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Handbook of Methods Occupational Requirements Survey Concepts

Occupational Requirements Survey: Concepts

The ORS provides insight into the presence and duration of specific physical demands and environmental conditions, presence of cognitive and mental requirements, as well as the amount of education, training, and experience needed to perform in the occupation.[1]

The ORS groups data elements into four main categories:

• Physical demands

• Environmental conditions

• Education, training, and experience

• Cognitive and mental requirements

It is important to note that the ORS is designed to capture information regarding what is required to perform the critical job function of selected jobs. The survey does not focus on specific capabilities or experiences that individual workers have if the employer does not require them. For example, a job may require a bachelor’s degree, but a worker performing the job may have a doctoral degree (Ph.D.). In this case, the ORS would capture the requirement of this particular job as being a bachelor’s degree. The distinction is significant because the desired outcome of the survey is to portray job requirements, not the characteristics of the workers. See the Data sources section for more detail on what occupational requirements are collected.

The ORS is an establishment-based survey and establishments in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the private sector and state and local government are eligible for selection. Major exclusions from the survey are workers in federal and quasi-federal agencies, military personnel, agriculture workers, workers in private households, the self-employed, volunteers, unpaid workers, individuals receiving long-term disability compensation, and those working overseas. Individuals who set their own pay, such as business owners, and family members who are paid token wages are also excluded.

The following sections provide definitions of key concepts and further explanation regarding occupational selection and estimation processes used for this survey. For more detailed definitions of survey terminology, please refer to the ORS Collection Manuals.

Key concepts and definitions

Accommodation. A modification or adjustment to a job or change in the work environment that enables a person with a disability to compete equally or carry out the occupational tasks as generally performed. The ORS only collects information on requirements based on how workers perform without accommodations, as not all employers can offer the same accommodations.

Cognitive and mental requirements. The requirements related to a worker’s need to use judgment, make decisions, and adapt to changes on the job.

Contractors. People working onsite at a surveyed establishment, but paid by a contractor, are not included in data collection from the establishment unless the contractor is part of the sample. If the contractor belongs to the sample, the ORS collects data on those jobs with employees of the contractor who are working offsite at other establishments, as well as those working onsite. To be included in the ORS, employees in sampled occupations must receive payments (cash, check, or direct deposit payments) from the establishment for services performed and the establishment must pay the employer’s portion of Medicare taxes on those individuals’ wages. 

Critical job function. The main purpose of the job. It consists of critical tasks that are integral to the job. The job would not exist without the critical job function(s), which is the primary pay factor for the job. 

Critical tasks. An activity workers must perform to carry out their critical job function(s). A task is critical when it is a required component of the critical job function(s). 

Duration Levels. The scale used to categorize the amount of time a worker performs  a physical demand or is exposed to an environmental condition. For more information see the Calculation section.

Education, training, and experience. In ORS, these together are known as specific vocational preparation (SVP) and refer to the amount of preparation time required for a typical worker to learn the techniques, acquire the information, and develop the skill needed for average performance in a specific job. The preparation time includes all time spent acquiring the minimum level of formal education required, pre-employment training including certifications and licenses, on-the-job training, and prior work experience. 

Environmental conditions. Refer to the various tangible or concrete hazards or difficulties that are in the vicinity of which a job is performed. The presence and, in most cases, duration of these conditions are collected. For more information about individual environmental elements, see the ORS Visual Overview for Environmental Conditions and the appendixes in the Calculation section.

Establishment. A single economic unit that engages in one, or predominantly one, type of economic activity. For private industries in the survey, the establishment is usually a single physical location, such as a mine, a factory, an office, or a store, where they produce goods or provide services. The number of workers in an establishment includes workers on paid vacation or other types of leave; salaried of­ficers, executives, and staff members of incorporated firms; employees temporarily assigned to other units; and noncon­tract employees for whom the reporting unit is the perma­nent duty station, regardless of whether that unit issues their paychecks.

  • For private industry, if a sampled establishment is owned by a larger entity with many locations, only the employment and characteristics of the establishment selected for the sample are considered for the survey.
  • For state and local governments, an establishment can include more than one physical location, such as a school district or a police department.

Full-time or part-time status. For the ORS, full-time or part-time status is not determined by the number of hours worked, but is based on the establishment’s definition of those terms. 

Incentive-based pay. Incentive workers are those whose wages are based at least partially on productivity payments, such as piece rates, commissions, and production bonuses.

Job. A position of employment at an establishment in which one or more workers are employed. It is characterized by its main function and any work tasks in support of that function. The term job refers to a single position in a single establishment, but an establishment may have more than one worker in that job on their payroll. For example, a restaurant may have 20 waiters all serving the same function and performing identical tasks. ORS considers all 20 of those waiters to be duplicates of the same job at that worksite. Because ORS focuses on the requirements of a job but is weighted by the amount of workers employed in that job, “jobs” and “workers” may be used interchangeably in ORS publications.

Job demands: The knowledge and physical actions required to perform critical tasks, as well as environmental conditions experienced while completing critical job tasks. 

Modes. In this survey, modes for certain job requirement categories are calculated so that the user may identify the estimate within a category that has the largest weighted number of workers, which is essentially the most common value within that category. See the Calculation section for more information. These estimates are presented in the data via a footnote in the multi-screen data tool, as well as in the excel spreadsheet of data. 

Nonunion workers. A nonunion worker is an employee in an occupation not meeting all of the ORS-defined conditions for union coverage. 

Occupation. A generalized job or family of jobs common to many industries and areas, such as an economist or carpenter. An occupation is different from a job because it refers to a profession or trade in general, and not a single position in a single establishment. The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system classifies occupations to the six-digit level. The ORS further classifies occupations by eight-digit codes used by O*NET’s detailed occupational taxonomy referred to as “O*NET-SOC 2010 Occupations” when available. Military specific occupations (55-0000.00) are out of scope for the ORS.

Percentage of workers. The number of workers in a given domain (such as an occupation) that has a certain requirement divided by the total number of workers in that domain. For example, the number of teachers who are required to reach overhead divided by the total number of teachers equals the percentage of teachers with that requirement. For more information see the Calculation section. 

Percentiles. Percentiles (10⁠th, 25⁠th, 50⁠th-median, 75⁠th, and 90⁠th) are used for estimates with continuous values, such as hours spent sitting, or days of prior work experience required. More detailed information is included in the Calculation section.

Physical demands. Refer to the physical activities required to perform occupational tasks. The presence and, in some cases, duration of these activities are collected. For more information on individual demands, see the ORS Visual Overview for Physical Demands or Exhibits 7 and 8 in the Calculation section. 

Time-based pay. Time-based workers are those whose wages are based solely on an hourly rate or salary.

Union workers. The ORS defines a union worker as any employee in a union occupation who satisfies all of the following conditions: a labor organization is recognized as the bargaining agent for all workers in the occupation; wage and salary rates are determined through collective bargaining or negotiations; and settlement terms, which must include earnings provisions and may include benefit provisions, are embodied in a signed, mutually binding collective bargaining agreement.


⁠[1] The ORS program is collecting data for cognitive and mental requirements and will publish them for the 2019 reference period. BLS did not collect or publish cognitive and mental requirements for the 2018 reference period in order to align the collection questions to the job requirements.

Last Modified Date: April 29, 2019