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Introduction and The Conceptual Framework of ISCO-88

ISCO 88 (COM) - A Guide for Users

The Statistical Office of the European Communities gratefully acknowledges the assistance obtained from the International Labour Office with the preparation of this document.

ISCO 88 (COM): Introduction, concepts and definitions:

This document describes the European Union variant of the new International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88), referred to as ISCO 88 (COM). The new International Classification of Occupations replaces the previous version, known as ISCO-68. The following sections discuss the conceptual framework for the International Classification of Occupations1 and detail the main differences between ISCO-88 and ISCO 88 (COM) that have arisen as a consequence of the harmonisation of national occupational classifications across the European Union.

ISCO 88 (COM) represents the culmination of a series of lengthy and detailed investigations in the twelve countries of the EU, combining the knowledge of experts in occupational classification in each country with practical considerations for coding occupational information collected by census and survey techniques and addressing the requirement for an EU-wide standard. It should not be regarded as a different classification from ISCO-88, but rather it is the result of a coordinated effort by National Statistical Institutes to implement ISCO-88 for census and survey coding purposes.

The Conceptual Framework of ISCO-88

ISCO-88 organises occupations in an hierarchical framework. At the lowest level is the unit of classification - a job - which is defined as a set of tasks or duties designed to be executed by one person. Jobs are grouped into occupations according to the degree of similarity in their constituent tasks and duties. Thus, for example, the following jobs are grouped together in ISCO-88 to form the occupation unit group 3472 Radio, television and other announcers: News announcer; radio announcer; television announcer; compare; disc jockey; media interviewer; newscaster. Although each job may be distinct in term of the output required from the person who executes the constituent tasks, the jobs are sufficiently similar in terms of the abilities required as inputs into these tasks for them to be regarded as a single occupational unit for statistical purposes.

Skill levels and skill specialisations

For the purpose of aggregating occupations into broadly similar categories at different levels in the hierarchy, ISCO-88 introduces the concept of skill, defined as the skill level - the degree of complexity of constituent tasks and skill specialisation - essentially the field of knowledge required for competent performance of the constituent tasks.

Only a few broad 'skill level' categories can usefully be identified for cross-national comparisons. ISCO-88 uses four skill levels to define the broad structure of the classification at its most aggregate level, the major groups. These four skill levels are partly operationalised in terms of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) and partly in terms of the job-related formal training which may be used to develop the skill level of persons who will carry out such jobs. The four skill levels are reproduced from the International Classification of Occupation; 1988 (ILO, 1990) in the box below.

1 For a more detailed discussion, see ILO, 1990, pp2-3.

ISCO-88 Skill Levels and ISCED Categories

ISCO Skill Level    ISCED Categories

First skill level   ISCED category 1, comprising primary education
                    which generally begins at ages 5-7 years and 
                    lasts about 5 years.

Second skill level  ISCED categories 2 and 3, comprising the first 
                    and second stages of secondary education.  The 
                    first stage begins at the age of 11 or 12 and 
                    lasts about three years, while the second stage 
                    begins at the age of 14 of 15 and also lasts 
                    about three years.  A period of on-the-job 
                    training or experience may be necessary, 
                    sometimes formalised in apprenticeships.  This 
                    period may supplement the formal training or may 
                    replace it partly or, in some cases, wholly.

Third skill level   ISCED category 5 (category 4 has been 
                    deliberately left without content) comprising 
                    education which begins at the age of 17 or  18, 
                    last about four year, and leads to an award not 
                    equivalent to a first university degree.

Fourth skill level  ISCED categories 6 and 7, comprising education 
                    which begins at the age of 17 or 18, lasts about 
                    three, four or more year, and lead to a 
                    university or postgraduate university degree or 
                    the equivalent.

Source: ILO (1990) pp2-3


Authors: Peter Elias and Margaret Birch
February 1994