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A Database for a Changing Economy: Review of the Occupational Information Network (O*NET)
… contribute to the more efficient functioning of the U.S. labor market by providing high quality job training, employment, labor market information, and income maintenance services primarily through state and local workforce development systems (U.S. Department of Labor, 2009).
As noted in Chapter 1, this mission and the flow of funding for O*NET clearly indicate that DOL views O*NET as a tool to support workforce development rather than a stand-alone statistical program.
Historically, workforce development programs have provided a safety net to workers negatively affected by economic change. The unemployment insurance program operated today by state and local workforce offices was created by the Wagner-Peyser Act of 1933. This and other programs administered by workforce development officials today continue to provide a safety net to help unemployed and underemployed individuals with job placement, career guidance, and, if needed, education and training.
The mission of workforce development has expanded. Under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-277), the mission is to support the optimal transition and movement not only of individuals but also of the larger workforce in response to changing economic needs. Whether in a growth economy, when demand for skilled labor is outpacing supply, or in a depressed economy when workers are being displaced, the mission of workforce development is to support businesses and workers alike. Accomplishing this broad mission requires occupational information.
O*NET provides key components of the information needed to advance four workforce development goals identified by the panel:
Defining critical occupations for economic and workforce development for national, state, and regional areas. This includes defining clusters of occupations relevant to policy, program, or research initiatives, such as high-skill, high-demand occupations; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupations; career pathways; green jobs; etc.
Developing skill transferability and worker assessment tools for use in placing adults in jobs, rapid response to layoffs, and supporting economic development.
Identifying appropriate education and training options for displaced and transitioning workers.
Assisting employers in human resource management activities, including employee recruitment, retention, and development.
Following a discussion of the importance of linking O*NET data with other data sets, the remaining sections of this chapter will review and evaluate uses of O*NET in advancing these four goals.