)

The main change made in major group 4 is the addition of a new unit group “Customer service managers”, to distinguish this managerial role from other more junior customer service roles that are classified in major group 7.

“Data entry administrators” were disaggregated from “Typists and related keyboard occupations” to create a new unit group.

Major group 5 (Skilled trades occupations)

Several unit groups have been created to disaggregate occupations where possible; this includes “Security system installers and repairers”, “Electrical service and maintenance mechanics and repairers”, and “Bricklayers”.

Because of low numbers in the population, some unit groups have been merged. “Metal plate workers, smiths and moulders” were merged into one unit group, and “Weavers and knitters” were moved into “Textile, garments and related trades n.e.c.”.

Major group 6 (Caring, leisure and other service occupations)

Early education and childcare occupations have been restructured. Minor group 611 has been renamed to “Teaching and childcare support occupations”, and “Nursery nurses and assistants” renamed to “Early education and childcare assistants” to reflect a change in terminology in this area. “Nannies and au pairs” have been disaggregated from “Childminders and related occupations”.

“Bed and breakfast and guest house owners and proprietors” have been moved to major group 6 from “Hotel and accommodation managers and proprietors” in major group 1 as part of a review of the classification of small-business owners.

A new sub-major group “Community and civil enforcement occupations” was created, to include “Police community support officers” from major group 3, and “Parking and civil enforcement occupations” from major group 9.

Major group 7 (Sales and customer service occupations)

“Shopkeepers and owners – retail and wholesale” have been moved from major group 1 to major group 7, as part of reviewing the classification of small-business owners.

“Customer service managers and supervisors” became “Customer service supervisors” because of the move of managers to major group 4, and a new unit group for “Visual merchandisers and related occupations” was created from “Merchandisers and window dressers”.

Major group 8 (Process, plant and machine operatives)

New minor groups for “Metal working machine operatives” and “Production, factory and assembly supervisors” have been introduced, as well as the new unit group “Road transport drivers n.e.c.”.

Some groups were identified as being too small within the population and were merged with other unit groups, these were “Glass and ceramics process operatives”, “Rubber process operatives”, “Electroplaters”, “Coal mine operatives” and “Agricultural machinery drivers”.

Major group 9 (Elementary occupations)

Several occupational groups were identified for disaggregation into new unit groups, these were “Groundworkers”, “Exam invigilators”, “Elementary storage supervisors”, “Warehouse operatives”, “Delivery operatives”, “Bar and catering supervisors” and “Coffee shop workers”.

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6. The impact of reclassification from SOC 2010 to SOC 2020

To gain some indication of the impact of this revision upon the interpretation of trends in occupational structure of employment in the UK, the occupations of employed people as recorded in 11 quarters of information of the Labour Force Survey (January to March 2014 to July to September 2016) were manually coded by Classification Unit (CU) expert coders from Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2010 to SOC 2020.

Figures 1 and 2 show the overall impact of these changes at the level of major groups of the SOC, separately for employed men and women. Examining first the effect on male employment, the redefinition of professional occupations stands out as the single most important change, with approximately 2% more of employed males classified to major group 2 in SOC 2020 than is the case with SOC 2010. Almost all this increase is associated with the shift of occupational categories from major group 3 to major group 2.

Figure 2 shows similar information for female employment. Again, an increase in the share of employment in professional occupations can be seen when comparing employment classified by SOC 2020 as opposed to SOC 2010, with small declines in the proportions coded to major groups 1, 3 and 6.

At the level of sub-major groups, of which there are 25 in SOC 2010 and 26 in SOC 2020, there is a high degree of correspondence between these groups. In 20 of the 26 sub-major groups the correspondence with the similarly named sub-major group in SOC 2010 is greater than 95%. There are three sub-major groups where the correspondence is low: sub-major group 12 “Other managers and proprietors”; sub-major group 24; “Business, media and public service professionals”; and sub-major group 32; “Health and social care associate professionals”. More detailed analysis of the correspondence between the classifications at the sub-major group level is shown in Table 8.

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7. Managing change and continuity

There is a tension between the need for continuity in the application and use of an occupational classification, thereby providing a stable framework for analysis of trends, and the need for revision of the classification, ensuring the classification is sufficiently up-to-date in terms of its definition, interpretation and use.

With each successive revision of the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), in 2000, 2010 and now for 2020, the broad structure of the classification at the major (single digit) and sub-major (two digit) group levels has remained virtually unchanged. However, for SOC 2010 this masks a major change that has been implemented to achieve comparability with managerial occupations at this broad level in other countries. Also, the upgrading of nursing occupations from major group 3 to 2 created another significant discontinuity at the major group level.

This section considers various methods that could lessen the impact of these discontinuities at all levels of aggregation as those who produce statistical information on occupations move from SOC 2010 to SOC 2020. These are:

  • historical dual-coding of specific datasets
  • continuous dual-coding of specific datasets
  • “index” coding

Examples of each of these, together with an evaluation of their benefits, are considered in this section.

Historical dual-coding of specific datasets

This is the most common approach to the problems posed by the introduction of a new classification. Several historical datasets are recoded from the old to the new classification. Analysis of the dual-coded data reveals the impact of reclassification on the size and structure of the occupationally classified data.

The statistical information contained in this introduction draws on two major datasets, which have been dual-coded by staff at the Classification Unit (CU): 11 quarters of Labour Force Survey data and a sample of records from the Census of Population for England and Wales. More detailed information about these dual-coded datasets can be obtained from the CU.

Continuous dual-coding of specific data sets

Modern coding techniques employ coding software, which attempts to match a job description (usually a text description of a job title) to a relevant index entry, to which an occupational code has been assigned. This software can produce both “old” and “new” codes during the coding process. Thus, a single coding process generates information that allows the producer of occupational statistics to supply information tabulated according to either the old or the new classifications. This raises questions about the length of time for which such dual-coded statistical information should be available to users and may inhibit users from switching from the old to the new classification.

Index coding

Index coding provides a compromise between these two methods. It is continuous, in that a code is generated from the coding process that allows the statistical producer to output both the new and the old classifications. A unique and permanent index code becomes part of the output stream from the coding process and is preserved for future use. A “look-up” table relates the index code to the current classification. The producer can decide for how long information will be made available via both the old and the new classification. It has the added advantage that, if the classification changes again in the future, a revised look-up table can be used to reprocess earlier data from the index code to the latest version of the classification.

If all job titles have a unique reference code, reclassification of existing data to a new classification becomes a trivial task. This technique has the added advantage that it provides a framework for “dynamic updating” of the index to the classification. Users can see how new index entries are placed within the classification.

Coder unfamiliarity with the index codes can be minimised by using the first four digits of the latest version of the classification as reference digits, followed by two alphanumeric characters to generate a unique index reference code. However, with each successive revision of the classification, the initial four digits will have less relevance.

Summary of the advantages and disadvantages of various methods dealing with continuity

Table 9 outlines the advantages and disadvantages associated with each specific method.

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8. Updating SOC in the future

Changes occur in work organisation as a result of technological developments, innovation and new products, the use of new materials, improved methods of production or delivery of services and so on. New occupations arise either because tasks are enlarged, contracted or combined within and between existing occupations or because new, different tasks are introduced into the organisation of work. Many new job titles have been introduced into Volume 2 and, where such new occupations have become sufficiently important to warrant their recognition and inclusion in the classification, this has been reflected within the structure of Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2020.

However, occupational change is a continual process. The Classification Unit of the Office for National Statistics, which supports the SOC, would welcome information on such changes. This will be considered in the periodical updating of SOC.

Please contact:

Classification Unit
Office for National Statistics
Segensworth Road
Titchfield
Fareham
Hampshire
PO15 5RR

Email: occupation.information@ons.gov.uk

For all other statistical enquiries:

Telephone: 0845 6013034
Email: info@ons.gov.uk

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9. References

Elias, P. and Birch, M. (2010). SOC 2010: Revision of the Standard Occupational Classification. Economic and Labour Market Review, Volume 4, Number 7, pages 48 to 55

Elias, P., A. McKnight, R. Davies and G. Kinshott (2000). “The revision of the Standard Occupational Classification from its 1990 version to SOC 2000”. Labour Market Trends, pages 563 to 572

Elias, P. and Purcell, K. (2013). Classifying graduate occupations for the knowledge society (PDF, 1.14MB). Working Paper. London: Higher Education Careers Services Unit. FutureTrack Working Paper (5)

Green, F. and Henseke, G. (2014). The Changing Graduate Labour Market: Analysis Using a New Indicator of Graduate Jobs, published by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies

Office for National Statistics (2010). SOC 2010 Volume 1: Standard Occupational: Structure and Descriptions of Unit Groups

Office for National Statistics (2010). SOC 2010 Volume 2: The Structure and Coding Index

Thomas, R. and Elias, P. (1989). “The development of the Standard Occupational Classification” Population Trends, Number 55, Spring 1989.

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