How do you choose an academic major when working at the jobs it leads to on a day-to-day basis is unknown to you? How do you make a decision about a career when industries and the demand for skills change seemingly every 10 years?
Students at Embry-Riddle often begin their freshman year with a declared major and most stay in it until they graduate. However, some students enter the university uncertain about declaring a major and are ‘still exploring,’ while others will change their major over the course of their time at ERAU. Students change their major for several reasons. In part, they realize they are not enjoying what they are learning, or maybe they find they have a greater aptitude for something else. Some students realize they will not like the day-to-day work at the jobs their chosen major will lead to. Students who have yet to decide on a major, and those who wish to change their major, may find it helpful to engage in career exploration. It starts with research.
Career exploration can be broken down in to two major areas: exploring industries, occupations, and jobs (the world of work); and exploring one’s values, interests, preferences, skills, and aptitudes (career assessments). There are many resources and tools for learning about both of these topics on the Internet for no, or low, cost. Part 1 of this blog will explore the world of work and in Part 2, will cover some common career assessments.
First, a brief overview of the terms job, occupation, and career; that is, the world of work. When engaged in career exploration, each of these terms offers a lens through which to view decisions and assess choices.
A job can be defined as the activity that one is engaged in currently, which is defined by specific set of tasks and duties. A person holds a job that is part of a greater occupation, and is a step along a career path.
Occupation is the category of jobs into which one’s skills and interests fit. Most skills fit into several categories of occupations and are utilized and valued across multiple industries. The tasks are similar but are applied in different areas. When considering different occupations, it is important to consider one’s values, interests, and preferences.
Career is defined over time and is characterized by building skills, knowledge, and experience, and its trajectory is often unplanned. There are likely many examples of this among the people you know – those who started out in one arena only to find greater success or satisfaction in another. It is common to try different occupations and jobs over the course of a career.
For example, while in college Jeff Bezos found himself unable to keep up with his peers in Honors Physics, so the founder and CEO of Amazon switched his major to engineering, graduating with degrees in both electrical engineering and computer science. In his 20’s, Bezos applied his skills to different industries, including telecommunications and investment banking, before launching into the nascent tech industry where he built Amazon. His first job was debugging lines of code for a failed telecommunications start-up where he promoted to head of development and director of customer service. Unable to grow this business in the telecom industry, he took a job as a product manager at a bank now known as Deutsche Bank, before moving into an applications engineering position with the hedge fund company, D.E. Shaw. Now, 26 years later, he has re-ignited his early love for rocketry and his childhood dream of colonizing space by building Blue Origin.
Bezos’ has had several jobs titles, including programmer, head of development, director of customer service, product manager, and now, founder and CEO, among others – a high school stint flipping burgers at McDonald’s probably gave him the title Food Service Worker and paid about $2.69 an hour. His career trajectory is well-documented, and it is clear that Bezos understood his broader skillset and the world of work, while gleaning more than just a paycheck from each experience. He was able to apply his skills at jobs in multiple occupations across several industries. This is key for both undecided students as well as those who wish to change their majors. It is also important information for one to know about oneself during economic downturns.
To learn more about occupations, jobs, and industries, please peruse the resources listed below. These have been established and are used for various reasons, but can be utilized to source information about careers, labor market information, salaries, and more:
Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH)
Housed within the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the OOH provides information on what people do within specified job titles, the environment of workplaces, qualifications (and education) needed to get hired, and more. Hiring outlook information is included and occupations requiring similar skills are cross-referenced. For employment data about states and local areas, refer to the OES section of the BLS and the Employment Projections program, which is organized by occupation.
Standard Occupation Classification (SOC)
As if there aren’t enough acronyms and abbreviations above, also accessed via the BLS, the SOC was designed solely for statistical purposes but is a treasure trove of information for students and others wishing to further understand expected work activities. It is used to classify workers into one of 867+ defined occupational categories based on job duties/work activities for the purpose of data collection. Workers with the same title may be classified into different occupations based on their job duties, and cross-referencing allows for efficient searching.
North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)
This classification system places businesses within industry sectors based on the primary type of work a business performs, and was developed to assist federal agencies in collecting, analyzing, and publishing economic statistics on businesses in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This system is very dense and is not the first place I send students researching occupations, but it is included here as it can be used for many types of research, including information about employment statistics. Additionally, nearly every industry has a national professional association dedicated to it that offers annual conferences, student memberships, volunteer, networking opportunities, and career information or assistance. Most of these associations also have regional and state affiliates. Searching the internet using the industry classification terms used in NAICS will help to easily locate these associations.
The Occupational Information Network (O*Net)
Known more simply by its acronym O*Net, this simple, free, and user-friendly online database was developed for both job analysis and career exploration. It offers detailed definitions of occupations and worker requirements across industries, describing occupations in terms of knowledge, skills, and abilities, as well as tasks, activities and more, allowing students and job changers alike to learn about the skills, education, and certifications necessary to enter an occupation. It is helpful to know that the codes used in the SOC discussed above are also used in O*Net. Additional search engines in O*Net include keywords, “Bright Outlook,” specific tools and software, and “Crosswalks,” a feature that allows for cross-referenced searching between classification systems.
We will visit the career assessment tools embedded in this comprehensive database, along with some other online assessments, in Part 2 of this blog: Career Assessments. For now, please take some time to explore the resources listed above and expand your knowledge about industries, occupations, and jobs. This will be useful for following along in Part 2. Whether you are deciding on a major or rethinking a chosen academic plan, a clearer picture of the world of work will emerge as you discover and peruse the statistics and research housed within these resources.
Erin Minta has had worked with students in higher education in a variety of roles and serves Embry-Riddle as a Program Manager in Career Services. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications, Arts and Sciences from Western Michigan University and a Master of Arts degree in Community Counseling from Eastern Michigan University. She has been actively involved with the Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration/Cooperative and Experiential Education Division (CIEC/CEED) as a presenter, and as an article and abstract reviewer for the American Society of Engineering Educators (ASEE). She enjoys working with students to help them identify and fulfill their academic and professional goals.