The Standard Occupational Classification System

Construction Hard Hat

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) was established by the U.S. government to allow the classification of workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating and to disseminate the data collected.

All workers are classified into one of 867 (as of 2018) detailed occupations according to their occupational definition. Detailed occupations in the SOC with similar job duties, and in some cases, skills, education, and/or training, are grouped together.

The SOC system was established in 1977. There are also national variants of the SOC that are used in the following countries: Canada, Philippines, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom.

By now, you are probably wondering what this article is about as most of us just carry on with our day, never stopping for a minute to think about these classifications or why it even matters.

You see, along with these classifications, there is also an expected pay scale that goes with it, not just what your new boss tells you it is, and in a lot of cases has straight forward told you that you can have, or were hired as “Broadcast Technician,” but you are receiving the pay of a “Library Technician.”

If you are in the classification of 15-2091, your expected pay is going to be much different than if you were in the classification of 17-3021, and rightfully so, as the latter is the classification for a person with the title of “Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician,” where the former classification is that of a person that holds the title of “Mathematical Technician.”

Starting around the late 1990’s, a new trend emerged where job applicants started to see job postings with titles like “Cleaning Technician,” or any number of variations. Basically, you can fill in whatever buzz word you would like, followed by the word “Technician” and you now have a job title, despite the fact that the job title does not even exists, hence why it is actually important to know what classification your skill set and educational background entitle you to.

Case in point and a baffling true story. While attending college, I worked, as most of us do, at a menial job assembling electronic widgets. One of my co-workers, who worked on the same assembly line as I, were stilling at the same musty table in the lunch room one evening, when I ask him if he was attending college also and if so, what was his course of study.

The answer about made me tip over in my chair in complete disbelief.

This a young man of about 22 years of age. Not only had this young lad completed college, but had gone on to complete his graduate degree and move on to obtaining his Ph.D in Physics. After my brain was done with what seemed to be a never ending parade of somersaults in my skull and looking around the room that was filled with low-wage Laotian workers, I leaned forward to ask him with eyes the size of man-hole covers, “what are you doing here!?”

Knowing that this cheapo company that we were working at/for didn’t pay any of their workers above minimum wage, unless of course, you were sitting upstairs with the title of “Seat Polisher Technician.” He stated that he was working as an assembly line technician, basically meaning he had a title and the same low wage. Again, I had to ask him why he was there when there were so many companies scattered about the country with so many highly respected positions that he could have easily obtained by walking in the door with a simple hello and for the most part, hired on the spot with a significantly higher pay scale.

This brings us to the year of 2020, where buzz words fly faster than the dust from a vacuum cleaner. Throughout the procession of years that followed my graduating college, the mislabeling of job titles to lure a candidate in for an interview became more and more obnoxious. Not only were these job postings on job web sites completely misleading, they were/are straight forward and, simply put, an abuse of a perspective employee.

Currently, one only has to reach as far as pointing their browser to Craigslist to see a multitude of job postings with the title of something or the other, followed by the word “Technician,” with almost every one of these titles to be completely false and/or non existent of a real job title, as well as, just above minimum wage.

In closing, it is my hope that at some point in time, a future generation of newly entering workforce employees – weather college educated or not – will be able to start the trend of placing their prospective employers in the position of having to realize that the SOC system was not just created for a government to collect data to drool over, but it was created to aid an employee to ward off employer abuse.