Definitions and Sources
To organize the world of work into more manageable and coherent information, many national statistical agencies use standardized occupational codes and naming conventions to compile and analyze labour market information (LMI).
The term occupation is commonly used interchangeably with job, but for statistical reporting and classification purposes, occupations and jobs are different. An occupation, in this context, is a label applied to a set of related jobs. More specifically, an occupation is defined as a collection of jobs sufficiently similar in the work performed to be grouped under a common label. A job, in turn, is defined as the set of tasks and duties (i.e. work) performed, or meant to be performed, by a single worker. For example, some individual jobs - hemodialysis nurse, infection control officer and burn patient care nurse - are sufficiently similar in the work performed to be grouped under the common occupational label of Registered nurses.
Occupation: Definition in NOC
A collection of jobs sufficiently similar in the work performed to be grouped under a common label.
Job: Definition in NOC
The set of tasks and duties (i.e. work) performed, or meant to be performed, by a single worker.
Structure and Content
The NOC organizes all job types into 500 unit group occupations identified by 4-digit codes. Each digit has a particular meaning, as shown in the table below, and classifies occupations by category and skill level as well as industry. The full structure can be consulted here.
|1-digit NOC||10 broad occupational categories|
|3-digit NOC||40 major groups|
|3-digit NOC||140 minor groups|
|4-digit NOC||500 unit groups|
Unit groups are aggregated into broader occupational categories by each of the first three digits of the NOC, which are also used in their 1-, 2- or 3-digit forms. For example, the unit group NOC 1227 - Court officers and justices of the peace - can be aggregated as follows:
1 Business, finance and administrative occupations
12 Administrative and financial supervisors and administrative occupations
122 Administrative and regulatory occupations
1227 Court officers and justices of the peace
Each 4-digit NOC is associated with a brief description called the lead statement, illustrative job title examples, inclusions and exclusions, main duties and employment requirements. For NOC 1227, job title examples include commissioner of marriages, court officer, court services manager and registrar of bankruptcy.
The first two digits of each NOC code are also associated with the skill type and skill level of the occupation, but they do not convey the detailed skills and knowledge required. Skill type, defined as the type of work performed, is indicated in the first digit of the NOC code. There are ten skill types, numbered from 0 to 9.
|Description||NOC Code 1st DIgit|
|Business, finance and administration occupations||1|
|Natural and applied sciences and related occupations||2|
|Occupations in education, law, and social, community and government services||4|
|Occupations in art, culture, recreation and sport||5|
|Sales and service occupations||6|
|Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations||7|
|Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations||8|
|Occupations in manufacturing and utilities||9|
Skill level refers to the amount of education and training typically required to perform the duties of the occupation. It is indicated by the second digit of the NOC code for all occupations except management (0). The NOC identifies four skill levels, denoted by the letters A through D, as follows:
|Skill Level||Description||NOC Code 2nd Digit|
|Level A:||University degree (bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate)||0 or 1|
|Level B:||Some post-secondary education at community college, apprenticeship, or some on-the-job or occupation-specific training||2 or 3|
|Level C:||Completed secondary school with some short-duration courses or some secondary school education with on-the-job training||4 or 5|
|Level D:||On-the-job training or no formal educational requirements||6 or 7|
For example, the 4-digit unit group 3012 - Registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses - can be grouped with all other 4-digit NOCs that begin with 301 to create the 3-digit minor group Professional occupations in nursing. Similarly, all codes starting with 30 are grouped together to form the major group Professional occupations in nursing. As the second digit is a 0, these occupations belong to skill level A, indicating that a university degree is typically required. Similarly, since the first digit is 3, these occupations belong to the broad occupational category (i.e. skill type) of Health Occupations.
Background to the NOC
Prior to 2011, there were two distinct National Occupational Classifications in Canada: the National Occupational Classification designed by ESDC and the National Occupational Classification for Statistics 2006 (NOC-S 2006) designed by Statistics Canada. The two classifications differed in their aggregation structure, although both provided a complete listing of all categories under which Canadian jobs were classified, along with their descriptions.
ESDC’s NOC originated as an update to the Canadian Classification and Dictionary of Occupations, which designated group occupations by their education type and level. Given the unique requirements of statistical classification, however, Statistics Canada identified the need for a different aggregation than the existing ESDC NOC. The NOC-S 2006 was thus designed for data collection and categorization for the Census and Labour Force Survey (LFS) so that each occupation included a roughly similar number of workers.
The existence of parallel NOC systems created confusion, so ESDC and Statistics Canada collaborated to revise and unify the two NOC systems in 2011. The NOC system is now developed and maintained by ESDC and Statistics Canada in partnership.
The NOC is updated regularly to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market. The most recent version is NOC 2016 Version 1.3, approved December 2019. This version updates the previous NOC 2016 Version 1.2. There were two types of modifications in the last revision: structural and non-structural.
Structural changes to the framework of the NOC system can include changing the conceptual boundaries and moving occupations from one group to another. The NOC system is reviewed every 10 years for structural changes; resulting modifications to the NOC are called revisions. Non-structural modifications include such changes as adding new occupational titles to current groups and modifying the descriptions of unit groups. These types of changes occur on an as-needed basis, with the most recent occurring in December 2019. There are several stages to the update/revision process:
- Consult with stakeholders
- Compile and analyze information for relevancy
- Assess impacts of proposed revisions
- Establish priorities
- Conduct further research
Finally, Statistics Canada and ESDC vet the recommendations and decide on any revisions collaboratively.
When a new NOC classification is released, Statistics Canada updates previously collected data using concordance tables that detail all the changes to the different occupations at the four-digit level. However, these concordance tables do not give information about the share of jobs that changed from one classification to another. For minor updates, no concordance table is published but the information (title changes, moves or deletions) is included in the introduction.
International Standard Classification of Occupations
At the international level, the International Conference of Labour Statisticians has adopted the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO). Statistics Canada provides an ISCO/NOC concordance table that shows the relationship between the NOC 2016 and ISCO 2008.
The United States maintains its own Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) as the statistical standard used by federal agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The most recent version is the 2018-SOC containing 867 detailed occupations, aggregated into 459 broad occupational areas. These same occupational categories are used as part of the Occupational Information Network-Standard Occupational Classification (known as O*NET), which links occupations to worker and job characteristics, including skills.
Data on occupation can be found through different Statistics Canada surveys. Surveys can be accessed through different channels, each allowing a different level of detail.
|Data Tables||Customized Products and Services||Public Use Microdata File (PUMF) Collection||Real-Time Remote Access (RTRA)||Research Data Centre (RDC)|
|Labour Force Survey||Several tabulations available with data at the 1- and 2-digit levels only||Several tabulations available in accordance with confidentiality release criteria||Several tabulations available with data at the 1- and 2-digit levels only||Allows for pulling data up to the 4-digit level. Confidentiality and reliability rules apply||Allows for pulling data up to the 4-digit level. Confidentiality rules apply (minimum cell size for 5 observations monthly and 30 yearly)|
|Census||Several tabulations available with data up to the 4-digit level||Several tabulations available in accordance with suppression rules||Several tabulations available with data at the 1- and 2-digit levels only||Not available||Allows for pulling data up to the 4-digit level. Confidentiality rules apply|
|Job Vacancy and Wage Survey||Several tabulations available with data up to the 4-digit level||Several tabulations available in accordance with suppression rules||Not available||Not available||Not available|
|Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID)||Not available||Several tabulations available in accordance with suppression rules||Several tabulations available with data at the 1- and 2-digit levels only||Allows for pulling data up to the 4-digit level. Confidentiality and reliability rules apply||Not available|
Occupations are different from jobs: A job is defined as a set of tasks and duties performed, or meant to be performed, by one person for a single economic unit. An occupation is a collection of jobs sufficiently similar in work performed to be grouped under a common label for classification purposes.
Occupations are different from skills: Skills refer to developed capacities that an individual must demonstrate to be effective in a job, role, function, task or duty. Skills are typically unobserved. However, broad skill levels (proxied by the amount and type of education and training) and skill types (defined by the type of work performed) are used as classification criteria in the NOC system.
Occupations are different from industries: Industry refers to the role of the firm in the economy, whereas occupation refers to a person’s role within the firm. These two variables can be cross-tabulated to provide detailed information on employment. Many occupations are found almost solely within one industry. For example, healthcare occupations such as nurses and medical doctors rarely exist outside of the healthcare industry (though large manufacturers and elementary schools may directly employ a nurse on staff). Although one’s industry and occupation of work are typically related, the categories remain separate and distinct. In other words, an occupation is not necessarily linked to a particular firm or company.
Occupations are different from class of worker: Class of worker applies to a specific job and refers to whether a person is an employee or is self-employed, regardless of their occupation.
The concept of occupation, and the NOC system specifically, is at the centre of several policies, including those for immigration and occupational outlook.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) uses NOC classifications to examine and manage immigration requests under several programs, including the following:
- Skilled Immigrant (Express Entry) requirements for eligibility are based on broad skill levels as defined in the NOC
- Temporary Foreign Worker requirements for eligibility can be based on Labour Market Impact Assessment that the future employer must use to make a case for the need for a foreign worker to fill the job
Provincial immigration programs also use the NOC to categorize and evaluate demands.
Most provinces and territories, as well as the federal government, distribute labour market outlooks to inform employers, workers and policymakers about potential imbalances in the market. Despite the variety of approaches in the following models, all Canadian models forecast labour demand by occupation as defined by the NOC: