1. Introduction from Chief Executive

Head and shoulders portrait of Jennifer Coupland, IfATE Chief ExecutiveI am thrilled to see this sales, marketing and procurement (SMP) route review. It is the ninth route review from IfATE, an example of the employer voice being at the heart of everything we do.

This review will help shape how we amend, revise and create new skills training products in the years ahead.

The route covers a wide variety of sectors, from public relations to fishmongers. We aim to deliver better skills training that will serve these industries in the years ahead. For example, how can sales rise to today’s challenges, and seize the opportunities of a digital world? How can marketing help create a sustainable future? It is by asking these questions that we can deliver on the long-term needs of employers.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in this route review. The member and professional bodies, end-point assessment organisations, training providers, apprentices and of course the employers who shape our work. Your advocacy and expertise have been key to shaping this route review and its outcomes.

I am excited to see how your sectors take up and build upon this report. In this way, we can help the sales, marketing, and procurement professionals of both now and the future.

Jennifer Coupland
Chief Executive

2. Introduction from route panel chair

Head and shoulders portrait of Godfrey MogerEvery element of the sales, marketing and procurement route has an impact on the world around us. Sales professionals and customer service practitioners provide us with the goods we want. Procurement specialists source them and marketers let us know what’s available to us. These are roles that shape our lives, and they are key to the businesses we rely on. The SMP route speaks to this richness. The route now includes thirty-five apprenticeships and an upcoming T Level in Marketing, Over 36,000 apprentices have achieved apprenticeships in sales, marketing, and procurement.

This report is the result of an extended review into the route. That review aimed to understand how the occupational maps work for employers and learners. And what needs to improve across the SMP route. More than a hundred organisations engaged, showing the sector's passion for technical education. We want to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

This has given us a wealth of insight about the needs and challenges of your sectors. We've learned about how hybrid working skills are becoming more vital and how customer service can adapt to the digital marketplace. And we've heard how sustainability, equity, diversity and inclusion need to be at the heart of change. We can make apprenticeships and skills training ready for this exciting new world.

Our route panel members represent employers in these sectors, but we want to reach even more people. By doing this we can help IfATE to innovate and make the skills system better and more navigable.

As a route panel, we are proud of the work done by our employers, training providers, awarding bodies and end-point assessment organisations. We have achieved massive successes - but we can do even better. And the commitments in this report are the first step to meet the changing landscape with resilience and innovation. We are excited to continue working with trailblazer groups, and other stakeholders to ensure robust, innovative provision that meets your needs.

Godfrey Moger
Route panel chair


3. About the sales, marketing and procurement route

The SMP route combines occupations found across sectors. The route serves a diverse range of employers, embracing large retailers alongside boutique public relations firms. It also covers those who deliver quality housing and those who handle multi-million-pound procurement contracts.

This route has four pathways:

  • Sales and Retail
  • Marketing
  • Procurementc
  • Customer Service

The occupational standards underpin all apprenticeships and technical qualifications in the route. As of July 2023, over 36,000 learners achieved one of the 35 apprenticeships on offer in this route. These range from level 2 to level 6.

A T Level in Marketing will be available to learners from September 2025. In May 2023 we also began to approve new Level 4 and 5 higher technical qualifications (HTQs) in SMP.

To see occupational standards across all pathways, please visit our Occupational Map. 

This diagram shows the apprenticeships available in the Sales, Marketing and Procurement route. It outlines that route's four pathways and the products within those: Sales and Retail, which has 15 approved apprenticeships; Marketing, which has 10 approved apprenticeships and 1 T Level in development; Procurement, which has 3 approved apprenticeships and 1 apprenticeship in development; and Customer Service, which has 7 approved apprenticeships.


4. Review aims and methods


IfATE uses route reviews to analyse each of its fifteen technical education routes. We consult employers, who help us understand how technical education meets their needs. Labour market changes can impact what's necessary for apprenticeships or technical qualification. Route reviews also tell us how our products work for learners.

Each route review has four key principles:

  • strategic, the reviews focus on the route and its occupational map
  • employer-led, we use employer insight from consultation activities to form recommendations. Our route panel of industry experts review these
  • open and transparent, IfATE engages with stakeholders throughout the review process. This includes our trailblazer groups
  • joined-up, the review’s recommendations support the wider technical education landscape. They consider the potential impact on technical qualifications within IfATE’s remit

We want employers to see better value for their investment in skills. This will drive economic growth and productivity, and boost opportunities for career progression.


Summary of methods 

There were four stages to this route review. 

Consultation phase:

  • 23-week online consultation
  • 11 stakeholder engagement webinars
  • one-to-one conversations with key sector bodies and employers
  • webinar discussions with apprentices on sales and procurement programmes

Evaluation phase:

  • quantitative and qualitative analysis of public consultation outcomes
  • analysis of outputs from the webinars and one-to-one conversations
  • review of labour market insights. This includes legal changes affecting the occupations covered in the route

Recommendation and approval phase:

  • creating route themes, principles and characteristics
  • developing high-level commitments for IfATE. These will support growth and quality of SMP apprenticeships and technical qualifications
  • gathering route panel and trailblazer insight on themes, principles, characteristics and commitments

Implementation phase (ongoing):

  • working with trailblazers and the route panel to prioritise occupational standards for revision, this includes implementing any principles and characteristics that we outline below
  • working with key stakeholders and the route panel to deliver a set of commitments, we outline these below


5. Challenges and oppourtunities for the sectors

Diverse digital impact

Changing technology has an impact across the SMP route. Reaching digital-by-default means both consumers and businesses must change.

For example, in sales, activities are driven by data. This means the salespeople of the future must be able to engage with a range of digital systems. From automation to cover repetitive tasks, to big data. Marketers are already using digital applications to deliver campaigns. They are applying digital platforms to manage content and AI tools such as chatbots to speak to customers.

While creating these sits with digital experts, those working in the field still need the right technological skills. This is also impacting other occupations, such as customer services and procurement - for example, upcoming changes to the government Procurement Bill aim to help bring digital skills into procurement.

Our latest Digital Framework helps trailblazers to embed digital content. All new and revised standards will include content on digital literacy. This will include knowledge, skills, and behaviours when appropriate.

With hybrid working more common, employers and providers need to be even more agile. More customer service roles are being done from home, and there is a drive for apprentices to be assessed remotely. IfATE regularly revises apprenticeships, giving us a chance to make changes. This is an opportunity to reflect on how assessment reflects real-world practice.

IfATE’s innovation strategy also provides details on meeting employers’ future skills needs. The strategy explores how we can do this to reduce the risk of skills gaps and shortages. Along with our EDI strategy and digital frameworks, it will form an integral part of our work with employers.



Changes in occupational scope are leading to a greater demand for professionalisation.

We heard from sales stakeholders about the need to professionalise selling at scale. Employers want Business-to-Business (B2B) Sales employees to receive better quality training.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Professional Sales has recommended promoting B2B sales careers across the UK. IfATE has recently approved several relevant apprenticeships. These include Level 4 Sales Executive and Level 6 B2B Sales Professional. Ongoing work with employers will build understanding about these standards' purpose and scope.

Selling to other business calls for professionals who can prepare those sales. To accommodate this, the sales profession is expanding to include sales enablement. Key sales enablement tasks include training, quality assurance and analytical functions to help improve performance. Some businesses are starting to recruit for sales enablement. We will keep working with the sector to understand the impact of this. And we will work to update occupational standards where it is appropriate.

There are also new rules in housing and property management and estate agency. Housing managers now need Level 4 housing management qualifications. The Regulation of Property Agents Working Group recommends qualifications for licensed estate agents. We want the Level 2 Junior Estate Agent to meet industry standards. This will include reflecting on whether it is the appropriate level. We will work with employers to bring it up to date. And to improve the sector's post-16 qualification offer, where possible.

Effective customer service is key. Employee behaviours and competence are important for companies’ customer satisfaction. But the July 2023 UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) is at its lowest since 2015. This means that businesses need to work harder to engage new and existing customers. We know that Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is key to doing this. We also learned that sales knowledge and skills would benefit customer service occupations. Customer care is important in housing and property management too. The April 2023 Tenant Satisfaction Measures Standard report focused on tenants' needs, showing the importance of customer care in housing and property management.

We have two customer service occupational standards. These are Customer Service Practitioner (Level 2) and Customer Service Specialist (Level 3). These popular apprenticeships are an excellent opportunity to improve customer service professionalism. Effective customer service is a key foundation of occupational competence. We will work with employers to understand the needs of customer service professionals. We will embed customer service knowledge and skills in SMP occupational standards. Particularly those within customer service and sales and retail pathways.



“By improving existing standards and practices, and by being accountable for their actions, businesses can get closer to achieving a more sustainable future, which is what customers, investors, and the world in general needs. Beyond this, the early movers will begin to reap the benefits of a sustainable approach to business: improved operations, enriched risk management, strengthened stakeholder relationships, costs savings, value creation, and improved market positioning.”

Aichbauer, Buchhauser et al., Responsible procurement: Leading the way to a sustainable tomorrow (Cham: Springer Nature; Springer International Publishing, 2022) p.15.

Through investing in skills, the UK's Net Zero strategy aims to support a green economy. Customers want sustainable products and services, and they want to know that the businesses they use are working for the good of the environment. Apprenticeships and technical education need to work in line with sustainability goals.

In sales and retail, employers are working to meet net zero commitments. Renewable products and services are becoming more popular. Salespeople need skills in articulating sustainability benefits of their products and services. Sustainable procurement is vital for companies keeping waste out of their supply chains. We heard from procurement stakeholders that their standards need revision to include content on sustainability, social value, and governance. One stakeholder was clear: “we can easily destroy a community if we do something wrong and so we need to understand long-term commitments.” 

Customers want green products, sold in a transparent, ethical way. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has just published their 2023 Sustainability Marketing Skills Gap report:

“If the marketing profession is to deliver meaningful and tangible change at scale, then as an industry, we must do more to address the sustainability skills gap and ensure that marketers are equipped with the skills they need to work confidently on environmental campaigns which can encourage others, and drive the positive behavioural changes needed within society.”

- Chris Daly, CIM Chief Executive

40% of marketers lack the skills needed to meet increasing sustainability demands. Building these skills into standards will help their businesses meet statutory requirements, like the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) Green Claims Code.IfATE has a green apprenticeships and technical education advisory panel (GATE-AP). They list the apprenticeships that support the green economy.

Currently 5 of these are in the SMP route (see Annex). We are working with employers to ensure these standards include relevant green skills. Trailblazer groups can use IfATE’s Sustainability Framework. This will help when developing or revising apprenticeships.

We will work with trailblazers to ensure occupational standards are fit for purpose. And that they include relevant sustainability and social governance knowledge, skills and behaviours. 


6. Apprenticeship themes

“I have been immensely fortunate to follow [my apprenticeship] programme, and I feel much more equipped than some of my peers who just went to university. For business roles, I believe the degree apprenticeship has a much better chance at developing people than traditional study. This is evidenced as many of my peers now outrank, due to skill, many graduates, even those who may have had better A Levels, and may have attended prestigious universities. I believe my experience with my programme has really given me a head start.”

- Level 6 B2B Sales Professional Apprentice, Online Consultation


Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

“People who start their careers on an apprenticeship scheme are likely to stay longer[.] [And to] gain invaluable knowledge of different aspects of the organisation as they progress.”

The Social Mobility Toolkit, 2021

69% of consultants believe apprenticeships help people from diverse backgrounds enter their sector. This reflects data on apprenticeship take-up and completion. Achievements have increased for learners from ethnic minority groups since 2017/2018. This is also true for learners with learning difficulties or disabilities. 

Apprenticeships can support businesses to do more. 80% of 2021/2022 starts on our L2 Butcher were male. The Institute of Meat and Worshipful Company of Butchers shows progress is happening. Female apprentices won seven of this year's prizegiving’s ten awards - a significant achievement for the occupation.

In public relations, 90% of UK practitioners are white and 1 in 4 have a private education - this is “around four times higher than the UK national average.” The Chartered Institute of Public Relations is working with professionals to change this. Its recent EDI strategy outlines their approach to improving diversity.

Stakeholders told us that English and maths requirements for apprentices can be restrictive. This chimes with the Social Mobility Commission’s 2020 research, which noted that this could penalise disadvantaged learners. Disadvantaged learners are more likely to undertake apprenticeships at lower levels. 48% of their starts in 2017/2018 were at intermediate level. This is in comparison with 41.4% for those from non-disadvantaged backgrounds.

We outline our commitment to inclusion in our EDI toolkit. Diverse representation on trailblazer groups is vital, so we need to work with relevant sector bodies and maintain ongoing review. This should enable more diverse groups to access sales, marketing, and procurement professions.


Promoting the diverse range of opportunities

Visibility and clarity are key. Stakeholders told us that when it is hard to find out what apprenticeships are available, it is a barrier to access. They also felt the benefits of apprenticeships in SMP should be clearer for young people. This particularly resonates with sales and procurement stakeholders. Sales employers feel that promoting sales careers is particularly important:

“Encouraging more young people to retrain in B2B selling will speed economic recovery and job creation. […] The government should use its influence to promote awareness of and respect for B2B selling, and to stimulate demand for sales learning.” 

Supercharging Sales: Report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group 
for Professional Sales, March 2021 

The diverse occupations represented in this route have all evolved. We will update occupational standards to show the current scope of occupations. For example, to reflect that remote working is now a possibility for more occupations. Employers believe this would help a greater range of people to get into these popular occupations.

Funding to deliver high-quality apprenticeships

Most respondents were content with funding for apprenticeship delivery in SMP occupations. However, 22% described apprenticeship funding bands as a barrier to access. 

After approval, it is sometimes necessary to revise or amend standards and EPAs. Some of these changes may mean we need to recommend a new funding band. These new recommendations can be lower, higher or the same as the current funding band. For example, a March 2023 review increased the Level 2 Retailer standard (ST0327) funding band from £4,000 to £5,000. Trailblazers give evidence to support the recommendation. For more information on how funding bands are set, please visit this page.

Trailblazers are currently updating apprenticeships. This will include funding band reviews. 


Enabling completions

The need for robust, relevant end-point assessment

Some stakeholders believe we need to update end-point assessment (EPA). They want it to reflect the range and variety of apprentice workplaces that exist. For example, customer service roles exist in surgeries, prisons and large call centres. Because the scope of roles is changing, sales and customer service employers also want more options for remote assessment. Stakeholders also highlighted the length and demands of some assessments. Trailblazers will consider these factors when they develop and revise end-point assessment.
We also encourage employers and training providers to collaborate on training delivery planning. We will engage more with employers and their providers. Bringing them together will help share assessment delivery best practice.


Around 25% of respondents say that apprentices withdraw before completing. Stakeholders shared some reasons behind this:

  • apprentices’ circumstances and motivations can change
  • organisations promote their apprentices. This can mean that the apprenticeship is no longer important to that learner

Achieving professional qualifications before gateway can also be a factor. Professional qualifications are necessary for practice in some occupations. Particularly in procurement. But mandating qualifications isn't always needed in other occupations. Trailblazers agreed including mandated qualifications wouldn't benefit the new multi-channel marketer apprenticeship.

Our new mandatory qualifications policy sets out how we will integrate qualifications within end-point assessment. This will reduce duplicated assessment and improve apprentice experience.

We learned from employers and providers that withdrawals are complex. We want to continue to explore these so we can understand them better. We will continue to work with DfE and stakeholders to do so.


7. Principles and charateristics

What are principles and characteristics?

Principles and characteristics give employer groups high-level advice. They help them develop and revise occupational standards and EPAs. We have developed them from route review insights and analysis.

Trailblazers should consider these principles and characteristics and embed them in standards and EPAs when relevant.
We don’t expect every principle or characteristic to be relevant to every standard. We want trailblazers to use their discretion and prioritise occupational competence. Officials and the Route Panel will review how groups incorporate these.

Principles and characteristics

Factors to consider

More information to support trailblazers

Core and technical digital competence, including effective data handling skills.

Level, scope, and application of the occupations. For example, some may include only core digital literacy, using technology to innovate. Others may include cloud computing as well as technical data analysis and management.

Regulatory, legislative, and ethical requirements for consumer data and asset protection.

IfATE Digital Framework

IfATE Innovation Strategy

The Data Protection Act

Core and technical sustainability knowledge and skills

Essential sustainability skills.

Occupations likely to need technical knowledge about products and services.

Occupations that contribute to achieving green outcomes. In particular, those listed in the Annex.

IfATE Sustainability Framework

EU Green Taxonomy

CMA Green Claims Code


Professional skills

Core professional skills for everyone, in particular to deliver effective hybrid working.

How professional skills may evolve from level 2 to level 7 occupations.

Core customer service knowledge and skills in all current and future SMP standards.

Skills Builder Universal Framework


Current regulation and legislation impacting occupations/sectors

Alignment with legislative requirements. For example, those impacting the level or content of an occupation.


Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Representation on Trailblazer groups. Consider businesses represented and consulted. Their size, geography, sector.

Diversity of membership and steps to improve varied insight.

Use of language. To ensure that all potential users can interact with occupational standards. As far as possible, trailblazers should ensure language is simple.

IfATE Equity, diversity and inclusion strategy and toolkit

Integration of qualifications which are essential for occupational competence, where possible.

The value of the qualification for entry and practice in the relevant occupation(s).

Early engagement with key professional bodies.

Mandated Qualifications Information and Evidence Requirements

EPA Integration in Regulated Apprenticeship Standards

Degree apprenticeships policy

Relevance of assessment methods chosen

Level, scope, context, and application of the occupation. Does the Flexibilities Framework allow using remote assessment of some knowledge and skills? This could better reflect occupational practice.

IfATE Guidance on Assessment methods

Flexibility framework / Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education


8. Occupational maps

Occupational placement

Stakeholders discussed where standards sit on the Occupational Map. For example, Butchering and Fishmonger occupations are useful in Catering and Hospitality and those for housing and property management can serve Business and Administration. Feedback suggests the following occupational standards may be best suited to other routes:

  • level 3 Housing and property management ST0234
  • level 2 Housing and property management assistant ST0235
  • level 4 Senior housing and property management ST0236
  • level 2 Butcher ST0078
  • level 3 Advanced Butcher ST0077
  • level 2 Fishmonger ST0194

Occupational map placement is the result of analysing knowledge, skills, and behaviours (KSBs). We group occupations with similar KSBs. We will be revising the standards listed above. When we do, we will review their route placement with the trailblazer groups and route panel.


Providing clear progression opportunities

Stakeholders believe that technical education needs to make progression opportunities as clear and accessible as possible. For example, to show progression across routes. 

We have recently updated our Occupational Maps to provide more clarity on progression. This will make relationships between different qualifications and occupations in England more accessible. They show progression opportunities within and across the fifteen technical education routes. We test these with employers and will update them with regularity.


9. Summary of our commitments

IfATE supports employers to develop and maintain occupational standards. Our commitments will help stakeholders rise to challenges and seize upcoming opportunities. IfATE commits to helping them succeed.

Commitment 1: Convene or rebuild trailblazer groups to revise occupational standards and apprenticeships in SMP.

Occupations in the route are evolving. We want them to meet changes in business and government ambitions. We will embed these changes into our occupational standards and products.

To do this we will:

  • build representative trailblazer groups to revise our approved occupational standards and apprenticeships
  • continue to invite stakeholder views. We will do this through regular public consultations on occupational standards in revision
  • create regular opportunities to bring stakeholders together to feed back on products in delivery

For more information about employer groups please e-mail us.

Commitment 2: Update occupational standards to meet current sector needs. This will provide a quality basis for all apprenticeships and technical education.

IfATE approved occupational standards in the SMP route as early as 2015. The route includes housing management occupational standards, which underpin key changes in recent government legislation.

We want to work to bring our products up to date over the next three years. We will:

  • review insight against data on the use of our products to prioritise revision work
  • work with trailblazers to create a plan for delivering revisions in the route
  • review the placement of occupational standards in section 8. This will ensure the most relevant route panel oversee them.

Commitment 3: Build clarity and coherency about occupations in the SMP route.

Stakeholder insight suggests IFATE can do more to support messaging around SMP training. This could be through professionalising Business to Business Sales or through growing diversity in Public Relations and Butchery. We will work more to raise awareness about the range of opportunities. We commit to:

  • working with our employer stakeholders and partners to promote the variety of options
  • working with trailblazers to clarify the purpose and value of occupations
  • supporting our employer groups to promote apprenticeships
  • using opportunities such as National Apprenticeship Week to showcase excellence in SMP training
  • maintaining up-to-date progression maps for each occupation. This will show how these interact with other occupations within and across the fifteen routes


10. Implementing recommendations and next steps

We will continue to engage with the sector to deliver for employers and hugely value the employers who engage with IfATE. Their ongoing work gives us confidence occupational standards will meet future needs.

Our product managers will work with trailblazers to update occupational standards and apprenticeships. We will prioritise building trailblazer groups, so we can revise occupational standards and apprenticeships in SMP. We commit to achieving this by 2025. We will carry on delivering our commitments for collaboration, quality, and transparency.

All changes will be subject to IfATE’s approvals process.


11. Annex: list of green apprenticeships in sales, marketing and procurement route

  • level 2 Housing and property management assistant ST0235
  • level 3 Housing and property management ST0234
  • level 3 Bid and proposal coordinator ST0056
  • level 3 Procurement and supply assistant ST0810
  • level 4 Senior housing and property management ST0236


Published 16 November 2023
Last updated 17 November 2023
(OW, NS)