• Fraser Harper

Insights through O*NET: 2. Macro trends in soft skills

In our previous post, we described how we can use the rich US Occupational Network (O*NET) data archive to examine evidence for trends and changes in occupational requirements and content across labour markets.  We described one measure we are using – significance ratios – to visualise these trends and changes.

In our current project we are looking at occupations in Manufacturing and Engineering.  O*NET conveniently provides career cluster and pathway tables that enables us to identify these occupations.

The figure shows the results for the O*NET skills domain.  We’ve marked up the Tableau screenshot to show one ‘hot’ skill – Systems Analysis1 – which is on the increase and other, more traditional monitoring2,3 skills which are on the decrease (possibly through an increase in automated monitoring).

Turning towards soft skills we make the following observations, based on other data visualisations in this series4:

  1. Many soft skills show measurable increases in significance across all sectors and occupations over the last 8 years. Some of the biggest significance increases are in analytical thinking, adaptability/flexibility, fluency of ideas, written expression and comprehension, learning strategies and active learning;

  2. Whilst showing no big changes either way over the last 8 years, four of the five most significant abilities (oral comprehension, oral expression, problem sensitivity, written comprehension) and the top four significant skills (active listening, critical thinking, reading comprehension and speaking) are classed as soft skills.

  3. The comments above are mirrored for the Manufacturing and Engineering occupations. What we also see for these occupations, though, is extra significance in soft skills such as leadership, together with soft skills that are related to innovation (such as analytical and creative thinking).  We will discuss these in later posts.

One final point, not related to soft skills but related to an increasing computer-literate society (at least in the US and developed economies).  We noted recently a paper5 written by The Brookings Institution in the US in which two O*NET elements – knowledge of Computers and Electronics, and the work activity Interacting with Computers – were used to examine the degree of digitalisation of occupations.  We confirm that these two O*NET elements have each increased in significance across O*NET generally, especially the work activity, which shows the highest significance increase (6% for all of O*NET, and 9% for Manufacturing and Engineering occupations) of all work activities.


  1. O*NET definition of Systems Analysis: Determining how a system should work and how changes in conditions, operations, and the environment will affect outcomes.

  2. O*NET definition of Monitoring: Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.

  3. O*NET definition of Operation Monitoring: Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.

  4. Contact Blue Mirror Insights for further information.

  5. https://www.brookings.edu/research/digitalization-and-the-american-workforce/

#DataInsights #MacroTrends #onet #SoftSkills

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