Collecting and Using Industry and Occupation Data

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There are a several things to consider if you want to collect your own industry and occupation data. Here we provide a list of the most important items. Also check out our blog “Collecting Occupation and Industry Data in Public Health Surveillance Systems for COVID-19“.

Things to Understand Before You Collect Your Data

  1. Though industry and occupation are related, they have distinct differences and each provides valuable information about a person’s work.

Occupation is a person’s job.
Individuals in the same occupation have similar training, perform a similar set of tasks, and have similar workplace exposures.

Industry is the type of business in which a person works.
The industry is not the name of the employer, it is the kind of business of the employer.

Let’s use the occupation of an accountant as an example to show how industry and occupation are related.

Accountants may be employed in many industries. If the employer is:

accountant
  • University of “XYZ”, the industry is “university”
  • Software Company “A”, the industry is “software development”
  • “X” State Department of Health, the industry would be “state government”
  • “X” Medical Center, the industry would be “hospital”
  1. It is important to ensure industry and occupation data are collected from workers as free text (descriptive text), rather than having them choose from a list of options.
    This is what your occupation and industry questions may look like on your form:
    Occupation
    What kind of work does this person do? (e.g., registered nurse, janitor, cashier, auto mechanic, etc.)
    Response: _______[Description of work]____________________________________
    Industry
    What kind of business or industry does this person work in? (e.g., hospital, elementary school, clothing manufacturing, restaurant, etc.)
    Response: ______[Description of kind of business]_____________________________
  2. Free text descriptions must be converted to standard numbers or codes for analysis.  This process is known as industry and occupation coding. When data are coded, the information collected in large health surveys, studies, and health or injury surveillance systems are more usable for public health agencies and researchers.
    Though this page is about collecting data, it’s important to mention coding now. This is because there are two approaches to coding:

Things to Consider When Collecting Industry and Occupation Data

A person’s job may impact their health, so it is important to collect work information on everyone age 16 years and older. Collecting work information among all people, tracks health and injury trends among general or specific groups of workers.

  • Before collecting industry and occupation data, determine whether the person is currently employed or not. Generally, a survey might ask if the worker is employed.
    1. Employed includes full-time and part-time workers
    2. Unemployed includes people who are looking for work or on furlough/temporary layoff (<6 months)
    3. Not in the labor force includes discouraged workers, people who are unable to work, non-working students, exclusive homemakers, retired workers, etc.
  • If the person is not currently employed, do not leave the industry and occupation fields blank; instead write “not employed” or “not working.” An empty field may indicate that employment status is not known, when in fact it is known that the person does not have a job.
  • If the person is not currently in the labor force, but has worked in the past, then consider recording information about their usual industry/occupation or their most recent industry/occupation, depending on the purpose of your study (learn more about usual versus current below).
  • If the person is a volunteer, record what they do in the occupation field (e.g., zoo volunteer, school volunteer, library volunteer, etc.); if the person already listed a job, enter the volunteer information as an additional job.

Ideally, we would be able to collect a complete work history on every person/case/study subject, but that is usually not feasible.

If you can only collect information about one job, the one you should focus on depends on whether the condition you are studying is chronic or acute.

  • Ask for current industry and occupation if you are studying an injury or highly contagious disease.
  • Ask for usual industry and occupation if you are interested in cancer or another chronic disease that takes a long time to develop and may not completely resolve. Examples of chronic disease would be heart disease or an infectious disease with long latency, such as tuberculosis.

Current and usual industry and occupation are further explained in the following table using definitions, examples, and sample questions for collecting this information.

Term Definition Example How to collect this information
Current Occupation The job that the case has been doing most recently. Consider paid or unpaid (volunteer) work A man currently works 20 hours a week as a waiter in a restaurant and 15 hours a week as a clerk at a gas station.

His current occupation would be:

waiter, as well as clerk.

If you can only choose one, list the one worked most often. In this case, it would be waiter.

“What kind of work do you do?”

For example, registered nurse, janitor, cashier, auto mechanic, barber, civil engineer, volunteer firefighter, etc.”

If the case has more than one current job, collect information on each job separately.

Usual Occupation Refers to the longest held job.

This is the job that the person has been doing for the longest amount of time.

It is not necessarily the current job, the highest paid job, nor the job considered the most prestigious, but the one that accounted for the greatest number of working years.

A woman worked as a cook at a fast-food restaurant for 5 years.

Later, she worked as a secretary for a car dealership for 25 years.

Then, she worked as a care assistant at a retirement home for 10 years.

Her usual occupation would be “Secretary.”

Though she had three long-term jobs, her job as a secretary at the car dealership was the longest held (for 25 years).

“Thinking about the job that you have held the longest, what kind of work did you do?

For example, registered nurse, janitor, cashier, auto mechanic, barber, civil engineer, etc.”

 

Term Definition Example Ask
Current Industry The kind of business or industry the case currently works in. This is NOT the name of the employer.” A man currently works 20 hours a week as a waiter in a restaurant and 15 hours a week as a clerk at a gas station.
Since his current occupations are waiter and clerk, his current industries would be
Waiter = Restaurant
Clerk = Gas Station
“What kind of business or industry do you work in?”
For example, a hospital, dairy farm, restaurant, trade school, library, etc
If struggling to determine industry, ask what is/was the main focus or product of the employer where the person works.
Usual Industry The usual industry is the kind of business or industry the patient’s usual occupation was in. This is NOT the name of the employer. Example of usual industry:
A woman worked as a cook at a fast-food restaurant for 5 years.
Later, she worked as a secretary for a car dealership for 25 years.
Then, she worked as a care assistant at a retirement home for 10 years.Since her usual occupation is “secretary,” her usual industry would be “car dealership”
“What kind of business was your longest held job in?”
For example, a hospital, dairy farm, restaurant, trade school, library, etc.
If struggling to determine industry, ask what is/was the main focus or product of the employer where the person worked/s.

Many people work more than one job at a time. A person may currently work 20 hours a week as a waiter in a restaurant and 15 hours a week as a clerk at a gas station. Ideally, you’d want to collect information on each of their jobs, including any volunteer work, and the related industry(s). Collecting information on multiple jobs requires repeating variables in your data collection tool

Job 1: Industry _____________         Occupation__________

Job 2: Industry _____________         Occupation__________

Job 3: Industry _____________         Occupation__________

NOTE: if a person has multiple current jobs and you can only collect information on one job, you might ask, “what is your main job” or “ which is the job that you work the most hours per week?”

Be specific. General terms usually don’t provide enough information to put the words into a standard numeric code.

Occupation:           Instead of “worked in a warehouse,” ask what kind of work? For example, it is better to record “forklift operator.”

Instead of “teacher,” ask, “what kind of teacher?” For example, it is better to record “preschool teacher” or “high school teacher.”

 

Industry:                Instead of “manufacturing,” ask what kind of manufacturing? For example, it is better to record “automobile manufacturing.”

Instead of “food industry,” ask what part of the food industry? For example, it is better to record “restaurant” or “grocery store.”

  • Selecting from a list of pre-defined options won’t identify new occupations or industries that could be associated with the health outcome, particularly emerging health outcomes.
  • If a dropdown list is used, it needs to be a manageable size. As a result, the categories in the dropdown menu may be too broad to be useful.

 

  1. Misspelled words in the text field: Spell information correctly when it’s being collected. Correct spellings prevent misinterpretation and are more likely to code correctly during the autocoding process (see the Coding  page to learn more about autocoding).
  2. Punctuation: Do not enter any punctuation marks or special characters (e.g., #{[ ( ) . “ // ?)
  3. Abbreviations: Do not abbreviate a person’s response, even if you think it is a well-known abbreviation. Spell out each word.
  4. Blanks: If a respondent doesn’t know or doesn’t want to provide their industry or occupation, enter “unknown” in the industry and/or occupation fields. Do not enter a period (.) or leave a blank space.

Find Existing Industry and Occupation Data in Surveys and Records

Industry and occupation information can be found as free text in a variety of surveys and records, including:

Page last reviewed: November 17, 2021