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Entry level jobs: defining them and counting them.

"Entry level job" is a term often heard in career guidance and education planning, but it has many different meanings, and the number of such jobs is difficult to count. This article examines various concepts of an entry level job and presents some survey data on occupational entrants that provide some insight on this issue. Defining Entry Level Jobs Some use the term "entry level" to refer only to jobs for which teenagers can qualify while attending school or during summer vacation. Retail sales workers, fast food service workers, and cashiers typically have jobs of this nature.

Jobs that workers hold while in high school, however, reveal only part of a much broader picture of entry level jobs. Workers also enter beginning positions after they complete high school, graduate from college, or finish a postsecondary vocational education or training program. For example, a large number of college graduates obtain entry level positions as accountants, underwriters, teachers, social workers, or administrators. These entry level jobs differ from those taken while in school because they generally are the beginning of a career rather than a temporary source of income. The difference, however, may only be in the worker's point of view because many people pursue careers in the same occupations that students work in temporarily.

From a very broad viewpoint, any job can be an entry level one. it can be argued that any worker taking a job to do something that he or she has not previously done is in an entry level job. But most analysts would consider it inappropriate to identify as entry level a job taken by an individual who is promoted to a production supervisor, for example. Similarly, it could be argued that few managerial jobs are entry level. Thus, in practice, "entry level" often identifies jobs that can be held by someone who has completed a certain level of education, whether high school or graduate school, rather than jobs taken by those who qualify for them by virtue of work experience.

Others would define entry level jobs in terms of the amount of training required after a worker becomes employed rather than in terms of the education or experience the worker brings to the job. Jobs considered entry level would require only short-term training for workers to become proficient, at least to the point of being able to perform the work adequately. From this point of view, whole occupations-such as cleaner, cashier, and receptionist-could be categorized as entry level. However, looking only at occupations would leave many jobs for beginners unrecognized because occupations that require extensive training clearly offer some entry level positions. For example, in construction craft occupations, such as plumber, electrician, and bricklayer, workers often begin as apprentices and learn the trade through a formal training program lasting 2 years or more. Similarly, many companies have management trainee programs for college graduates in which entry level workers progress step by step, learning different functions of management in each step. Excluding these positions from entry level jobs would be inappropriate. Furthermore, the training process and length of training vary among employers, making it difficult to classify occupations according to the training provided.

Counting Entry Level jobs

Even if a definition of an entry level job were agreed upon, it would be of little use unless the number of entry level jobs conforming to it can be developed. Information on the number of entry level jobs would be very useful in career guidance and educational planning because it would provide a measure of the number of jobs available to new jobseekers. But while the absence of a definition makes it impossible to count entry level jobs as such, other data are available that point toward the number of entry level jobs.

The number of people who entered occupations in a given year can be determined through an analysis of the Current Population Survey. To this end, data on occupational entrants from January 1986 to January 1987 were analyzed. The data were compiled as a supplement to the Current Population Survey that was designed to determine the occupational mobility and occupational tenure of workers.

In January 1997, nearly 19 million workers were employed who had entered their occupation during the previous 12 months. These occupational entrants accounted for one-sixth of total employment in January 19877. The status of these entrants in January 1986, a year earlier, was as follows:

* Employed in a different occupation

10 million

* Unemployed-3 million

* Not in the labor force-6 million.

Clearly, not all of the occupational entrants filled entry level jobs. Many had previously held jobs in the occupation, although they had not held such a job in January 1986. However, the number of these workers can be subtracted from the total. Of the roughly 19 million entrants, 23 percent-or 4.4 million-were previously employed in the occupation they held in January 1987. This narrows the possible number of entry level jobs filled over the year to about 14.5 million. In all probability, this number is still higher than would be the case if the definition of an entry level job excluded occupations such as manager and administrator.

Reading the Table

The table provides the occupational composition and concentration of job entrants who had never previously worked in their occupation. The number of openings is largely influenced by the size of the occupation, growth, and the magnitude of the separation rate due to deaths, retirements, and transfers out. Column I gives the total number of entrants. Column 2 gives the number of entrants without experience in the occupation. Column 3 shows the percent of total entrants who had never previously worked in the occupation.

Occupations with a large number of entrants and a high proportion who had never previously worked in that occupation would fit most definitions of an entry level occupation. Stock handlers and baggers is a good example of such an occupation. A large number of people, 374,000, entered this occupation in 1987; of those that entered, 93 percent, or 349,000, did not have any previous experience. Another group of occupations with a large number of entrants and a high proportion of workers entering without experience is food counter and related occupations. About 150,000 people entered this occupational group in 1987; of these, 142,000 entered without experience.

Another good indicator of an entry level occupation is one with a high proportion of people entering without experience, regardless of the number of entrants. Even though a relatively small number of furniture and home furnishings sales workers were entrants, only 39,000, the vast majority of those-94 percent-entered without experience, which is a good indication that it is an entry level occupation.

The table should help in career guidance and educational planning by listing the number and types of jobs entered by workers in 1986.
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Author:McGregror, Elizabeth
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1990
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