Download the occupational levels descriptor table then follow the steps below:

  • review the duties and knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) against the level descriptors for occupational competence and assess which level(s) might apply, then
  • look carefully at the levels immediately above and below this, to evaluate why the occupation does not sit at either of these levels


The origin of the levels used today is the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) level one to five, developed in the late 1980s, based on the level of the occupation. Changes over time have seen a greater emphasis on the level of qualifications based on the degree of difficulty or challenge as opposed to the level of occupational competence in the workplace. For apprenticeship standards, the levels are based on the level of the occupation, that means one occupation links to one apprenticeship standard = one level. This is different from the position with apprenticeship frameworks, which were based on qualifications and hence qualification levels. In most cases, frameworks were based on successive levels for the same (or very similar) occupation and hence taken one at a time. However, with apprenticeship standards, the norm will be for an apprentice to begin from scratch and aim directly for an occupation level, for example, level three.

In the occupational level descriptor table, the descriptors on the right are for occupational competence and for autonomy and accountability. These are based on earlier NVQ/NQF (National Qualification Framework) levels and hence on occupations. We have also included the current Ofqual level descriptors on the left. Therefore the occupational profile can be looked at against the columns for occupational competence and accountability on the right; knowledge and skills can be looked at against the Ofqual descriptors for these on the left.

Level 1 descriptors are included because they provide a reference point for a lower level of occupational competence, which is not sufficiently skilled to be an apprenticeship standard. Level 2 occupations will normally qualify as sufficiently skilled to be an apprenticeship standard. However, this is not guaranteed in every case, bearing in mind that the requirements for at least one year’s training with an average of 6 hours per week off-the-job training for full-time apprentices.

In order to assist with this process, we have marked up in blue the words or phrases which are added as the descriptors move up the levels, for example, the blue words or phrases in the row for level 2 represent changes from level 1 and so on for each subsequent level. For convenience, the descriptors do not always repeat what is in the next level down before adding content for the higher level.

You should not necessarily expect any given occupational standard to meet the content of the relevant descriptor in full nor expect all of the content of the occupation standard to be at the same level. However, we would expect the majority of the content of the occupation standard to meet the descriptors for the level to which the occupational standard is being assigned.