Connecting the Dots: Linking Canadian occupations to skills data

Connecting the Dots: Linking Canadian occupations to skills data

To better understand the skills, knowledge, and abilities that make up the 500 national occupations in Canada, we created a crosswalk to apply US data in a Canadian context
Viet Vu
Senior Economist
August 6, 2019
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Together with partner organizations, the Brookfield Institute is investing in research on how occupations, and more importantly, skills will change in light of shifting technological, environmental, and sociopolitical landscapes. Our aim is to continue helping policymakers and all Canadians better prepare for the future of work. To support this research, we are exploring options for defining and understanding the different occupations that exist in Canada, as well as their skill content. While Canada’s current national statistics stop short of providing a granular taxonomy of skills, datasets from other countries and from private sources can help us get close to such a taxonomy. 

The Government of Canada currently uses the National Occupational Classification (NOC) to categorize occupations into over 500 different groups in the census and other surveys and statistical programs, as well as various policies and services. The NOC is used by researchers as well as policy makers to understand the labour market in Canada. 

The most detailed breakdown of these 500 occupations and their skills content is the Employment Social Development Canada’s 9 Essential Skill groupings. However, for a more detailed taxonomy of occupational skill content, Canadian researchers often look to the O*Net Database. The O*Net Database is sponsored by the US Department of Labor and collects detailed information on 974 occupations (as of April 2018). It includes a common taxonomy on important occupational attributes, including skills, knowledge, and abilities. O*Net has been used in numerous studies and is commonly cited as one of the most comprehensive databases available on the skill content of occupations (despite its limitations, including the narrow scope of its yearly update).

To use O*Net fully in the Canadian context, we need a crosswalk or a conversion table between two different taxonomies. Some work has been done to build one, including Statistics Canada’s study on the skill content of post-secondary graduates and the analysis that went into RBC’s report, Humans Wanted. However, there is currently no crosswalk between NOC and O*Net occupations that is publicly available (to our knowledge!). So we decided to not only develop our own crosswalk, but to publish it for general use.

This is only one approach to illuminating the skills dynamics of the Canadian labour market. We are also continuing to work with Burning Glass Technologies and other partners to explore alternative skills-based data that can provide complementary, real-time insights on Canadian skills demands. Government agencies, including Employment and Social Development Canada along with Statistics Canada, also recognize the need for information on the skills and competencies required in the Canadian labour market. They are in the process of considering a national skills taxonomy directly for the Canadian NOCs.

A public NOC to O*Net crosswalk

We’ve applied this crosswalk to past and ongoing research, including Better Faster Stronger: Maximizing the benefits of automation for Ontario’s firms and people, Who are Canada’s Tech Workers, and Employment in 2030. We’re sharing it now in hopes that it will:

  1. Help researchers and others looking to apply the O*Net Database in the Canadian context.
  2. Provide a transparent look at an important part of our analytical framework, which will inform future research and analysis.
  3. Solicit feedback and criticism on elements that we can improve, so that we can develop a more robust resource. 

You can find our crosswalk on our Github under an MIT license.


Our approach

We crosswalked the NOC to O*Net using a two-stage process. First, we leveraged the existing crosswalks between NOC and ISCO (International Standard Classification of Occupations) and between ISCO and O*Net. From this base-level matching, we manually went through the results and adjusted these matchings, primarily through the use of job titles associated with each occupational grouping. This was necessary as O*Net had almost twice as many occupational category as NOC, and a one to one matching was not possible. Most importantly, we followed the principle that every NOC occupation must have at least one matching O*Net occupation. Because we’re interested in the Canadian job market, this allows us to make sure we have all Canadian occupations categorized.

Next steps

As we advance our research and thinking on the future of work, you’ll likely see this crosswalk used more and more. We would love to hear about how you’re using it, places that it worked particularly well, and areas where it still needs some work. Our aim is to continue to help improve this resource, so that we can support Canadian research in this area.

For media enquiries, please contact Nina Rafeek, Marketing + Communications Specialist at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.