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Occupational Requirements Survey: Concepts

The Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS) provides estimates measuring four types of occupational requirements: physical demands; environmental conditions; education, training, and experience; and cognitive and mental requirements. Survey estimates provide insight into the requirements of work in the U.S. economy.

The ORS is designed to provide information regarding what is required to perform critical job functions 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 workers performing the job may have more advanced degrees, such as a doctorate degree (Ph.D.). For the purposes of the ORS, the requirement is a bachelor’s degree. The distinction is significant because the objective of the survey is to measure job requirements, not the characteristics of the workers. See the Data sources section for information on how occupational requirements are collected.

The ORS is a nationally representative establishment-based survey. Private industry and state and local government establishments in the 50 states and the District of Columbia are eligible for selection. Major exclusions from the survey are workers in federal and quasi-federal agencies (examples include the military, postal service, and federal reserve), establishments in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting industry sector, workers employed by private households, contractors (onsite workers at the surveyed establishment but paid by another party [contractor] are not included in data collection from the surveyed establishment), 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. Employees in sampled jobs must receive market-based payments, such as salary, commission, or hourly wages, from the establishment for services performed in the labor market and the establishment must pay the employer’s portion of Medicare taxes on the worker’s wages.

Key concepts and definitions

These key concepts and definitions explain the ORS sampling, estimation, and publication processes.

Accommodation. As defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, “an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.” The ORS collects information about how workers are required to perform jobs in support of critical job tasks without accommodations, as not all employers can offer the same accommodations. 

Cognitive and mental requirements. The qualifications that workers need to use judgment, make decisions, interact with others, and adapt to changes in a job. For a list of cognitive and mental requirements and corresponding estimate types, see appendix A in the Calculation section.

Critical job function. The main purpose and the primary pay factor for the job. It consists of critical tasks that are integral to the job.

Critical tasks. Activities workers must perform to carry out their critical job function(s).

Duration levels. The scale used to categorize the amount of time a worker performs a physical demand, are exposed to an environmental condition, or the amount of time necessary to complete education, training, and experience requirements. Most physical demands and environmental conditions are measured using duration ranges. For example, if speaking is required for 1 hour of an 8-hour workday then the associated duration level is “occasionally” because this level of speaking falls between 2 percent and 33 percent of the workday. For more information see the Calculation section.

Education, training, and experience. The minimum level of formal education required, credentials necessary, on-the-job training, and prior work experience necessary for average performance in selected jobs. For a list of education, training, and experience requirements and corresponding estimate types, see appendix A in the Calculation section.

Environmental conditions. The various tangible or concrete hazards or difficulties that are in the vicinity of where jobs’ critical tasks are performed. The ORS program has refined examples and definitions for collection of environmental conditions over time, and a visual overview of environmental elements is available on the Information for Survey Participants section of the website. For a list of environmental conditions and corresponding estimate types, see appendix A 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 workers produce goods or provide services.

  • 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.

Frequency. The number of times workers experience a requirement while performing critical tasks. Many cognitive and mental requirements are measured using frequencies. For example, fast food workers may have their work reviewed more than once per day while software developers may have their work reviewed less frequently, such as less than once per day. The estimates reflect the maximum number of times that the requirement is experienced by workers performing critical tasks.

Full-time or part-time status. For the ORS, full-time or part-time status is based on the establishment's definition of those terms, and not determined by the number of hours employees work. This characteristic is collected for the ORS as described in the Design section and ensures that job requirements correspond to the selected jobs. However, estimates are not published by this level of detail.

Industry. Establishments are classified into industries using the 2017 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). NAICS uses a 6-digit hierarchical coding system to classify all economic activity into 20 industry sectors. Of those 20 sectors, 5 are mainly goods-producing sectors and 15 are entirely service-providing sectors.

Job. A position where one or more workers are employed at an establishment. The job is characterized by its critical tasks in support of the critical function(s). 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. The ORS considers all 20 of those waiters to be duplicates of the same job at that worksite. Because the ORS measures the requirements of a job and is weighted by the amount of workers employed in that job, "jobs" and "workers" may be used interchangeably in ORS publications.

Job demands. The physical demands; environmental conditions; education, training, and experience; and cognitive and mental requirements necessary to perform critical tasks in support of the critical job function(s). These job demands can include observable behaviors such as keyboarding, driving, and standing. These can also include unobservable behaviors such as learning and applying knowledge, and problem solving.

Modes. The mode is the value that appears most frequently in a job requirement category. In the ORS, modes for certain job requirement categories are calculated so that the user may identify the estimate within a category with the largest weighted number of workers. These estimates are presented in the databases via a footnote.

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 ORS uses the 2018 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system to classify occupations to the six-digit level. The ORS further classifies occupations by eight-digit codes based on O*NET's detailed occupational taxonomy referred to as "O*NET-SOC 2010 Occupations" when available. Implementing 2018 SOC provides information about the occupational classification in published estimates. Military specific occupations (55-0000) and postal service occupations (43-5050) are out of scope for the ORS.

Percentage of workers. The number of workers in an occupation that have a certain requirement divided by the total number of workers in that occupation. 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 tasks in a job. The presence and, in some cases, duration of these activities are published. The ORS program has refined examples and definitions for collection of physical demands over time as well as a visual overview of physical elements on the Information for Survey Participants section of the website. For a list of physical demands and corresponding estimate types, see appendix A in the Calculation section.

Respondent. Human resource managers or specialists, occupational safety managers, supervisors, or owners at an establishment that provide data during a survey collection.

Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP). The minimum amount of preparation time required for workers to learn the techniques, acquire the information, and develop the aptitude needed for basic performance in a specific job.

Task list. A list that outlines the critical job function(s) and itemizes the critical tasks performed within a job. Only requirements necessary to perform critical tasks are in-scope for the ORS.

Wave. In the context of the ORS, a wave represents a collection period of multiple sample groups. For example, the first wave included three sample groups, collected in 2015–16, 2016–17, and 2017–18. The second wave will include five sample groups, each collected over approximately a 1-year period. For example the first sample in the second wave was collected between August 2018 and July 2019. Once all sample groups in a wave are combined and estimated, those estimates are considered final, while intermediate releases within a wave are considered preliminary. See the Design and Presentation sections for additional information on second wave sample groups and estimates.

Last Modified Date: May 03, 2021