Expert blogspot
Modifier 06 October 2020
by Ronald Lievens

Passport4Work starts ambitious Dutch validation of US-based O*NET framework

P4W Web Article 3
Passport4Work has started a widespread, ambitious national study among Dutch employers, job seekers and intermediaries to contextualize and validate the O*NET framework in the Dutch labour market.



In the recently published Zoom-in Podcast on the utility and significance of soft skills for Passport4Work, it was explained in detail that the success of Passport4Work is for a large part contingent on a common understanding of skills. Ultimately this is achieved by connecting different skill languages (also known as frameworks or taxonomies), such as O*NET and ESCO (the dominant frameworks in respectively the US and Europe). This is realized by mapping each of the skills from the two frameworks, so ultimately it does not matter if a user is using one language or the other. P4W has chosen the robust US-based O*NET language as a basis for this, meaning other skill frameworks (such as ESCO) will be mapped to O*NET.

To achieve this, P4W has aligned itself with a larger national movement towards a common understanding of skills, called CompetentNL. This project, coordinated by P4W partner UWV (the Dutch public employment service), shares P4W's ambition to allow all job seekers and employers to be able to speak the same language when it comes to jobs and skills. 

P4W's contribution to CompetentNL is two-fold.

First, the project has realized a translation of the O*NET skills to the relatively basic Dutch A2 level, to reduce usage barriers stemming from abstract terminology. More on this can be found in the previous web article

Second, P4W has started a widespread, ambitious national study among Dutch employers, job seekers and intermediaries to contextualize and validate the O*NET framework in the Dutch labour market.

This Dutch study is necessary due to the simple fact that there are a lot of differences in terms of occupational requirements between the U.S. and the Netherlands. In the U.S., for instance, a pharmacy assistant is performing mostly sales clerk tasks. In The Netherlands , a pharmacy assistant also prepares medication and provides medical advice. These differences can be observed throughout O*NET and can hinder effective match-making between job seekers and jobs. One of the strengths of the O*NET framework is that it is deeply rooted in the U.S. labour market context, through periodic surveying of employers and employees. Through these surveys, the information in the framework can be held up-to-date and adjustments can be made where appropriate. This is an essential feature, especially given the rapid pace at which jobs are changing. The replication of this study in the Netherlands, it has not been done before on this scale. 

As with the U.S. questionnaire, the survey provides insight in two questions: 1) How important is a certain skill for job X? and 2) What level of the skill is needed to perform in job X?

Image 1. An example of the O*NET skill questionnaire

ONET survey

P4W has partnered with research organization Panteia, which has ample experience with labour market driven research. They have built the O*NET questionnaires in an online survey tool, which is now in the process of being distributed among Dutch employers and employees. An ambitious effort, given the fact that the project strives for high statistical significance of the outcomes. As such, thousands of employers and employees are needed to respond. P4W is working hard together with its partners to realize these numbers. 

Image 2. The translated O*NET survey

Dutch ONET

The validation and contextualization does not stop with the survey. Furthermore, qualitative expert sessions are being held with occupational representatives to further deepen the insights. This adds value since the O*NET skill descriptions are, at times, generic and not differentiated to different occupations. Active listening, for example, may entail different practicalities in health care compared to in construction. In the expert sessions, these behavioral anchors are further explored for each of the P4W occupations. This information is then used as a basis for matching, the skill assessment and eLearnings in the tool.

Speaking of the tool, the first prototype has been finalized recently. It will undergo testing soon among the target audience with advanced eye-tracking software to gauge the user experience. More on this in the upcoming web article.