The words "occupation" and "profession" are often used interchangeably. Some say an occupation is what you do for a living, while a profession is what you were trained to do. For instance, your profession might be lawyer and your occupation, tax attorney. However, the field of post-secondary education generally sees an occupation as unskilled work or a skilled trade, while a profession is a job requiring advanced and broad education.
Career and technical colleges provide training for occupations, as do community colleges. Some institutions carry both names, as is the case with the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, where certificates and associate degrees are offered in a variety of fields including health sciences, law enforcement, information technology and culinary arts. Sometimes schools offer training in only one field or occupation, such as a fire academy or aviation school. Occupational education is specific training for a particular job.
Training for a profession generally involves attaining a bachelor’s degree and sometimes requires a graduate degree, as is the case with doctors and lawyers. You can attain a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university and at some career colleges. However, while in college you might not be specifically preparing for your profession. You might major in business and become a marketing executive, major in English and become a writer, or major in history and go on to be a lawyer.
An occupation, such as a lab technician, often has prescribed duties whereas a profession, such as an accountant, may leave more discretion to the employee. In an occupation you are likely to have onsite supervision, whereas a professional works rather autonomously. People in occupations are often eligible for overtime pay whereas professionals are salaried. On average, the more college education you have, the more you will earn over your lifetime, according to a Georgetown University publication.
Some amount of education is increasingly required for jobs in the United States, according to the New York Times. Some positions now require more skills, such as the computer knowledge now needed by dental hygienists and car mechanics. Additionally, technology and out-sourcing have limited the number of unskilled positions available. You can now pump your own gas and ring up your own groceries, and when you call a company’s customer service center you may be talking to an agent on the other side of the world.
Christine Jax has been a writer since 1991 in the areas of education, parenting and family relationships. Professor Jax has a Ph.D. in education policy and administration, a Master of Arts in public administration and a Bachelor of Arts in child psychology. She has worked in PK-12 and higher education for more than 20 years.