Commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) aspires to be America’s most comprehensive and widely applicable career development resource. A replacement for the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, O*NET’s primary feature is its detailed, research-based descriptions of nearly 1,000 occupations. Available as a database, an interactive Web site, and a reference text, O*NET provides a range of informational resources intended for use by laypersons and by all professionals who play a role in workforce development. To serve such a wide audience, O*NET describes all occupations using plain-language terms organized by a general model of workforce development concepts.
Developed from extensive surveys of workers and expert job analysts, O*NET profiles 974 occupations using over 275 different characteristic descriptors. All of this information maps onto six broad categories. An occupation’s worker characteristics include the interests, values, and abilities of the typical worker, while worker requirements refer to job-performance-related skill and knowledge areas. Occupational requirements are nonspecific aspects of the job or work environment, such as frequency of team-based work, while occupation-specific information would include descriptors like “obtaining evidence from suspects.” Finally, occupational characteristics include compensation and job outlook trends, and experience requirements describe the education and training necessary for employment in a given occupation.
It is difficult to overstate the volume of information provided by O*NET. Consider the occupation of mechanical engineer. A computer printout of O*NET’s most detailed mechanical engineer profile contains 19 pages of bullet-point style information. The precision of this descriptive information is considerable. For example, not only does the mechanical engineer profile specify that knowledge of chemistry and the ability to read technical drawings are both relevant to the job, but it also quantifies the relative job-relatedness of these and many other characteristics on a 100-point scale. This kind of detailed information is directly accessible from the O*NET Web site, and the O*NET developers’ guiding assumption is that these profiles could be used by a college student exploring possible careers, a recruiter evaluating job candidates, a department chair setting curriculum standards, or a scholar researching trends in the labor force.
In addition to the occupational profiles themselves, O*NET has inspired numerous supplementary tools and applications. The O*NET Web site assists general audiences in identifying career options through an interactive self-assessment exercise and a searchable database of all occupational profiles. For career counselors, O*NET provides free measures of abilities, values, and interests—the results of which connect directly to O*NET occupational summaries.
Researchers can download the entire O*NET database and accompanying technical reports. Finally, within certain guidelines, program developers have been encouraged to adapt O*NET resources to their specific needs. To this date, such developments have included a Spanish-language version of the database, a new occupations guide for the Armed Services Vocational Assessment Battery (ASVAB), and a career guidance training program for paraprofessional counselors in Wisconsin.
In summary, no other career development resource approaches the breadth and depth of information, or the scope of potential applications, associated with O*NET.
- Farr, J. M. and Shatkin, L. 2004. O*NET Dictionary of Occupational Titles. 3d ed. Indianapolis, IN: JIST.
- Farr, J. M. and Shatkin, L. 2004. 2005. Enhanced Occupational Outlook Handbook. Indianapolis, IN: JIST.
- U.S. Department of Labor. 2015. O*NET Online: Occupational Information Network. (http://www.onetonline.org/).