1. Occupational standards - an overview

In January 2021, the government published the ‘Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity’ white paper. This outlined that the future of the technical education system will be based on employer needs with the substantial majority of post-16 technical and higher technical education and training aligned to occupational standards, set by IfATE and developed and approved by employers.

This system will lead to a common set of employer-led standards that define the content of technical courses, qualifications, and apprenticeships.

Occupational standards are developed by employers for occupations that meet the Institute’s current occupation criteria.

Along with an end-point assessment plan (EPA) and funding band, the occupational standard is a component part of an apprenticeship.

However, occupational standards are not just component parts of apprenticeships but are also used in the development of T Levels, and underpin other IfATE-approved technical qualifications. This means that occupational standards can form the basis of an apprenticeship, or a technical qualification (or both) and they should be developed with that in mind.

If you think an occupation is suitable for the development of an occupational standard, and if your Product Manager (PM) agrees, the first stage of the process is to complete an occupation proposal.

If we agree to your occupation proposal, the next stage is to develop the occupational standard.

If you are developing an occupational standard as part of an apprenticeship, you will also need to develop the end-point assessment (EPA) plan and collect funding evidence. Doing these together ensures a coherent package.

Occupational standards are used by:

  • potential apprentices, parents/guardians, schools, careers advisers, employees, and employers as a description of the occupation
  • T Level panels to develop the outline content for T Level programmes
  • IfATE, in its consideration of whether or not a technical qualification should be approved
  • Awarding Organisations / Awarding Bodies in the design and development of TQs

When they are developed as part of an apprenticeship, occupational standards are used by:

  • end-point assessment organisations (EPAO) as they produce assessment tools, such as written tests and observations
  • external quality assurance providers (EQAP) to determine and inform monitoring activity
  • employers and training providers to:
    • analyse individual jobs for apprenticeship coverage/suitability
    • assess the prior learning of apprentices at the start of their apprenticeship
    • design and deliver the on-and-off-the-job training

Your product manager (PM) can lead a workshop to help you develop your occupational standard.

You need to use apprenticeship builder to develop your occupational standard. If you are developing an apprenticeship, you also need to use the builder for your EPA. You also use it to submit them to the approvals process, along with your funding evidence (for apprenticeships) and any supporting evidence.

Any information entered in the apprenticeship builder at the occupation proposal stage that is needed for the occupational standard will carry through. However, you may need to refine the information as you develop the occupational standard. For example, to address any feedback received from us or if you identify changes are needed.


2. Occupational standard requirements

Short, concise and clear

The occupational standard must: be short, concise and clear and written to IfATE's format

We will assess this by: determining that it has been expressed concisely and clearly confirming that the occupational standard meets the format required

Clear occupational profile

The occupational standard must: be based on a clear occupational profile setting out the duties carried out by employees in the occupation and including the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) which will be applied in the workplace and are derived directly from the duties.

We will assess this by: assessing whether any feedback received at the occupation proposal stage has been incorporated verifying that the occupation continues to meet our occupation requirements; confirming that the KSBs are developed directly from each of the duties in the occupational profile; confirming that the KSBs statements meet our guidance in terms of format and structure

Define occupational competence

The occupational standard must: define competence in an occupation so that, on completion, the new entrant to the occupation is able to carry out the role in any size of employer across any relevant sector.

We will assess this by: assessing that the occupation is in demand from a range of employers using commonly understood or similar occupation/job titles and with substantially common duties, and KSBs; verifying that the KSBs required for a new entrant to the occupation (beyond generally expected prior knowledge and skills) is agreed across a range of employers, including reviewing the outcomes of your consultation.

Align with regulatory requirements and professional recognition

The occupational standard must: align with regulatory requirements and professional recognition and allows the individual to apply for this.

We will assess this by: scrutinising the supporting evidence to confirm that the occupational standard meets the requirements of regulatory or professional bodies.


3. Knowledge, skills and behaviours

You need to set out the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) required to be competent in the occupation profile’s duties. IfATE will consider these KSBS when assessing the extent to which technical qualifications are aligned to an occupational standard (and this will inform IfATE's decision whether or not to approve the qualification). They will also form the basis of an apprenticeship’s on-and-off-the-job training.

Knowledge - the information, technical detail, and ‘know-how’ that someone needs to have and understand to successfully carry out the duties. Some knowledge will be occupation-specific, whereas some may be more generic.

Skills - the practical application of knowledge needed to successfully undertake the duties. They are learnt through on- and/or off-the-job training or experience.

Behaviours - mindsets, attitudes or approaches needed for competence. Whilst these can be innate or instinctive, they can also be learnt. Behaviours tend to be very transferable. They may be more similar across occupations than knowledge and skills. For example, team worker, adaptable and professional.

If you are developing an apprenticeship, the EPA will test an apprentice’s competency against the KSBs, rather than the duties. It is important to consider how they will be assessed as you develop them.

Occupational standards typically have:

  • 15 to 20 knowledge statements
  • 15 to 20 skill statements
  • five to six behaviour statements.

It is not necessary for knowledge statements to always have a corresponding skill or behaviour statement. Knowledge may underpin several skills and behaviours.

You need to identify (map) the KSBs required to undertake each duty. Each KSB is likely to be needed for more than one duty. Only map the most relevant KSBs to each duty. You need to ensure that each KSB is mapped to at least one duty.

How to write good KSBs:

  • the readability of an occupational standard should be appropriate to the skill level of the occupation. As far as possible, the language used should also be gender-neutral. Our guidance on language to use will help you
  • describe them in terms of someone who is fully competent in the occupation
  • list each KSB subject in a separate statement for each assessment method. For example, group health and safety-related knowledge that is going to be assessed by an observation in one statement and health and safety-related knowledge that is going to be assessed by a test in another one
  • do not put ‘knows or understands’ at the start of knowledge statements, as this is clear from the heading. Similarly, do not put ‘can’ or ‘be able to’ at the start of each skill statement
  • be as specific as possible
  • knowledge statements should be as definitive as possible. Avoid using words like ‘including and ‘for example’ where possible
  • words like ‘including’ and ‘for example’ can be used in skill and behaviour statements. However, they should not be needed for all KSBs and should only be used where it helps understanding
  • be careful with your choice of words. If a KSB statement is worded ‘including a, b, c’ – then ‘a, b, c’ must be tested in the apprenticeship’s EPA. Use ‘for example a, b or c’ where there are a range of things that could be demonstrated to show competence. It is sufficient to put ‘including…’ rather than ‘including but not limited to…’
  • start skill statements with an active verb, for example, ‘communicate…’ not communicating
  • do not repeat duties as skill statements – they should be different
  • avoid being too context-specific. For instance, ‘communicates with colleagues in team meetings,’ would mean that an apprenticeship EPA would have to include an assessment of communicating with colleagues in a team meeting. Whereas the skill communicate could be tested in many contexts
  • only include KSBs at their highest level. Do not include KSBs that progress to a higher order KSB
  • avoid using wording that could mean a statement becomes out of date quickly. For example, including the number of a piece of legislation or the year it was passed may not be required in sectors where legislation is amended frequently
  • avoid vague and absolute statements that could be open to interpretation. ‘Relevant legislation’ and ‘all types of materials’ are examples of vague and absolute statements
  • avoid stating how well a KSB should be performed, as this needs to be detailed in the grading descriptors in the EPA plan


Further guidance

The skills builder universal framework has guidance on common skills and behaviours. These include teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, creativity, speaking, listening, aiming high, and staying positive.

The digital skills and characteristics framework has guidance on digital characteristics in an occupational context and across occupational levels for problem-solving, digital collaboration and communication, transacting, organisational security and handling data securely.

The sustainability framework sets out the key themes for all employers to consider, no matter what sector they are in. This is a helpful guide, to ensure employers can consider how every apprenticeship can contribute to climate change goals.

Examples of behaviours at different levels based on existing occupational standards, to help you develop relevant behaviours relevant to your occupational standard.

The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Toolkit should be applied when developing your occupational standard. It includes suggestions for EDI related knowledge, skills and behaviours that could be applied across a range of occupations.

The Creative Competencies Toolkit sets out a combination of knowledge and skills that when combined describe creativity in workers. Creative skills are fundamental to improved productivity in the workplace, regardless of employment sector. We hope this toolkit and its contents will be considered by employers when defining occupational standards, alongside being used to inform other technical education qualifications.

We are also in the process of developing KSBs (and associated grading descriptors) which we believe may be applicable to different occupations either across routes or within routes. They are based on KSBs that have been used in multiple occupational standards so far but have been refined to improve clarity in some cases. Use of the “common KSBs” by Trailblazers will be entirely voluntary, but we hope that they will help to improve clarity within occupational standards, enhance transferability across occupations and save development time by enabling Trailblazers to focus primarily on the KSBs that are more specific to an occupation. The common KSBs developed so far are detailed below but, over the next 18 months, we hope to cover all 15 routes, harmonise the format, rationalise them to remove duplication across the routes, and build in KSBs from the above frameworks so that they provide a one-stop tool to help Trailblazers draft or revise their occupational standards. If you have feedback on either their content or format, please contact your Product Manager.



4. Engagement with others on your occupational standard

You must engage with a wide group of persons or organisations on your occupational standard. This is to give employers who are not part of your trailblazer group and other interested persons/organisations an opportunity to input. This may include trade associations, professional bodies, training providers, and for apprenticeships, EPAOs.

It is up to you how you carry out this engagement work. It may, for example, be via an on-line survey or holding workshops.

You will need to reflect on the comments you receive and make any changes you want to your occupational standard.

In your submission, you need to include details of who you have engaged with and how, what the results were, and changes made to the occupational standard as a result. Apprenticeship builder has a section to enter this information.

During the approvals process, we take account of evidence from your consultation.


5. Statutory regulated occupations

To practice in some occupations (professions), it is a legal requirement for individuals to be registered with a statutory regulator. Registration with the statutory regulator is required for the individual to practice in their chosen occupation on completion of their studies.

Occupational standards must be recognised by the relevant statutory regulator.


Additional information when developing an apprenticeship


6. English and maths requirements

The government’s minimum English and maths qualification level requirements for an apprenticeship are:

  • for level 2, achieve level 1 English and maths before taking the EPA and work towards level 2 where there is time to make meaningful progress (a minimum of three months before gateway) 
  • for level 3 to 7, achieve level 2 English and maths before taking their EPA
  • for those with an education, health and care plan or a legacy statement, the apprenticeship’s English and maths minimum requirement is Entry Level 3. A British Sign Language (BSL) qualification is an alternative to the English qualification for those whose primary language is BSL. 

The text needed for the apprenticeship level will be pre-entered in apprenticeship builder.


7. Mandated qualifications

A qualification can be mandated as part of an apprenticeship subject to meeting certain criteria. Where a qualification is mandated, all apprentices must pass the qualification as well as the EPA to complete the apprenticeship. Where you are proposing to mandate a qualification in a new apprenticeship, you will have submitted your request to do so at the occupation proposal stage. Where you are proposing to mandate a qualification as part of a revision to an existing apprenticeship, you must submit the relevant information and evidence early on in the occupational standard development stage.

For further information on the criteria and process for mandating a qualification, and subsequent development work needed, see our separate webpages covering degree apprenticeships and mandated qualifications policy (excluding degrees). Which webpage is relevant depends on the type of qualification you are seeking to mandate.


8. Professional recognition alignment

When you submit your apprenticeship documents to the approvals process, you need to provide evidence that the professional body(s) agree to how the occupational standard aligns or partially aligns with professional recognition.

You need to upload a letter of support from each relevant organisation. Suggested wording for the professional body support letter is covered by template two.


9. Statutory regulator agreement

When you submit your apprenticeship documents to the approvals process, you need to provide evidence that the regulator agrees the occupational standard aligns with the regulated occupation requirements (where applicable).

You need to upload a letter of support from the regulator. If a qualification is being included at the request of the regulator, the same letter can cover both points. Suggested wording for the regulator support letter.

You can find additional guidance on developing apprenticeships for occupations where there is a statutory regulator 


10. Recommendations for training

You must not include any recommendations for training or curriculum specification, or on-programme assessment in your occupational standard or EPA plan.

You could develop a specimen training plan to help training providers and employers deliver the apprenticeship. Guidance to help you do this is available.


Last updated 4 September 2023
(NM, NS)