Skip to main content

On the labor market, workers are commonly distinguished based on their educational qualification. Education plays a crucial role in promotions and hiring decision, particularly when workers yet have limited work experience. Also, education enables and restricts access to specific occupations. Intuitively, education is often thought of as hierarchical. A university degree represents a higher level of education than a high school diploma. However, the level of education is not the only relevant dimension. Education can also be distinguished based on its degree of specificity. Vocational programs for example prepare students to work in very specific occupations while more generally oriented study programs equip students with knowledge and basic skills that are applicable across jobs and fields.

Since education is a key factor in determining labor market prospects, it seems reasonable to assume that workers with different types of degrees end up in different occupations. The ten most common occupations for workers with general and vocational education in Europe are displayed in the graphic below.

Based on cross-sectional data from the 9th wave of the European Social Survey. Data was collected between 2018 and 2020 in 39 European countries. The sample used for this post is restricted to individuals aged between 25 and 65 who completed at least lower secondary education. The final sample contains 28,580 individuals. Educational groups are constructed based on 3-digit ISCED codes while occupations are categorized using the four-digit ISCO08 coding scheme.

The graphic also depicts differences between vocationally and generally trained workers. The second and third most frequented occupation for general graduates are primary and secondary school teachers. For workers with vocational education, primary and secondary school teachers appear on position 76 and 206 of 552 available occupations. Other occupations that are exclusive to the top ten of general graduates are accountants, nursing professionals, managing directors,and social workers. For vocationally trained workers they appear on position 38, 16, 28 and 29. Among vocationally trained workers, many labor as cooks, heavy truck and lorry drivers, health care assistants, and waiters. For general graduates those occupations appear on position 35, 20, 16 and 21 of 552.

Taken together this comparison shows that many occupations which are frequent on the European labor market tend to be open to both, workers with vocational and general education. In turn, occupations that favor specific types of workers tend to also accommodate smaller pools of workforce. There are certain occupations which defy that rule by providing many jobs while largely limiting the access to specific educational groups. For example, higher education teachers and lawyers appear on position 12 and 18 for general graduates but on position 339 and 393 for vocational ones. Also, occupations that are commonly categorized as crafts are more restricted. Hairdressers and building and related electricians are on position 11 and 18 for vocational graduates but on 103 and 127 for general graduates.