1. What is an occupational standard?

An occupational standard is a description of an occupation. It contains an occupational profile, and describes the ‘knowledge, skills and behaviours’ (KSBs) needed for someone to be competent in the occupation’s duties. 

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 Institute-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.

2. Why are occupational standards important?

In January 2021, the government published a white paper entitled, ‘Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity.’ This paper outlined the intention 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 the Institute 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.

As well as being a key part of an apprenticeship, occupational standards are also important in T Levels. T Levels are two-year, technical qualifications at level 3, designed by employers to give students the knowledge and skills that the industry needs. The technical qualification (TQ) element of a T Level is based on existing, approved occupational standards.

Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) are level 4 or 5 qualifications that have been quality marked by the Institute to indicate their alignment to employer-led occupational standards. HTQs align to existing occupational standards and allow learners to enter their chosen profession or progress onto higher education.

The occupational maps will be the cornerstone of these reforms. To deliver on the ambition of the white paper the scope of the maps is being extended to set out all occupations that can be accessed through technical education provision and the associated technical education options that enable access into these occupations.

3. Criteria for an occupational standard

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

An occupational standard describes an occupation and should:

  • Be short, concise and clear and written to the Institute’s format
  • Be based on a clear occupational profile setting out the duties carried out by employees in the occupation and including the skills, knowledge and behaviours which will be applied in the workplace and are derived directly from the duties
  • Define the full competence in an occupation so that, on completion of the training, the new entrant to the occupation is able to carry out the role in any size of employer across any relevant sector
  • Align with regulatory requirements and professional recognition and allow the individual to apply for this.

4. What are they used for?

Occupational standards are used by: 

  • Trailblazer groups of employers to form the basis for the development of an apprenticeship EPA
  • T Level panels to develop the standards and outline content for T Level programmes.
  • The Institute, in its consideration of whether or not a technical qualification should be approved
  • Awarding Organisations / Awarding Bodies in the design and development of TQs
  • Potential apprentices, parents/guardians, schools, careers advisers, employees, awarding organisations, and employers as a description of the occupation.
  • End-point assessment organisations (EPAO) as they produce assessment tools, such as written tests and observations, for apprenticeships.
  • 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

5. What do they contain?

An occupational standard should contain an occupational profile, list of duties and the KSBs needed for someone to be competent in the occupation’s duties.

Occupation summary or profile

An occupational summary or profile is an overview of the occupation and describes the sector or industries the occupation is typically found in; the broad purpose of the occupation; and what an employee in the occupation would typically do.

Duties

Duties describe what someone in the occupation ‘usually’ does in the workplace. They are sometimes called competences or activities. They should be distinct and complete activities. They are what you would find listed in a job description.

An occupational summary or profile should list around 10 to 20 duties.

Knowledge, skills and behaviours

An occupational standard sets out the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) required to be competent in the occupation profile’s duties.

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 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. 

Occupational standards typically have: 

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