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Every two years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes a book called the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH).

Not to be confused with an employee handbook of some kind, the book describes over 800 different occupations. For each vocation, it gives details of what workers do on the job, the working conditions, training and education required, and the prospects for the job.

The Handbook is a massive publication with about 1300 pages. But who is the OOH designed for, and how do different groups within the labor market use it? This is the question we want to answer in this article.

We start by presenting the history of the OOH. The piece then looks at how human resource professionals, students and teachers, career counselors, and those looking for work or a career change use this resource. Finally, we have some tips on how you can get the most from this resource. 

What is the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH)?                          

The OOH is a career guide for job seekers.  It covers over 80 percent of the jobs available in the U.S. economy. The Handbook contains such information as the number of new positions available in each field, the nature of work, earnings, educational qualifications required, the job outlook, and the summary of the highest-paying occupations (Source).

The History of the OOH

Since its launch, the OOH has seen tremendous changes from its beginning as a book sold by U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) to its current incarnation as a web-only publication (Source). 

When it was first published in 1940, the OOH was known as the Occupational Outlook Service. The Handbook's initial programs mainly focused on assisting World War II veterans in making career choices as they entered or re-entered the workplace (Source).

When the Occupational Outlook Service changed its name to the Occupational Outlook Handbook in 1949, it covered 288 occupations in 209 separate reports divided into three broad groups. These groups were professional, semiprofessional, and administrative occupations; clerical, sales, and service occupations; and trade and industrial trial occupations (Source). 

In 1957, more updates were made to the guide to broaden occupational coverage. The updated edition focused on high school and college students, veterans, and other young people (Source). Three years later, the first set of formal numerical projections was published. The program was then merged with other labor force projections to create the Office of Employment Projections in the 1970s. 

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Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

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Uses of the OOH

So, how do different groups make use of the Occupational Outlook Handbook?

Students and Teachers

As a teacher, the Handbook can provide you with ideas on how to help students plan for their future. You can make use of OOH when creating lesson plans for career development lessons.

On the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, the Handbook provides tabs that students can click to learn about different aspects of occupations, as listed below.   

  • What workers do on the job
  • Work environment
  • Education, training, and other qualifications needed to enter the occupation
  • Pay
  • Projected employment change and job prospects
  • State and area data
  • Similar occupations
  • Contacts for more information (Source)

HR Professionals and Recruiters

Human resources professionals make use of the OOH to determine what needs to be included in a job description. The Handbook provides job descriptions using an alphabetic listing or the main occupation groups like Architecture and Engineering, Legal, or Media and Communication.

Apart from assisting HR professionals to decide which tasks and skills to include in a job description, the guide is also an excellent resource for determining pay scales and managing payroll across the years.

While HR recruiters might use the information to create new positions in their organization by adapting the information for use in their talent management system, HR professionals might use the handbook as a reference for current employees in managing their performance and identifying areas for the individual's growth.

Job Seekers

With almost 800 detailed occupations, the OOH is a gold mine for job seekers. The Handbook contains helpful information linked to the work performed in each career field and average salaries. It also includes education and training, opportunities for advancement, and a 10-year outlook for different occupations (Source).

Job seekers who are apprehensive about what to put in the section on expected salary, find the Handbook useful in providing an idea of fair compensation. Other available information includes benefits provided by employers, such as health insurance and retirement benefits. 

Workforce Development Professionals 

Workforce development is the process of developing employees so that they are equipped with the skills required for specific jobs. Business and individuals tasked with getting people into the workforce can use the OOH to understand the demand for education and training programs that align with existing and emerging jobs and career pathways (Source).

Career Counselors

Career counselors provide advice regarding job placements, apprenticeships, and training, among other such information. For them to be useful in their work, these counselors need to have up-to-date information. They also need to have an idea of the jobs that are suitable for individuals with specific skills, education and training, interests, and personality traits (Source).

Hence, the OOH is used by career counselors to help job seekers like college students to understand the specific job patterns, characteristics of related occupations, and the trends affecting the nature and number of jobs (Source). 

Tips on Using the Occupational Outlook Handbook

How can you ensure that you take maximum advantage of the OOH? Joshua Bjerke, a labor force and human resources writer, provides some recommendations (Source). 

  • Use the Handbook to identify the skills you need for your preferred job so that you can plan your career development.
  • Determine the skills required in a given job and emphasize them on your resume and in job interviews.
  • Use the Occupation Group search to find careers that have similar skill sets so that you can widen your chances of landing a job in an area of your interest.
  • Use the guide to identify the skills you can transfer from your previous job description and the jobs to which the skills are relevant.
  • Use OOH salary information to identify a good starting point in developing your negotiation strategy.
  • Look at the prospects for the job you want to train for, to have an idea of the direction it may take in the future. 

Additional HR resources to check out:

By Tim Reitsma

Tim has deep experience in HR, people & culture, leadership, business strategy and operations with a focus on building great teams who are excited about their craft and their organization. With over 15 years of leadership experience, Tim has always been guided by his core values: faith, family, curiosity, and fun. He is a coach, mentor, speaker, advisor, and an active volunteer in his community. Tim loves spending time outdoors with his wife and two kids as well as mountain biking in the north shore mountains.