Knowledge of how workers in different occupations train to qualify
for their jobs and improve their skills is useful to counselors who
assist clients with the career decision process. It also is helpful to
educational institutions, government agencies, and employers in planning
education and training programs. For these reasons, the various sources
of training for many different occupations are identified in the Bureau
of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook and other career
literature. However, precise information on training has rarely been
available. For example, postsecondary schools and the Armed Forces are
known to train electrical and electronics technicians, but exact data on
the proportion of employed technicians who have this kind of training
have not been available.
To learn more about occupational training, the Bureau of Labor
Statistics, under a contract with the Employment and Training
Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor, has analyzed data
collected by the Census Bureau in a supplement to the January 1983
Current Population Survey. The supplement was developed around two
basic questions: “Did you need specific skills or training to
obtain your current job?” and “Since you obtained your present
job, did you
take any training to improve your skills?” In each case, people
who responded “yes” were asked to identify the source or
sources of the training and provide additional information. Many
workers identified more than one source of training. Individuals did
not identify the most important source of training, so the results
simply indicate the frequency of a response.
About 55 percent of all workers employed in January 1983 indicated
that they needed specific training to qualify for their current job. And
about one-third of all workers had taken skill improvement training
after obtaining their current job. Many workers had both qualifying
training and training to improve their skills; about 72 percent of those
who needed training to obtain their jobs subsequently trained to improve
Among major occupational groups, the proportion of workers who
reported needing training to get their jobs varied widely. In
professional specialty occupations, 93 percent of the workers needed
training, compared to only 8 percent of the workers in private household
occupations. With regard to skill improvement, the proportion who took
training ranged from 61 percent in professional specialty occupations to
3 percent in private household occupations. The kind of training taken
also varied widely, with more than one kind being indicated for each
These and all other statistics from the survey should be regarded
as indicators of general magnitude rather than precise measures for
several reasons. In some cases, for example, people may have reported
their occupation or the training required incorrectly. Indeed, small
percentages of workers in occupations that obviously have strict
educational requirements, such as dentist and physician, reported no
need for training to get their jobs. Furthermore, because the
information was obtained from the workers, it represents what they
believe is the training required rather than what employers state is the
training required for the job.
Sources of Training
School and informal on-the-job training (OJT) were the most common
sources of both qualifying and additional training. About 29 percent of
all workers obtained qualifying training in school and 28 percent
obtained it on the job. OJT was used to improve skills by 14 percent of
all workers; school programs, by 12 percent. Almost the same proportion
of workers (10 and 11 percent) used training from formal company
programs to qualify for jobs and to improve skills.
Relatively few workers acquired either qualifying or skill
improvement training from other sources, such as correspondence courses,
the Armed Forces, or friends and relatives. The sources of training for
the major occupational groups are shown in tables 1 and 2. The
multi-page table, “How Workers Were Trained”, shows sources of
training for detailed occupations. Instances in which particular
sources of training were frequently mentioned for specific occupations
are noted in the following discussion.
College programs that lasted 4 years or longer provided qualifying
training to more workers than all other school categories combined.
About 16.1 million people or 17 percent of all workers reported training
from college programs. Strikingly, just five occupations accounted for
one-fourth of the total: Elementary school teacher, secondary school
teacher, registered nurse, lawyer, and physician. Only two
occupations–elementary school teacher and secondary school
teacher–accounted for more than one-fourth of the workers who improved
their skills by attending college programs that lasted 4 years or
Junior colleges and technical institutes were major providers of
qualifying training for workers in many health occupations, including
inhalation therapists, dental hygienists, radiologic technicians, and
licensed practical nurses. Many police and detectives, firefighters,
and real estate sales workers improved their job skills through courses
in junior colleges and technical institutes. These schools also were a
more important source of skill improvement for secretaries than other
Only 2.2 percent of all workers used training from private
post-high school vocational programs to get their jobs; the proportion
who used training from public post-high school programs was even
smaller–1.6 percent. Nevertheless, these schools were significant for
some occupations. Almost one-half of the hairdressers and
cosmetologists and almost one-third of the barbers qualified for their
jobs through private vocational programs, and about one-fourth of the
licensed practical nurses qualified through public vocational programs.
Although only about 5 percent of all workers qualified for their
jobs with training from high school vocational programs, these programs
were a very important source of training for workers in administrative
support occupations, including clerical. About 35 percent of the
secretaries obtained their jobs with skills from such programs. This
training was also important for typists, stenographers, bookkeepers,
personnel clerks, drafters, automobile mechanics, and compositors and
By far the most important source of qualifying training other than
school was OJT, which was mentioned even more often than school as a way
that skills were improved. It was used to gain qualifying skills by 50
to 60 percent of the workers in such diverse occupations as legal
assistant, actor, upholsterer, and editor and reporter.
Formal company training programs such as apprenticeship training or
other types of training having an instructor and a planned program were
mentioned by only 11 percent of all workers. However, these training
programs were reported by large proportions of police and detectives,
insurance sales workers, real estate sales workers, telephone installers
and repairers, electricians, bus drivers, and plumbers as the source of
their qualifying training. These programs were also an important source
of skill improvement training for workers in many of these occupations,
as well as for computer systems analysts, electrical and electronic
engineers, registered nurses, and public administrators and officials.
The programs tended to be of short duration. About one-half of the
qualifying programs and almost three-fourths of the skill improvement
programs reported by workers lasted under 12 weeks; less than one-fourth
of the qualifying programs and less than one-tenth of the skill
improvement programs lasted 53 weeks or more.
About 3.2 million people or 3 percent of all workers got their jobs
because of informal training from a friend or relative or other
experience unrelated to work. Almost one-third of all workers who
reported this category of training were in precision production, craft,
and repair jobs. A relatively high proportion of workers in some large
occupations, such as farmer, carpenter, and automobile mechanic, learned
their skills in this way.
Military service provided training to gain job qualifying skills
for only 1.9 million people or 2 percent of all workers; however, almsot
one-third of the workers who used this training were in the precision
production, craft, and repair groups. Training in the military services
was most important for aircraft engine mechanics–about 45 percent of
these workers got their jobs as a result of skills learned in the
service. The Armed Forces also were a source of skills for more than 20
percent of the data processing equipment repairers and the electronic
repairers of commercial and industrial equipment.
Correspondence courses were the least significant method of job
training, but they were reported by more than 12 percent of the
electronic repairers of commercial and industrial equipment.
The following discussion presents highlights of the results of the
survey for major occupational groups. The table, “How Workers Were
Trained,” provides information for detailed occupations.
Executive, administrative, and managerial occupations. Specific
training was a prerequisite for the jobs of 71 percent of the 10.8
million workers in the executive, administrative, and managerial group.
Generally, people in this group were more likely than those in other
occupational groups to report more than one way of qualifying for their
jobs, which seems reasonable since many of these positions require a
broad background of education and work experience. Schools were a
source of needed skills for 43 percent of all workers in the group,
informal on-the-job training (OJT) for 39 percent, and formal company
training programs for 12 percent.
College programs that lasted 4 years or longer were the principal
source of schooling for almost all managerial occupations. These
programs were reported by 34 percent of the workers in the group.
Although an even larger percentage of the workers in the group had
completed 4 or more years of college, those with degrees who did not say
that college was necessary may have attributed their jobs to experience
instead of education because advancement to many managerial positions
requires years of work experience. In some occupations, college
programs were much more important than the average. Three-fourths of
the education administrators and two-thirds of the accountants and
auditors indicated that they received needed job training in these
programs, as well as almost one-half of the financial managers,
management analysts, and medicine and health administrators.
In many occupations, the number of workers reporting OJT and the
number reporting school were fairly close, each category usually
representing about two-fifths to three-fifths of total employment in the
occupation. OJT, however, was more important for construction
inspectors, business and promotion agents, purchasing agents, buyers,
and managers, not elsewhere classified. Some workers in all managerial
occupations had received formal company training. About one-fourth of
the protective service administrators and the inspectors and compliance
officers (except construction) qualified for the jobs through training
in formal company programs.
Professional specialty occupations. About 93 percent of the 12.7
million workers in these occupations indicated that they needed some
kind of training to qualify for their jobs, the largest proportion of
any occupation group. Almost 82 percent of the workers in the
professional group learned the necessary skills in school, compared to
only 29 percent of the workers in all occupations. OJT was a source of
required skills for 22 percent of the professional group, which was
somewhat lower than the average for all workers. The proportion of
professionals trained by other methods was about average.
About 70 percent of all workers in the professional group reported
they needed 4 years or more of college training to obtain their jobs;
this represents 90 percent of the workers who have such training.
Academic preparation usually was most important to workers who must have
a high degree of specialized and theoretical knowledge, such as
physicians, lawyers, psychologists, school teachers, and biological and
life scientists. College generally was less important in fields that
require artistic talent and creative ability, such as photography,
design, acting, and music. Junior colleges and technical institutes
were reported by only 7 percent of all professional workers, but these
schools accounted for almost one-half of the inhalation therapists and
almost one-third of the registered nurses. Other methods of schooling
were reported by relatively few professional workers.
Except for OJT, nonacademic training was not importatn for most of
these workers. OJT was a source of qualifying skills for more than
one-half of the actors, economists, and editors and reporters, and
almost one-half of the photographers, public relations specialists,
mechanical engineers, and computer systems analysts and scientists. In
several of these occupations, the number of workers who reported OJT was
nearly equal to those who reported schooling; and it was mentioned more
frequently than college programs by photographers, actors, and public
relations workers. Formal company training programs provided qualifying
skills to almost one-third of the operations and systems researchers and
About 61 percent of the workers in professional specialty
occupations had trained to improve their job skills, the largest
proportion of any occupation group. More than one-half of the
elementary school teachers and secondary school teachers improved their
job skills in college programs; they represented almost one-half of all
professional specialty workers who reported improving job skills in
Technician and related occupations. Specific training was
necessary for the jobs of almost 85 percent of the 3 million workers in
the technician group. About 58 percent of the technicians qualified
for their jobs in schools, which was almost twice the average for all
workers and second only to the professional group. Technicians also were
more likely than other workers to acquire skills informally on the job,
in formall company training programs, and in the Armed Forces.
Postsecondary schools provided the bulk of the academic training.
College programs that lasted 4 years or longer were a source of training
for 24 percent of the workers in the technician group and programs in
junior colleges and technical institutes, for 20 percent. Post-high
school vocational programs in public and private schools were reported
by about 6 percent of the technicians; on the other hand, only 5 percent
obtained needed training in high school vocational programs.
College programs lasting 4 years or longer were the primary source
of school training for many workers in the technician and related
occupation group–dental hygienists, computer programmers, biological
technicians, and airplane pilots are some examples. Junior colleges and
technical institutes were the princiapl types of school for radiologic
technicians, licensed practical nurses, and electrical and electronics
technicians. OJT was more important than schooling as a source of
qualifying training only for legal assistances, but it was reported by
relatively large numbers of computer programmers, drafters, and
electrical and electronics technicians. Electrical and electronics
technicians also mentioned Armed Forces training in larger than usual
Skill improvement training was reported by 52 percent of the
workers in these occupations. School programs–mostly in junior
colleges and technical institutes and 4-year colleges–formal company
training programs, and OJT were each reported as sources of skill
improvement by about 20 percent of the workers. The formal company
programs were most important for the computer programmers, chemical
technicians, and electrical and electronics technicians.
Sales occupations. About 43 percent of the 11.2 million sales
workers needed specific training to qualify for their jobs, which was
somewhat below the average. The proportion using each method was about
the same as the average, except that only 15 percent of the sales
workers acquired training for their jobs in school, compared to 29
percent of all workers.
Training was mos important for people who sold complex services or
products. Specific skills were necessary for more than three-fourths of
the sales engineers and workers who sold real estate, insurance, and
securities and financial services.
Training usually was less important for employment in retail sales,
but requirements varied in different jobs. Only two-fifths of the
workers who sold apparel and shoes needed specific training to get their
jobs, for example, compared to about four-fifths of those who sold motor
vehicles and boats.
Administrative support occupations, including clerical. In this
occupational group, 57 percent of the 16.1 million workers needed
specific training to qualify for their jobs, slightly more than the
average for all workers. Requirements varied greatly for individual
occupations within the administrative support group; only 1 out of 8
messengers had to have training to get the job held, for example,
compared to 7 our of 8 stenographers.
School was the principal source of training for secretaries,
stenographers, and typists. In these occupations combined, 57 percent
of the workers were school trained. High school vocational programs in
particular were mentioned much more often by these workers than by
others. Over one-third of the secretaries and typists prepared for
their jobs in such programs, as well as relatively large numbers of
stenographers, personnel clerks, billing clerks, and bookkeepers,
accounting, and auditing clerks.
More than one-fourth of the transportation and ticket agents needed
training in formal company programs to obtain their jobs, compared to
only 10 percent of all workers. These programs also were important for
telephone operators, computer operators, order clerks, and general
Skill improvement training was reported by 32 percent of the
workers in the administrative support group, which is about the same as
the average for all occupations. More than one-half of the workers in
the following occupations had trained to improve their skills;
Production coordinators; transportation ticket and reservation agents;
insurance adjusters, examiners, and investigators; financial records
processing supervisors; and general office supervisors.
Private houselhold occupations. Only 8 percent of the 1.6 million
workers in this group needed specific training to get their jobs, the
lowest proportion of any occupation group. A small proportion of the
workers in the private household group were launderers, cooks,
housekeepers, and butlers. People in these occupations were more likely
to need specific training to qualify for their jobs than other workers
in this group. Skill improvement training was reported by only 3
percent of all workers in private household occupations.
Service workers, except private household. About 36 percent of the
12.4 million workers in this occupation group needed specific training
to qualify for their jobs, a relatively low figure.
People in three occupations, however, reported needing training in
much higher proportions than the average: Health service workers,
protective service workers, and personal service workers. Health
service workers who needed training usually qualified for their jobs
through school or informal training on the job. Junior colleges and
technical institutes and post-high school vocational programs provided
most of the schooling. Formal company programs were the most important
source of training for protective service workers, especially police and
detectives and firefighters.
Training was very important for obtaining jobs in some personal
service occupations. It was necessary for almost all of the
hairdressers and barbers, and almost three-fourths of the public
transportation attendants. Schools were the most important source of
job preparation for hairdressers and barbers, particularly postsecondary
vocational schools and junior colleges and technical institutes. Public
transportation attendants learned the skills needed to qualify for their
jobs mostly in formal company programs.
A lower than average proportion of all service workers had trained
to improve their job skills. In some health service and protective
service occupations, however, the percentage of workers with additional
training was well above average.
Farming, forestry, and fishing occupations. About 28 percent of
the 3.1 million people in this group needed specific training to qualify
for their jobs, about half of the average for all workers. Only one
source of training–friends and relatives–was mentioned more often than
average, and it was identified much more often. Skill improvement
training was also relatively low for this group.
Precision production, craft, and repair occupations. Qualifying
training was necessary for 65 percent of the 11.7 million people
employed in this diverse occupational group, somewhat greater than the
average for all workers. All sources of training except school exceeded
the average for all workers.
Training was very important for some mechanics and repairers. About
nine-tenths of the data processing equipment repairers and the office
machine repairers needed it to qualify for their jobs. Among the
building trades, it was most important for electricians and plumbers.
Training also was a requirement for relatively large proportions of
tool-and-die makers, machinists, upholsterers, and power plant
operators. On the other hand, most electrical and electronic equipment
assemblers did not need special skills to get their jobs.
OJT was reported more frequently than any other method of learning
skills by most workers in the occupational group. Among individual
occupations, the proportion of workers who acquired their training
informally on the job usually ranged between 30 and 50 percent. This was
the predominant method of training for workers in a wide variety of
occupations–carpenters, plumbers, upholsterers, office machine
repairers, and oil well drillers are a few examples. OJT also was
important for supervisory jobs in this group of occupations. On the
other hand, formal company programs were the principal method of
training for telephone installers and repairers, structural metal
workers, power plant operators, telephone line installers and repairers,
and miscellaneous electrical and electronics equipment repairers.
Public and private post-high school vocational programs provided
training for only about 4 percent of all workers in the occupational
group, but junior college and technical institutes were sources of
training for about one-fourth of the data processing equipment repairers
and one-fifth of the office machine repairers. Many workers in these
occupations also were trained in public and private post-high school
vocational programs. High school vocational programs were significant
sources of training for tool-and-die makers and automobile mechanics.
The Armed Forces were the primary source of training for aircraft engine
mechanics. Dressmakers were most likely to learn their job skills from
friends or relatives or from experience not related to work.
These workers trained to improve their skills in about the same
proportion as the average for all occupations. Formal company programs
were reported by relatively large proportions of data processing
equipment repairers, telephone line installers and repairers, and
telephone line installers and repairers. Informal OJT was more
important in other occupations.
Machine operators, assemblers, and inspectors. Almost 37 percent
of the 7.4 million workers in this occupational group needed specific
training to qualify for their jobs, a lower proportion than the average
for all workers. Workers in the machine operator, assembler, and
inspector group were about as likely as all workers to acquire their
jobs as a result of OJT or learning skills from friends and relatives,
but were likely to obtain their jobs because of other training.
For those who needed training, OJT was the principal method of
acquiring qualifying skills in every occupation in the group. In most
cases, about one-fifth to two-fifths of the workers in each occupation
reported that they obtained their skills through OJT. The proportion was
somewhat higher among typesetters and compositors, photographic
processing machine operators, and winding and twisting machine
operators; and lower for graders and sorters, sawing machine operators,
and packaging and filling machine operators. High school vocational
programs were a source of training for about one-fifth of the
typesetters and compositors and one-seventh of the printing machine
operators. Postsecondary vocational schools and junior colleges and
technical institutes trained small proportions of lathe and turning
machine operators fand welders. Formal company and school programs
frequently were sources of qualifying skills for the same occupations.
Skill improvement training was reported by 22 percent of all
workers in the machine operator, assembler, and inspector group. OJT was
by far the most significant source of skill improvement training, with
16 percent of the workers in the group, compared to formal company
programs with 4 percent and school with 3 percent. Little variation from
this pattern was evident among detailed occupations.
Transportation and material moving occupations. Training
requirements for the 4 million workers in this occupational group were
similar to those for workers in the machine operator, assembler, and
inspector group discussed above. Most who needed training acquired it
informally on the job. Formal training methods were generally of
secondary importance, but almost one-third of the bus drivers did
mention such programs.
Relatively few of the workers in transportation and material moving
occupations had trained to improve their job skills; but, again, formal
company training programs were reported by a relatively large proportion
of the bus drivers.
Handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers. Only 16
percent of the 3.7 million workers in this occupation group had to have
specific training to get their jobs; among the occupational groups, only
private household workers required less preparation. About 13 percent of
the workers in the group learned their skills informally on the job.
Other methods of training generally were insignificant. OJT was the
only significant means of skill improvement for this group.