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Employment Projections
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Measures of education and training

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides information about education and training requirements for hundreds of occupations. BLS uses a system to assign categories for entry-level education, work experience in a related occupation, and typical on-the-job training to each occupation for which BLS publishes projections data. The assignments allow occupations to be grouped to create estimates of the outlook for occupations with various types of education and training needs. This classification system was first used with the 2010–20 projections and replaced an earlier system that was used between 1995 and 2008. The two systems are not comparable.

Educational attainment data for each occupation also are presented to show the level of education achieved by workers who are employed in the occupations.

Category system

BLS assigns occupations to a designation within three categories: typical entry-level education, work experience in a related occupation, and typical on-the-job training. (Detailed definitions for the categories are available.) The categories and assignments within each are as follows:

Typical education needed for entry—represents the typical education level most workers need to enter an occupation. The assignments for this category are the following:

  • Doctoral or professional degree
  • Master's degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Associate's degree
  • Postsecondary nondegree award
  • Some college, no degree
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • No formal educational credential

Work experience in a related occupation—indicates if work experience in a related occupation is commonly considered necessary by employers for entry into the occupation, or is a commonly accepted substitute for formal types of training. The assignments for this category are the following:

  • 5 years or more
  • Less than 5 years
  • None

Typical on-the-job training—indicates the typical on-the-job training needed to attain competency in the skills needed in the occupation. The assignments for this category are the following:

  • Internship/residency
  • Apprenticeship
  • Long-term on-the-job training: more than 12 months
  • Moderate-term on the job training: more than 1 month and up to 12 months
  • Short-term on-the-job training: 1 month or less
  • None

In some cases, assigning education and training categories can be straightforward. Some occupations, such as physicians and lawyers, are governed by federal and state laws and regulations that give clear guidelines, regarding the education or training required for a given occupation. In other cases, the choice of categories is less clear. BLS economists determine the typical path to entry for an occupation and apply it across all three categories. Multiple paths to entry are not captured by the classification system. For occupations with multiple paths to entry, the classification system captures the typical path, and the occupational profile narrative in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) gives a full description of alternate paths in the “How to Become One” section. For example, the typical entry path for registered nurses is a bachelor’s degree, with no work experience and no on-the-job training requirements. However, the OOH profile notes that registered nurses can also obtain an associate’s degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program.

BLS economists assigned occupations to categories based on analyses of qualitative and quantitative information. Sources of quantitative data include educational attainment data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS); data on education, work experience, and on-the-job training requirements from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET); and data on postsecondary program completions from the National Center for Education Statistics. In addition, economists evaluated qualitative information obtained from educators, employers, workers in the occupation, training experts, and representatives of professional and trade associations and unions.

Educational attainment data

Education attainment data from the ACS are a useful analytical tool that complements the category system. These data present the percent distribution of workers employed in an occupation, broken down by their highest level of education attained. The ACS collects demographic and employment information from about 3 million households annually. The educational attainment data published by BLS are based on the Census Bureau’s microdata files.

Occupational statistics in the ACS are coded under the Census Bureau’s 2010 Census occupational classification system. Both the BLS category system and the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data—the source data for the National Employment Matrix, are coded based on the federal government’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Although the Census Bureau’s system is based on the SOC, it does not provide the same level of detail as the matrix. As a result, some detailed SOC occupations have the same educational attainment data, because they are combined in the Census Bureau’s occupational classification system. (For a full discussion of the National Employment Matrix, including its use of the SOC and OES data, see the BLS projections methodology).

The educational attainment data presented in Table 5.3 Educational attainment for workers 25 years and older by detailed occupation use 2 years of ACS microdata. The data present the highest level of education attained by those 25 years and older in the current workforce. Two years of data are used to improve the reliability of the estimates.

The educational attainment distributions allow data users to better discern whether there are multiple education and training possibilities. For example, because 84.1 percent of speech-language pathologists have at least a master’s degree in the 2016–17 ACS data, this is a clear indication that getting a master’s degree is the typical way to become a speech-language pathologist. However, educational attainment data for other occupations may be more varied. For example, the 2016–17 ACS data show that 14.9 percent of chefs and head cooks have “less than a high school diploma”; 30.1 percent have a “high school diploma or equivalent”; 24.3 percent have “some college, no degree”; 16.3 percent have an “associate’s degree”; and 12.5 percent have a “bachelor’s degree.” The educational attainment distribution for chefs and head cooks suggests that there is more than one way to enter this occupation. Data show the highest level of education the survey respondent has attained—not necessarily the level of education required for the occupation.

Educational attainment data: limitations

Like any sample survey, the ACS is a household sample survey and is subject to response and coding error, as well as sampling error.

The educational attainment data do not always closely reflect the education assignment in the category system. One major difference is that the category system reflects typical entry-level educational requirements, whereas ACS data report the level of education attained by workers already in the occupation. This can lead to cases in which the attainment data reflect a higher level of educational attainment than the category selection. For example, about 50.3 percent of advertising sales agents have a bachelor’s degree in the 2016–17 data. However, the education category assignment for the occupation is “high school diploma or equivalent,” because workers typically enter the occupation with the lower level of education. In other cases, the category assignment reflects a higher level of education than the attainment data show. For example, although automotive service technicians and mechanics are assigned to the postsecondary nondegree award category, most have just a high school diploma or less than a high school diploma (44.6 percent and 16.6 percent, respectively) in the ACS educational attainment data. Today's automotive engines and components have greater electronic and mechanical complexity, and prospective automotive service technicians and mechanics learn how to repair and maintain them while completing postsecondary education programs. The typical entry level education needed for this occupation is higher than in the past. By contrast, the educational attainment data are only a picture of the recent workforce and may not reflect typical requirements for new entrants to the occupation.

In addition to respondent or coding errors, there are several reasons that the educational attainment data may not match the category assignment. Examples are: underemployment, individual choice, and the trend of “upskilling,” in which the educational attainment of workers continues to rise over time. Also, because of changing entry requirements, individuals entering an occupation may need a higher level of formal education than for those persons who are already working in it.

Last Modified Date: September 4, 2019