Science Policy

Revitalizing Federal Jobs Data: Unleashing the Potential of Emerging Roles

03.19.24 | 5 min read | Text by Monica Sanders

Emerging technologies and creative innovation are pivotal economic pillars for the future of the United States. These sectors not only promise economic growth but also offer avenues for social inclusion and environmental sustainability. However, the federal government lacks reliable and comprehensive data on these sectors, which hampers its ability to design and implement effective policies and programs. A key reason for this data gap is the outdated and inadequate job categories and classifications used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The BLS is the main source of official statistics on employment, wages, and occupations in the U.S. Part of the agency’s role is to categorize different industries, which helps states, researchers and other outside parties measure and understand the size of certain industries or segments of the economy. Another BLS purpose is to use the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system to categorize and define jobs based on their duties, skills, and education requirements. This is how all federal workers and contracted federal workers are classified. For an agency to create and fill a role, it needs a classification or SOC. State and private employers also use the classifications and data to allocate funding and determine benefits related to different kinds of positions. 

Where no classification (SOC) or job exists, it is unclear whether hiring and contracting happen according to programmatic intent and in a timely manner. This is particularly concerning to some employers and federal agencies that need  to align numerous jobs with the provisions of Justice 40, the Inflation Reduction Act and the newly created American Climate Corps. Many of the roles imagined by the American Climate Corps do not have classifications. This poses a significant barrier for effective program and policy design related to green and tech jobs.

The SOC system is updated roughly once every 10 years. There is not a set comprehensive review schedule for that or the industry categories. Updates are topical, with the last broad revision taking place in 2018. Unemployment reports and data related to wages are updated annually, and other topics less predictably. Updates and work on the SOC systems and categories for what are broadly defined as “green jobs” stopped in 2013 due to sequestration. This means that the BLS data may not capture the current and future trends and dynamics of the green and innovation economies, which are constantly evolving and growing.Because the BLS does not have a separate category for green jobs, it identifies them based on a variety of  industry and occupation codes. The range spans restaurant industry SOCs to construction. Classifying positions this way cannot reflect the cross-cutting and interdisciplinary nature of green jobs. Moreover, the process may not account for the variations and nuances of green jobs, such as their environmental impact, social value, and skill level. For example, if you want to work with solar panels, there is a construction classification, but nothing for community design, specialized finance, nor any complementary typographies needed for projects at scale.

Similarly, the BLS does not have a separate category for tech jobs. It identifies them based on the “Information and Communication Technologies” occupational groups of the SOC system. Again, this approach may not adequately reflect the diversity and complexity of tech jobs, which may involve new and emerging skills and technologies that are not yet recognized by the BLS. There are no classifications for roles associated with machine learning or artificial intelligence. Where the private sector has a much-discussed large language model trainer role, the federal system has no such classification. Appropriate skills matching, resource allocation, and the ability to measure the numbers and impacts of these jobs on the economy will be difficult if not impossible to fully understand. Classifying tech jobs in this manner may not account for the interplay and integration of tech jobs with other sectors, such as health care, education, and manufacturing.

These data limitations have serious implications for policy design and evaluation. Without accurate and timely data on green and tech jobs, the federal government may not be able to assess the demand and supply of these jobs, identify skill gaps and training needs, allocate resources, and measure the outcomes and impacts of its policies and programs. This will  result in missed opportunities, wasted resources, and suboptimal outcomes.

There is a need to update the BLS job categories and classifications to better reflect the realities and potentials of the green and innovation economies. This can be achieved by implementing the following strategic policy measures:

By updating the BLS job categories and classifications, the federal government can ensure that its data and statistics accurately reflect the current and future job market, thereby supporting effective policy design and evaluation related to green and tech jobs. Accurate and current data that mirrors the ever-evolving job market will also lay the foundation for effective policy design and evaluation in the realms of green and tech jobs. This commitment can contribute to the development of a workforce that not only meets economic needs but also aligns with the nation’s environmental aspirations.