O*NET Skills & Lightcast Skills

Published on Feb 2, 2022

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Dr. Christopher Laney

It’s common for workforce organizations and higher education institutions to ask, “What’s the difference between O*NET skills and Lightcast skills?” Both of these skill libraries serve specific purposes in labor market data and it’s important to understand the differences, benefits, and appropriate use of each.

What is O*NET?

O*NET is short for Occupational Information Network. A program of the U.S. Department of Labor, the purpose of O*NET is to categorize occupations based on a wide array of data from workers, including knowledge, skills, abilities, and work that needs to be performed. These occupations are then used by organizations and businesses in a variety of ways, including career pathway development and workforce/education program alignment.

O*NET data collection

For its primary method of data collection, O*NET uses a statistically random sample of businesses. From this sampling, a statistically random sample of workers in the targeted occupations are selected for surveying. Incumbent responses are used to collect data on knowledge, skills, abilities; work activities, context and styles; as well as tasks that give an occupation its defining characteristics. This data is used to create the O*NET-SOC Taxonomy, which as of 2019 has 923 occupational titles. Specific to skills, the survey data is used to create 35 overarching skills, providing simplicity on the relationship between these skills and the occupations that require them.

Key benefits to using O*NET include: 

  • Data collection results are worker-centric

  • Data collected covers a wide range of categories on occupations including skills, knowledge, abilities, work activities, work context, work styles, and tasks  

  • Simplified skill groupings for identification of relationships between occupations

  • Directly correlated to standard occupation codes (SOCs)

  • Skill ranking demonstrates the importance of the skill to specific occupations

  • Trusted methodology of the U.S. Department of Labor

O*NET skills

O*NET skills are one dataset of the larger O*NET program. One of their primary uses is career exploration, where an individual is seeking an understanding of skill requirements generally seen in a career area. In the case of exploring computer programming, O*NET skills reveal the array of programming languages used. However, O*NET doesn’t prioritize the different programming languages (skills) that are most important, in-demand regionally, in-demand by industry, etc.

Lightcast skills

Skills have become an essential element to labor market analytics and strategy development in higher education, talent acquisition, and workforce and economic development. At Lightcast, we believe skills are the current and future language of the economy. Skills are what jobseekers, education, and employers use when communicating with each other. 

And while most organizations agree with the concept of this skills language—that is, a skills-based economy—this can be complex in the local economy. Lightcast uses O*NET knowledge, skills, and abilities in our skill transferability reports. But the value of more consistent, granular, and real-time data is essential for organizations (O*NET surveys are collected annually). To develop better short- and long-term strategies, communities need granular data that evolves with local and changing markets.

Lightcast skills data collection

Lightcast skills are collected from millions of online resumes, profiles, and job postings. As people update their resume and profiles, and employers post jobs, our skills data updates to provide a timely assessment of the supply and demand for skills in a market. This data collection methodology has allowed us to curate a skills library of over 32,000 skills that we update every two weeks. 

We look at skills being listed in job postings related to a specific job title to determine the most requested skills by employers (demand). Millions of online resumes and profiles are used to understand the skills individuals have in a marketplace (supply). How the supply and demand for these skills relate to each other and coalesce is how our taxonomy is organized. That is, the natural and organic relationships which emerge amongst skills is how they are categorized.

Additionally, Lightcast job titles are unique from O*NET and SOC in that we use actual names of jobs in the real world. But the titles are also standardized and mapped to corresponding occupations. Example: a web design ninja and web design pro both get mapped to web designer.

How those skills relate to the individual’s past job titles unearths job transition insights, better informs career pathway strategies, and identifies aligned transitions. The increased sequences of associated skills provide us with a better understanding of “all” the skills required for a specific occupation. For example, an O*NET skill may be “programming” but an Lightcast skill may be “Python (Programming Language)” or “Java Scripting Languages.” This granular look at skills provides a greater understanding of the specific skills required to do a job.

Key benefits of Lightcast skills include:

  • An expansive library skills with greater granularity (programming vs. Java programming)

  • Hierarchical organization that creates skill clusters with the aggregated skills within a career area or role 

  • Local and regionalization of skill supply and demand

  • Real-time skills data updated every two weeks

  • Employer-led data through job postings

Lightcast skills data at work 

One key feature of utilizing the Lightcast skills library is the regionalization of supply and demand. For example, the skills required of a computer programmer in Seattle may look different than in Atlanta due to the local industry clusters. In Seattle, home to Microsoft and other tech giants, many openings may expect their programmers to understand .NET (a framework used by Windows-based products). Conversely, in Atlanta, PHP programming might be a more commonly required language. This regionalization even manifests itself by company; Allstate, for instance, looks for different skills in Charlotte than at its headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois. Examining a region in this way, what we call skill shapes or skill clusters, allows education and workforce organizations to better align local training with local employer demand.

Both O*NET and Lightcast skills are important to building a better and more reliable skills-based economy in a local region. Using O*NET and Lightcast skills in unison allows for broadstroke career exploration and guidance, as well as specific steps and strategies based on an individual’s existing skills, career goals, and market supply/demand.

Curious how skills can build on the foundation of LMI and O*NET, we’d love to connect!

For more information on how our insights can help your community, please get in touch.