1220.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO) Second Edition, 1997  
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Contents >> 01 Overview of ASCO Second Edition >> 2 The Conceptual Basis of ASCO

    CHAPTER 2

      THE CONCEPTUAL BASIS OF ASCO


THE CONCEPTS OF 'JOB' AND 'OCCUPATION'

ASCO is a skill-based classification which encompasses all occupations in the Australian work force. The concept of 'job' and 'occupation' are fundamental to an understanding of the classification.

A 'job' is a set of tasks designed to be performed by one individual in return for a wage or salary. Of course, some people may work for themselves but are still regarded as having a job and belonging to the labour force.

An 'occupation' is a set of jobs with similar sets of tasks. An occupation in ASCO is a collection of jobs which are sufficiently similar in their main tasks to be grouped together for the purposes of the classification.


CLASSIFICATION CRITERIA

In ASCO, occupations are classified according to two main criteria - skill level and skill specialisation

Skill level
The skill level of an occupation is defined as a function of the range and complexity of the set of tasks involved - the greater the range and complexity of the set of tasks, the greater the skill level of the occupation.

In ASCO First Edition, skill level was measured operationally as the amount of formal education, on-the-job training and previous experience usually necessary for the satisfactory performance of the set of tasks.

For the Second Edition, the skill level criterion has been applied more strictly than in the First Edition and has been measured operationally in a slightly different way. In particular, reference to on-the-job training is a less explicit component of the operational measure.

Whilst the concept of skill level remains unchanged in ASCO Second Edition, the operational criteria used to measure skill level have been refined to reflect competency-based initiatives in employment and training and to increase the emphasis on entry requirements to an occupation. This emphasis on entry requirements arises in part from the difficulty in objectively measuring the skill level required for the satisfactory performance of tasks.

The criteria used in ASCO Second Edition to measure skill level are the:
  • formal education and/or training; and
  • previous experience
usually required for entry to an occupation.

In instances where information relating to these entry requirements was not available, relevant minimum endorsed competency standards were also considered where appropriate. Where these criteria were not sufficient, skill level is determined by application of a secondary set of criteria:
  • breadth/depth of knowledge required
  • range of skills required
  • variability of operating environment
  • level of autonomy as determined by the degree of discretion and choice which may be required to perform the set of tasks.

In ASCO Second Edition, the period of on-the-job training is no longer included as an explicit criterion for measuring skill level. This is in response to ongoing changes in the Australian work force, especially the increasing emphasis now being given to competency-based training as opposed to a time-served approach. In addition, on-the-job training is seen as being incompatible with the ASCO Second Edition emphasis on requirements for entry to an occupation. However, in some of the cases where the application of entry skill level is considered inappropriate, on-the-job training has been used as an indicator of the secondary set of criteria.

The determination of the skill level of each occupation requires some subjective judgement. As a result of the review, the skill level statements provided in the occupation and group definitions represent the best judgement of the project team and should be interpreted as indicative only.

For some occupations there may be a number of possible entry routes and in these cases the occupation and group definitions attempt to identify the entry routes. With continuing changes in education and training initiatives, in particular the terminology used when describing formal educational qualifications, the definitions have been written to be as general but as accurate as possible at the time of publication.

It is important to note that skill level, in ASCO, is an attribute of occupations and not an attribute of the particular individuals who hold jobs in those occupations. To classify the occupation 'plumber' to a particular skill level in the ASCO structure it is necessary to consider the amount of formal education and previous experience that is usually required for an individual to gain entry to that occupation.

When coding jobs to ASCO it is not relevant whether a particular individual working as a plumber has this amount of formal education or training or previous experience. Nor is it relevant whether the individual is an extremely competent, an average, or an extremely poor plumber. The individual's job would be classified to the occupation 'plumber' and the job would be assigned that ASCO code.

The definitions and descriptions of individual occupations in ASCO Second Edition have necessarily involved some broad generalisations across a range of particular jobs which may vary in content and characteristics according to industry, enterprise and location. The information in these descriptions should be interpreted and used accordingly.

Skill specialisation
The skill specialisation of an occupation is a function of the field of knowledge required, tools and equipment used, materials worked on, and goods or services provided in relation to the tasks performed.

The definition of skill specialisation remains unchanged from the First Edition but includes reference to non-production based operations. For example, tools and equipment can also include all forms of computer-based equipment, personal interaction, and art or design techniques. Materials worked on can also include data and individual or group service. The First Edition term 'goods and services produced' has been renamed 'goods or services provided'.

The four dimensions which comprise the skill specialisation criterion are defined as follows:

Field of knowledge required
This is the subject matter knowledge which is essential for satisfactory performance of the tasks of an occupation.

Tools and equipment used
This includes all forms of plant, machinery, computer-based equipment or hand tools used in the performance of the tasks, as well as intellectual tools such as personal interaction, and art or design techniques.

The term plant is used to describe mobile or stationary equipment which is large in size, performs several related functions, and is usually controlled by an internally located operator.

The term machinery is used to describe stationary equipment which is not as large as plant, performs one processing function and is usually controlled by an externally located operator.

The term hand tools is used to describe equipment which is small enough to be moved by one person.

Materials worked on
This refers to materials of both a concrete and abstract nature which are extracted, processed, transformed, refined or fabricated as an essential part of the tasks performed. Examples of materials worked on include wood, metal, livestock, accounting data, text, people and organisations.

Goods or services provided
This refers to the end product of the performance of the tasks of an occupation including physical goods, personal or other services, or abstract goods such as a software application or statistical information.


APPLICATION OF THE CRITERIA

The classification criteria specified above could be used to organise individual occupations into progressively larger groups in a hierarchy in a number of different ways. The relative importance attached to each classification criterion, and to each dimension of the classification criteria at different levels in the classification hierarchy, could have a significant impact on the structure of the classification. A conceptual model for the classification therefore needs to specify the relevant weight to be assigned to particular classification criteria at particular levels of the classification.

When such a model is used for the construction of a classification, a number of decisions have to be made to ensure that the resulting classification structure and the categories within it are meaningful, satisfy particular user needs and requirements, and can be used in a practical way for the production and dissemination of statistical and other information.

Although the classification criteria in ASCO Second Edition remain largely the same as those used in the First Edition, a number of issues associated with the application of these criteria to the design of the classification were reconsidered as part of the review. This was necessary to reflect the considerable technological and structural change which had taken place and is continuing to take place in the Australian work force, and to take account of some of the difficulties which users of the classification had identified with the First Edition.

In the First Edition the primary criterion used for assigning occupations to major groups was skill level. Minor groups, unit groups and occupations were differentiated from each other on the basis of a progressively finer interpretation of the skill specialisation criterion. At the most detailed level (occupation), that is within unit groups, some occupations were differentiated from each other on the basis of detailed skill level. For example, supervisory and apprentice or trainee occupations were identified at this level only.

Skill level of the major groups
It became evident during early consultations with key stakeholders that there was strong support for ASCO Second Edition to continue to use skill level as the primary criterion for differentiating major groups. There was significant concern however that the eight major groups in ASCO First Edition were not sufficiently differentiated from each other on the basis of skill level.

For example, in the First Edition all occupations in which the primary tasks included selling were classified in Major Group 6 Salespersons and Personal Service Workers, even if the skill level of a particular occupation was significantly higher or lower than the typical skill level of occupations in Major Group 6. The result of this was to create a classification structure which comprised major and minor groups which made intuitive sense but which included occupations of diverse skill levels.

There was a significant overlap in the skill level of many of the ASCO First Edition major groups. In particular many of the occupations in Major Group 1 Managers and Administrators were less skilled than many of the occupations in Major Group 2 Professionals. Similarly, there was a significant degree of overlap in terms of skill level between occupations in Major Group 4 Tradespersons, Major Group 5 Clerks, and Major Group 6 Salespersons and Personal Service Workers.

An important objective of the review therefore was to devise a classification structure in which the major groups were more homogeneous in terms of skill level than in the First Edition. This had to be achieved however, without applying the skill level criterion so rigorously as to produce classification categories which did not make intuitive sense and would not be useful for most analytical purposes.

The method adopted in ASCO Second Edition was to assign each of the major groups in ASCO Second Edition to one of five broad skill levels. Following consideration of a number of practical issues, including statistical balance and feasibility, it was decided to create nine major groups. These major groups are differentiated from each other firstly on the basis of skill level. Where two major groups are assigned to the same skill level they are differentiated from each other on the basis of skill specialisation.

Skill level and the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)
The criteria used in ASCO Second Edition to measure skill level are formal education and/or training and previous experience usually required for entry to the occupation.

Because of the introduction of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), ASCO Second Edition uses the new terminology for the levels of formal education and training, rather than the old terminology as previously used under the Register of Australian Tertiary Education. Detailed descriptions of the different levels in the AQF can be found in the Australian Qualifications Framework Implementation Handbook (August 1995) released by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs.

The levels of qualifications in the AQF are as follows:

Certificate I
Certificate II
Certificate III
Certificate IV
Diploma
Advanced Diploma
Bachelor Degree
Graduate Certificate
Graduate Diploma
Masters Degree
Doctoral Degree.

The five skill levels in ASCO Second Edition are defined in terms of the AQF levels as follows.

Skill Level 1
Most occupations in Major Groups 1 and 2 have a level of skill commensurate with a bachelor degree or higher qualification or at least 5 years relevant experience. In some instances relevant experience is required in addition to the formal qualification.

Skill Level 2
Most occupations in Major Group 3 have a level of skill commensurate with an AQF Diploma or Advanced Diploma or at least 3 years relevant experience. In some instances relevant experience is required in addition to the formal qualification.

Skill Level 3
Most occupations in Major Groups 4 and 5 have a level of skill commensurate with an AQF Certificate III or IV or at least 3 years relevant experience. In some instances relevant experience is required in addition to the formal qualification.

Skill Level 4
Most occupations in Major Groups 6 and 7 have a level of skill commensurate with an AQF Certificate II or at least 1 years relevant experience. In some instances relevant experience is required in addition to the formal qualification.

Skill Level 5
Most occupations in Major Groups 8 and 9 have a level of skill commensurate with completion of compulsory secondary education or an AQF Certificate I qualification.

The following table illustrates the assignment of the major groups to the five skill levels:

        Major Group
    Skill Level
    1
      Managers and Administrators
    1
    2
      Professionals
    1
    3
      Associate Professionals
    2
    4
      Tradespersons and Related Workers
    3
    5
      Advanced Clerical and Service Workers
    3
    6
      Intermediate Clerical, Sales and Service Workers
    4
    7
      Intermediate Production and Transport Workers
    4
    8
      Elementary Clerical, Sales and Service Workers
    5
    9
      Labourers and Related Workers
    5
Although ASCO Second Edition applies skill level more rigorously than the First Edition, judgements about the actual skill level of an occupation may not always concur with the views of all users. In some instances it has been necessary to place occupations in major groups which may have a higher or lower skill level because a very rigid application of the skill level criterion would result in very dissimilar occupations being grouped together. In these cases, occupations may be grouped with like occupations which have a different skill level, as in the case of apprentices and tradespersons in Major Group 4.

Apprentices and trainees
The application of the classification criteria to the classification of apprentices and trainees in ASCO deserves special explanation. In ASCO First Edition apprentice and trainee occupations were classified in the same unit group as the occupations for which the apprentices or trainees were being trained.

Some users felt that this practice led to major and minor groups which were too diverse in terms of skill level. Others felt that it was more appropriate to be able to identify all occupations with a particular skill specialisation in the same unit group, and that in reality the difference in skill level between a final year apprentice and a fully qualified tradesperson was small.

An additional concern was that in ASCO First Edition only one apprentice occupation was identified per unit group. In those unit groups which contained a number of trades occupations it was therefore not possible to identify the total number of persons employed and training for a particular trade.

The focus on entry requirements for the measurement of skill level and the consequent abandonment of on-the-job training as an explicit measure of skill level, led the Review Team to re-evaluate the treatment of apprentice and trainee occupations in the classification.

Analysis of occupation responses to 1996 Census Dress Rehearsal data was undertaken to ascertain the feasibility of classifying apprentice and trainee occupations at a lower skill level (that is, in a different major group to the parent occupation). As a result of this analysis, it was determined that it was not generally possible to classify apprentice and trainee occupations in different major groups from their parent occupations. Apprentices and trainees are therefore generally located in the same unit group as the occupations they are training toward, the exceptions being Office Trainees and Sales and Service Trainees which are unit groups of their own. It is acknowledged that the skill level for entry into occupations as an apprentice or trainee is lower than the skill level requirements of the occupation.

Most tradespersons unit groups in ASCO Second Edition include an apprentice occupation corresponding to each tradesperson occupation in that unit group.

Supervisory occupations
The treatment of supervisory occupations in ASCO Second Edition differs from that in First Edition. In the First Edition, supervisory occupations were generally classified in the same unit group as their associated non-supervisory occupations. In the Second Edition where it is clear that a higher level of skill and training is required for entry to a given supervisory occupation, this supervisory occupation has been classified at a higher skill level. This means that the supervisory occupation is in a different major group to its associated non-supervisory occupations.

It has, however, been necessary to classify a number of supervisory occupations together with the occupations they supervise as it is not practicable to make the necessary distinction in statistical collections. In some of these cases there is nevertheless a marked difference in the tasks performed, and so a separate supervisory occupation has been specified within the same unit group as the occupation supervised.

Examples of where supervisory occupations have been classified at a higher skill level include:
  • the occupations Retail Supervisor and Checkout Supervisor have been classified at Skill Level 4 in Major Group 6 Intermediate Clerical, Sales and Service Workers, while the occupations which are generally supervised by persons in these categories are located at Skill Level 5 in Major Group 8 Elementary Clerical, Sales and Service Workers.

Some examples of where it was not statistically feasible to classify supervisors to a major group at a higher skill level include:
  • Supervisor, Sewing Machinists and Supervisor, Forestry and Logging Workers which are classified in the same unit groups as their associated non-supervisory occupations (Major Group 7 Intermediate Production and Transport Workers) but identified as separate occupations.


STRUCTURAL CHANGE IN THE LABOUR FORCE

A number of changes reflected in the ASCO Second Edition structure are the result of the emergence and decline of occupations in the Australian labour market. The increased significance of various industry sectors to the economy, in particular the service and information technology sectors, has led to the emergence of a number of new occupations. Conversely, technological and structural changes in the Australian work force have also resulted in the decline of many older occupations. The trend towards the upgrading of skills and training required for many occupations has also resulted in the reclassification of certain occupations to more appropriate skill levels in the Second Edition. A particularly important issue was that the broadening of skills and training, and different pathways in education and training, have resulted in the emergence of new generalised occupations. Workers in these new generalised occupations are multi-skilled and may perform tasks which span more than one traditionally defined occupation.

An important objective in the development of ASCO Second Edition, therefore, was to determine an appropriate way within the classification structure to deal with this growing trend towards multi-skilling and broad-banding of industrial awards. There was a strong demand for the increased flexibility in the occupational structure of the work force to be reflected in the structure of the classification.

Consultation with a wide range of stakeholders revealed that this process was quite well advanced in some sectors of the economy and in some enterprises, whereas in others the traditional specialisations remained or new specialisations were emerging.

This is dealt with in the Second Edition by creating new occupations and unit groups for the new multi-skilled occupations at the same time as retaining unit groups and occupations for many of the specialised occupations. For example, Minor Group 411 Mechanical Engineering Tradespersons contains the Unit Group 4111 General Mechanical Engineering Tradespersons for the emerging multi-skilled occupation, but retains unit groups for some of the more specialised traditional occupations such as Toolmakers.

This approach allows the classification to be used to measure the extent to which the trend towards multi-skilling and broad-banding is having an impact on various sectors of the economy, the extent to which the more traditional occupations are dying out and the extent to which new highly specialised occupations are emerging.

Although there was a demand from some users for some specialised occupations to be removed and incorporated into a single broad-banded category, it was clear that many users required the more detailed information. An alternative approach suggested was to reflect this new flexibility by assigning jobs for individuals to more than one category in the classification to reflect their mix of skills. Such an approach would have been inconsistent with the requirements for a statistical classification to assign all jobs in the Australian labour market to one and only one occupation.

Overall, these technological and structural changes, and the response to them in the Second Edition, have led to a modest reduction in the number of occupations defined in the classification. In the First Edition there were 1,079 occupations, compared to 986 in the Second Edition.


STATISTICAL BALANCE

As a general principle, a classification used for the dissemination of statistics should not have categories at the same level in its hierarchy which are too disparate in their population size. This is necessary to allow the classification to be used effectively for the cross-tabulation of aggregate data and the dissemination of data from sample surveys. For example, if some of the nine ASCO major groups accounted for only 2% or 3% of the labour force and another accounted for 60% or 70%, it would be difficult to use the classification for balanced analysis. This principle is referred to by the term 'statistical balance'.

In ASCO Second Edition, the statistical balance principle is applied by building the classification structure in such a way that no major group is more then 50% larger or 50% smaller than the average size of a major group. As there are nine major groups, the average size of a major group is one-ninth of the employed labour force. The principle is applied in a similar way, but progressively less strictly at lower levels of the hierarchy. For example, the minimum acceptable size for an ASCO occupation is generally 300 full-time jobs. The minimum size for a unit group is 1,000, but ideally the target for a unit group is 3,000. Some exceptions are made, however, for occupations of particular strategic or labour market significance.


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