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Bridging the Gap between Skills and Occupations: A Concept Note to Identify the Skills Associated with NOC

LMI Insights Report no. 16

August 2019

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Table of Contents

Overview, Rationale and Objective

  • The skills required to succeed in today’s world of work are rapidly changing. Workers experience pressure to continuously improve their skills, and employers struggle to find workers with the right skills to achieve their goals.
  • Developing a pan-Canadian mapping system that links skills to occupations is an important step towards improving our understanding of the changing nature of jobs.
  • A five-phase plan is proposed to assess, develop, and maintain a mapping between the recently developed Skills and Competencies Taxonomy of Employment and Social Development Canada and the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system.
  • The various approaches for achieving such a mapping will be evaluated against a number of established criteria, including, among others, data collection requirements, their statistical rigour, utility in supporting people to make informed decisions, as well as the cost of establishing and maintaining these different approaches.
  • To ensure the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy and its mapping to the NOC system continue to evolve to meet the needs of stakeholders, external input and feedback will be sought throughout the process.
  • To ensure the credibility, rigour, and integrity of the final mapping, Statistics Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada will manage and oversee the statistical infrastructure required to maintain and update the mapping.


Current and future skill shortages in Canadian labour markets have been a major concern of policy makers in recent years. There is a critical need to better understand the underlying skills and training needs of employers and workers, and to help education and training providers better prepare and support workers in navigating the changing world of work. Labour market experts have long called for improved clarity in the definition and measurement of skills and their relation to the job market.

Canada, however, lacks an open, credible data source that contains reliable information on the skills associated with jobs. There is a need to enrich and refresh efforts previously undertaken in this space. To ameliorate this situation, some relatively straightforward steps can be taken to leverage existing infrastructure, notably the National Occupational Classification (NOC) and recent initiatives to develop a richer skills and competencies framework. Accordingly, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), Statistics Canada (STC), and the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC) have partnered to address this key labour market information gap. Together, and with continuous stakeholder engagement, the three entities will work to create a shared and open Canadian framework linking ESDC’s Skills and Competencies Taxonomy (see Appendix A) to the NOC system of occupations in a manner that conveys the evolving skill requirements of work.

A statistically robust linkage - or mapping - between the well-defined ESDC Skills and Competencies Taxonomy to the NOC system will enable us to better articulate the composition and distribution of skills across jobs (e.g., occupations and industries) and worker characteristics (e.g., their education level).

Box 1: Skills Measurement: Caveats and Considerations

Any project to document the skills associated with NOC will need to consider skills measurements and any inherent trade-offs with each approach (see Table 1; LMI Insight No. 14). This is true for the measurement of both the supply and demand of skills. For instance, psychometric and competency-based skill assessments can lead to very granular insights at the individual level (the supply of skills), but these tests are costly to undertake and can lead to ambiguous results as to what is being measured. Similarly, having job analysts monitor and evaluate the tasks of people in the 500 NOC occupations may be accurate in terms of skill requirements but would be time consuming and any results would be at risk of being out of date by the time this information is validated and published. Other more aggregated or big data-driven means to capture skills (the demand of skills) may be efficient and cost effective but lack specificity. These measurement considerations will be borne in mind, along with other criteria (discussed below), when evaluating the various approaches linking skills to NOC.


In designing education, training, and employment-support programs, various levels of government and private sector entities have developed a variety of standards and frameworks to talk about workers and job characteristics, including skills, knowledge domains, tasks, etc. These classifications tend to be specific to the program or policy being monitored or evaluated, or are the intellectual property of the private sector firm in question.

Moving forward, given the increasing importance of and focus on skills, we need better data and insights to inform our decision-making. The NOC system is the framework for describing the world of work in Canada and is the basis from which we should start to develop and layer new labour market information. In particular, we need to build on the established statistical system of occupations to structure and organize skills information. Such a system should also consider how to capture, directly or indirectly, the measurement of skills (see Box 1).

Leveraging the structure of the NOC system and linking NOC to the ESDC Skills and Competencies Taxonomy requires a mapping from NOC-based occupations to specific skills. Such a mapping connects each occupational category to a set of skills and, in this sense, the mapping to skills deepens the current NOC framework without changing its foundation.

A robust and sustainable mapping of this nature will be a first step towards helping guide individuals, employers, education and training providers, policy makers, researchers, career practitioners, and others to understand the skills needed today and tomorrow.

A Canadian Skills and Competencies Taxonomy

In an effort to link skills with occupations, ESDC has identified nine essential skills "for learning, work and life" and developed 372 Essential Skills Profiles representing 361 occupations to inform training providers about skill needs and to better monitor skills development funding (see Appendix B). These skills, and the profiles are being reviewed, to determine how they can be modernized to better reflect changes in the labour market. There is also the ESDC Career Handbook, a more detailed source of NOC-based skills information (930 occupational profiles) that acts as a career-counselling component of the NOC.

To enrich and complement these efforts, in 2017, ESDC began developing a Skills and Competencies Taxonomy (see Appendix A) that streamlines terminology across a number of domains and concepts. The Skills and Competencies Taxonomy provides, in addition to skills, a comprehensive framework to characterize both workers and jobs across six other mutually exclusive categories. Exclusive categories are important to avoid duplication of terms and definitions (see Figure 1). In the skills component of the Taxonomy, there are 47 distinct skills (known as descriptors), each accompanied by definitions and organized into five skill groups: foundational, analytical, technical, resource management, and interpersonal.

The Skills and Competencies Taxonomy was developed using a variety of internal resources, quantitative and qualitative research, and stakeholder consultations. An initial goal was to establish consistency in the way occupational and skills information was presented, while bearing in mind several rich sources of data to inform ESDC tools, including the Essential Skills Profiles, the Career Handbook, and the Skills and Knowledge Checklist available in Job Bank. With respect to the skills category, the Taxonomy leverages existing efforts in defining skills. The Taxonomy builds on the O*NET system, developed by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 It is also informed by pan-Canadian information sources, including Red Seal Occupational Standards and the national occupational standards. Following extensive reviews of these and other international frameworks, descriptors were identified, compiled, and organized into the ever-green Skills and Competencies Taxonomy. These well-defined categories and sub-categories will help improve the intuitive nature and understanding of the skill in question.

1. O*NET is an open data source that includes a skills taxonomy, variables describing work and worker characteristics, and a mapping to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC).

Figure 1: ESDC Skills and Competencies Taxonomy Framework


Note: "Skills," "ability," and "competency" are often used interchangeably in common language. However, the literature suggests nuanced differences between the terms. Competencies involve the use of skills, abilities, and attributes to complete a task or successfully meet demands. See also Appendix A for the definitions of these various terms.

Connecting the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy to NOC

Measuring and defining skills in the context of the world of work, from both the supply and demand perspective, is complex. One means by which we can improve labour market information and insights in this regard is to build a mapping from the ESDC Skills and Competencies Taxonomy to the NOC system. Such a mapping would essentially document the skills associated with each occupation - the form and manner of how this is to be done is the purpose of this note.

To that end, ESDC, STC, and LMIC are collaborating - along with provincial and territorial counterparts - to implement a phased approach to the development and evaluation of such a skills-to-NOC mapping. A phased approach will ensure that the development, rollout, and maintenance of the skills mapping to occupations is statistically robust, methodical, client-oriented, and operationally sustainable. The five phases of the mapping project are as follows:

  1. Ongoing consultation and improvement of the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy
  2. Identifying and evaluating mapping approaches
  3. Conducting various pilot tests
  4. Assessing and validating the pilot tests using pre-defined criteria
  5. Dissemination, administration, and implementation

Although Phase 4 is specific to assessment and validation, each phase will be undertaken with a critical lens. Throughout the process, we will engage stakeholders in each phase of the project through direct consultations and requests for feedback. Details of the five phases are discussed below.

Phase 1: Ongoing Consultation and Improvement of the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy

The Skills and Competencies Taxonomy presented here is only the first iteration for input and feedback. In particular, the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy will remain ever-green as ESDC continues consultation efforts with provincial and territorial governments, national sectoral organizations, worker organizations, educators and training providers, career practitioners, the private sector, as well as other federal agencies and external experts (see Box 2 for more information on efforts related to digital skills). This process is important, not only to receive direct feedback on the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy but to enable the collection of more accurate and relevant descriptors.

Phase 2: Identifying and Evaluating Mapping Approaches

In Phase 2, we will research, identify, and assess various methods for linking skills to all occupations in a consistent manner. This will focus first on the potential nature of the relationship between skills and occupations and the appropriate data collection methods required. There are a number of prevailing approaches, including, but not limited to, the following: (i) consulting occupation experts; (ii) seeking direct input from workers and employers; (iii) obtaining input indirectly through online job posting/CV data; and (iv) hybrid approaches. Current methods range from reliance on occupational analysts, as is the case for the O*NET system, to quantitative methods preferred by private organizations. LinkedIn, for example, uses text supplied in job postings to identify in-demand skills, while Nesta, a UK-based innovation foundation, has built a list of skills in demand and linked them to occupations based on machine-learning algorithms. These and other approaches to skills data collection and mapping to occupations will be explored during this phase of the project.

It will be important at this stage to establish the criteria for evaluating the benefits and challenges, and inherent trade-offs, of various approaches. Table 1 summarizes even broad criteria that will help evaluate the approaches. For example, the use of occupational analysts to map skills to NOC is likely to be statistically sound and granular, but such approaches are costly to sustain and less responsive to the ever-changing world of work. Conversely, using data from online sources is inexpensive to maintain, highly flexible, and provides insights in (almost) real time; however, the statistical robustness of using only online data is questionable. A hybrid solution that draws on the best of a variety of methods may also be possible. One example of a hybrid method is a baseline skills-to-NOC mapping based on expert analysis, regularly adjusted in a robust manner to real-world signals that might be drawn from online data.

There are also considerations regarding what defines the link between skills and occupations, e.g., the importance of a skill for a job, or the complexity of using that skill in the job. For example, in the O*NET system, skills are mapped to occupations through an importance rating on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 represents "not important" and 5, "extremely important." The European Skills/Competences, Qualifications and Occupation, on the other hand, maps skills to occupations through binary classifications - a skill is either "essential" or "non-essential" for the job. Evaluating the approaches of mapping skills to NOC will also involve careful consideration about the manner in which the relationship is being mapped.

Box 2: Digital Skills

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) has created an Interdepartmental Working Group on Skills and Talent to bring together representatives from across government to discuss a range of skill-related policy issues. A sub-working group has been established to study and advance concepts related to digital skills and help support policy, programming, and statistical objectives across government.

The existing structure of the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy defines digital skills as follows: "Understanding and using digital systems, tools and applications, and to process digital information." This definition is currently organized within the skills category and foundational skills sub-category.

Discussion is currently underway within the interdepartmental sub-working group on how to build on the digital skills framework as it pertains to the ESDC Skills and Competencies Taxonomy. Specifically, the goal for 2019 is to focus on the study of digital skills, based on nationally and internationally recognized standards, practices, and concepts, and to reach consensus on a definition that meets the needs of membership.

Table 1: Key Criteria to Evaluate the Mapping Project

Benchmark Description
Flexible Managed and executed in a way that enables it to be modified, augmented, or adapted to respond to changing labour market conditions and to capture emerging skills
Sustainable and cost-effective Adequate resources to maintain and update the mapping
Representative Reflects the different ways employers, workers, and training providers express skill requirements
Granular Incorporates greater specificity of skills and occupation-specific data
Responsive Enables policy makers, career and employment counsellors, curriculum developers, and others to make better informed decisions about skills training and education
Measurable Allows for the reasonable measurement of skills
Statistically sound Sound empirical techniques ensure the resulting estimates of skills levels and distributions are representative of Canadian labour markets

Phase 3: Conducting Various Pilot Tests

Following an evaluation of these various approaches and the recommended potential way forward, a set of occupations to use in a pilot study will be identified. The number of NOC occupations used in this pilot testing phase will depend on the methodology identified in Phase 2. More qualitative and labour-intensive methods would suggest that a small subset of NOC be used, whereas highly automated methods could be easily scaled to a large number of NOC.

Phase 4: Assessing and Validating the Pilot Tests using Pre-defined Criteria

After conducting the pilot test, we will gather further information and data from qualified sources to address issues that are likely to arise during the testing phase. It will be important to conduct a quality control review to ensure compliance with a set of pre-determined validation criteria. At this stage, and throughout the life cycle of this project, we will assess whether the skills-to-NOC mapping is on track to meet the key criteria as established in Table 1 (see above).

Phase 5: Dissemination, Administration, and Implementation

The final phase of this project is the publication and promotion of the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy and its mapping to occupations. At this phase, key considerations are credibility, accessibility, and capacity to evolve. First, with respect to credibility, the mapping and the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy will be managed and overseen by Statistics Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada. Second, as with the NOC system, the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy and its mapping to the NOC will be a public good that will be open and available online in a machine-readable format, accompanied with clear and complete descriptions of the methodology and metadata. Third, both the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy and its mapping to the NOC must be flexible and responsive to the needs of stakeholders and the availability of new technologies. Evidently, changes to the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy will require revisions to its mapping. Yet, we should not assume that the selected approach to mapping would remain the best option available. As new technologies and data emerge, the infrastructure established to maintain an ever-green Skills and Competencies Taxonomy and mapping to occupations must respond with new analyses, pilot testing, and, ultimately, implementation of more efficient and robust techniques.

Finally, the scope of this endeavour should not be underestimated. It will therefore be crucial to establish a clear operational plan - along with costs and responsibilities - that ensures this project is sustainable in the long term. The skill profiles of Canadian workers and employers will continue to be an essential piece of labour market information well into the future. We are committed to ensuring that Canadians will have access to the skills information and insights they need and want.

The Way Forward

Jobs are evolving rapidly as workplaces innovate and adopt new technologies. The skills required for these jobs are shifting at a similar pace. In an effort to improve our understanding of the skills associated with jobs, this Concept Paper puts forth a phased approach to evaluate and develop a panCanadian mapping to link skills to occupations. This is an important first step towards improving our collective understanding of the links between skills and jobs.

However, a mapping of this nature is not a panacea. Indeed, this mapping is intended to help complement other initiatives whose aim is to ensure that, in a changing and dynamic world of work, Canadians have the right skills to succeed and employers have access to the right talent to grow their businesses.

Our aim is to ensure that the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy and its association with NOC are transparent and accessible to all (as we intend this process to be). This is particularly relevant given the varying, often conflicting or inaccurate, definitions of skills, and multiple mappings that require fee-for-access. In this regard, a key objective is to build alignment towards a widely recognized taxonomy - or at the very least to ensure some general convergence - when speaking about skills and occupations.

Finally, we will demonstrate accountability and transparency by engaging with our partners and stakeholders and disclosing our progress throughout the project life cycle and providing information that is timely, accurate, and relevant to the wider public. Indeed, the success of this project rests fundamentally on continual engagement with all actors through an open and inclusive consultation process.


This Concept Note has been prepared jointly by the staff of the Labour Market Information Council, Statistics Canada (Labour Statistics Division) and Employment and Social Development Canada (Labour Market Information Directorate).

Your feedback is welcome. We invite you to provide your input and views on how best to approach this exercise by sending us an email at

Appendix A. ESDC’s Skills and Competencies Taxonomy

In order to complement other federal, provincial and territorial employment programming efforts around skills identification and utilization, Employment and Social Development Canada has developed a Skills and Competencies Taxonomy to help facilitate a pan-Canadian dialogue on skills.

The Taxonomy serves to streamline terminology across a number of competency domains and concepts (e.g., skills, personal abilities and attributes, knowledge, interests) and occupational work context, work activities and tools and technology information, while aiming to improve the comparability of their incidence and application throughout occupations and sectors. The Taxonomy also complements ESDC's
development of a range of LMI products, such as the Canadian Skills Profiles, which will detail the competency requirements for entry into specific occupations, as well as provide other skills utilization indicators (e.g., the importance of a skill within a particular occupation, and/or the frequency of its use).

The Taxonomy was constructed based on internal products (e.g., the Career Handbook, Skills and Knowledge Checklist, and Essential Skills profiles) as well as a variety of national and international competency-based frameworks, including the US O*NET system.

ESDC continues to consult with internal and external stakeholders, including the provinces and territories, in order to validate and improve the content of the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy.

Note on the nuance between "skills" and "competencies":

The literature on skills and competencies suggests a nuance between the two concepts, namely, that competencies involve the use of skills, abilities, and attributes to complete a task or successfully meet demands.

Consistent with the existing literature, ESDC proposes the following definitions for the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy:

Competencies: The combined utilization of personal abilities and attributes, skills and knowledge to effectively perform a job, role, function, task, or duty.

Source: Adapted from the International Society for Performance Improvement, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

Skills: Developed capacities that an individual must have to be effective in a job, role, function, task, or duty.

Source: Adapted from the US O*Net definition of Skills

Personal Abilities and Attributes: Inherent and developed aptitudes that facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and skills to perform at work.

Source: Adapted from the US O*Net definition of Abilities and Work Styles


Note on Digital Skills

One of the outstanding challenges of the Taxonomy is the integration of the digital skills concept. To ensure this concept is properly integrated in the taxonomy ESDC is conducting a number of activities in order to perfect its Taxonomy for instance by performing the secretariat role for the Sub-Working Group on Classification of Skills & Competencies, of the ISED-ESDC-Statistics Canada Working Group on Skills and Talent. The Sub-Working Group is currently exploring the terms, definitions and placement of digital skills in the Taxonomy (see also Box 2).


Framework / Report / Article Title Author(s)/Disseminator Code
Global Competency Framework Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) CMEC
The definition and selection of key competencies: Executive Summary Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) PISA
Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) PIAAC
International Symposium 2017 -Canada Paper International Centre for Career Development and Public Policy (ICCDPP) ICCDPP
21st Century Competencies Ontario Public Service - Learning Partnership ON
Atlantic Canada Framework for Essential Graduation Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation (now Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training - CAMET) CAMET
Potential hires coming up short in ’soft skills’, employers say Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) CBC
O*Net National Center for O*NET Development (US Department of Labor) O*NET
Ontario Skills Passport (OSP) Ontario Ministry of Education ON EDU
New Work Smarts and New Work Order Reports Foundation for Young Australians FYA
COPS / CAPS / COPES-Interest Inventory, CAPS-Abilities, and COPES-Work Values. COPS / CAPS / COPESystem (EdITS) COPS/ CAPS/ COPES
BC Public Service Competencies British Columbia Public Service BC
Career Handbook (CH), Skills & Knowledge Checklist (S&K), Essential Skills (ES) Employment and Social Development Canada ESDC: CH, S&K, ES
Employability Skills 2000+ and General Innovation Skills Aptitude Test 2.0 Conference Board of Canada CBoC: ES2K/ GISAT
Hazards Database Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety GoC: CCOHS
Nos Compétences Fortes Institut de coopération pour l’éducationdes adultes ICEA
Classification of Instructional Programs Statistics Canada Stats Can
It’s human skills - not technical skills The Globe and Mail GM
Let’s stop calling them ’soft skills’ It’s Your Turn YT / Report / Article Title Author(s)/Disseminator Code
Occupational Information System Project Social Security Administration (U.S.) SSA
United Nations Standard Products and Services Code The United Nations Standard Products and Services Code® (UNSPSC®), managed by GS1 US™ for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) UNSPSC
Making Vocational Choices: a theory of careers (complete version not available online) John L. Holland Holland

Details of the Skills and Competencies Taxonomy

Employment and Social Development Canada has worked closely with internal and external stakeholders, including the provinces and territories, to develop an initial Skills and Competencies Taxonomy (available here). The Labour Market Information Council will continue to work with ESDC and Statistics Canada to ensure alignment of ongoing work related to the mapping of the skills to the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system as described in this Concept Note.

Appendix B. The Essential Skills Framework

All the Essential Skills components listed below are captured in the ESDC Skills and Competencies Taxonomy.

Note: The Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), ESDC, is undertaking the task of renewing the Essential Skills Framework in 2019-20, with particular attention to ’soft skills’ (e.g., oral communication, working with others). Discussions with key stakeholders will result in recommendations for a renewal of the ES framework.

Essential Skills Essential skills provide the foundation for learning all other skills and enable people to better prepare for, get and keep a job, and adapt and succeed at work.
Descriptors Definitions
Continuous Learning (appears as one of 4 dimensions of "Learning" in the Taxonomy and is under Personal Abilities and Attributes/Personal Qualities) Continuous learning refers to the skills needed to continually develop and improve one’s skills and knowledge in order to work effectively and adapt to changes.
Digital Technology Digital technology refers to the skills needed to understand and use digital systems, tools and applications, and to process digital information.
Document Use Document use refers to the skills needed to find, enter and use letters, numbers, symbols and images in electronic and paper formats.
Numeracy (sub-components appear as distinct descriptors in the Taxonomy) Numeracy refers to the skills needed to make sense of and apply mathematical concepts and information.
Oral Communication (appears as Oral Communication: Oral Expression, Oral Comprehension, and Active Listening in the Taxonomy) Oral communication refers to the skills needed to exchange thoughts and information with other people by speaking, listening and using non-verbal cues, such as body language.
Reading Reading refers to the skills needed to understand and apply information found in sentences and paragraphs.
Thinking: Critical Thinking (appears as Critical Thinking under Skills/Analytical Skills in the Taxonomy) Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
Thinking: Decision Making (appears as Decision Making under Skills/Analytical Skills in the Taxonomy) Decision making refers to making a choice among options.
Thinking: Finding information (appears as Getting Information under Work Activities/Information Input in the Taxonomy) Finding Information involves using any of a variety of sources including text, people, computerized databases or information systems.
Thinking: Job task planning and organizing (appears as Job Task Planning
and Organizing under Skills/Resource Management Skills in the Taxonomy)
Job task planning and organizing refers to the extent to which the workers plan and organize their own tasks. It does not refer to involvement in the planning function for the organization in which they work.
Thinking: Problem solving (appears as Problem Solving under Skills/Analytical Skills in the Taxonomy) Identifying problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
Thinking: Significant Use of Memory
(appears as Memorization under Personal Ailities and Attributes/Cognitives Abilities in the Taxonomy)
Significant use of memory includes any significant or unusual use of memory for workers in the occupational group. It does not include normal memory use that is a requirement for every occupation.
Working with others Working with others refers to the skills needed to interact with other people (one or more).
Writing Writing refers to the skills needed to compose handwritten or typed text to communicate information and ideas.

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