Occupational Information and Its Organization

Posted by: John Stewart on July 13, 2011 11:19 am

In our last presentation, we identified two types of memory used to store information: procedural and declarative.  Within declarative memory we categorized episodic and semantic as two types of memory storage in long-term memory.  We think that semantic memory is where occupational information is stored while episodic memory is where information about the self is stored.  In this presentation, we want to focus on semantic memory. 

Information stored in semantic memory consists of facts, concepts, and relationships among concepts that are verifiable in external reality. For example, we can verify the qualifications and occupational responsibilities of a surgeon.  The information in semantic memory is typically structured in a pyramidal fashion.  Within this hierarchy, the information is related to more sophisticated concepts (sometimes referred to as superordinate concepts) such as lawyers being one of a number of legal professions; and to lower concepts (sometimes known as subordinate concepts) such as lawyers are people who represent others in courts. Storing information in this manner helps individuals to access their information about occupations and the world of work easily. For example, if the only information a person knows about an occupation is that it is performed outdoors, this information is not very effective in thinking about how the occupation differs from other occupations. However, knowing that part of the occupational role is performed outdoors while the other parts are performed in different contexts is more effective in differentiating occupations.

From a cognitive perspective, information organized around an occupation is known as a schema. Each piece of information may be also linked to already existing social, affective, and personal schemas, which influence how this information is structured and processed.  Occupational schemas develop early in life, and over time become more elaborated. Schemas contain specialized concrete information about how the occupational role is deployed. An example of specialization about the occupation of plumber is knowledge of the wide variety of tools a plumber works with.  Other such specialized information includes educational requirements and prerequisites, salary, working conditions, legal parameters, future availability of work, and so on. Conversely, the information becomes more generalized as it is related to more abstract concepts such as in the NOC plumbers are part of the Plumbers, Pipefitters and Gasfitters subgroup, which is under the major heading of Trades and Skilled Transport and Equipment Operators. (Such categories of information can be found in the National Occupational Classification at www5.hrsdc.gc.ca/noc/english/noc/2006/facts). 

Accurate and organized occupational schemes make it easier for individuals to use their occupational information in making vocational decisions. They are able to use this information when choosing an occupation or when choosing to enhance their employability skills. However, if the information is incorrect or insufficient, it is easy to understand how individuals may make inappropriate choices relative to their personal attributes, or not fully grasp the changing nature of the occupation. Consequently, it is important for career counsellors to help clients recognize and understand the information and concepts they have about their preferred occupations.  Helping clients develop accurate and sophisticated concepts about preferred occupations enhances the fit between the person and the occupation role.

BY: Jeff Landine and John Stewart


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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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