In our previous post, we suggested that the upcoming review of IfATE’s occupational maps might also be a good time to review their purpose, audience and terms of reference and rework them into the form of skills frameworks, such as those used in other countries like Singapore.
As always, the devil will be in the detail – in this case, the detail embedded in the Trailblazer apprenticeship standards. To illustrate the work that may be entailed, let us consider an example. In the current IfATE Engineering and Manufacturing map, for instance, we have an occupational cluster called Quality Improvement and Project Control Technician. The description of this cluster on the current map is: Maintain and improve product and process integrity and quality, production and process efficiency, and the overall health and safety of the working environment.
When we look at the ‘occupations’ in this cluster – actually, the Trailblazer standards that are included – we see the Engineering Technician (3) standard with its three main ‘sector’ options, Aerospace & Aviation; Maritime Defence; and Sector Wide Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering (see below).
IfATE Engineering and Manufacturing Occupational Map, showing Occupational ‘Clusters’ (replicated from IfATE map, Aug 19)
However, when we examine the standard itself, we find that within the three main options, we find 13 sub-options:
- Aerospace and Aviation
- Aerospace Manufacturing Fitter
- Aerospace Manufacturing Electrical/Mechanical and Systems Fitter
- Aircraft Maintenance Fitter/ Technician (Fixed and Rotary Wing)
- Airworthiness, Planning, Quality and Safety Technician
- Maritime Defence
- Maritime Electrical Fitter
- Maritime Mechanical Fitter
- Maritime Fabricator
- Maritime Pipeworker
- Sector Wide
- Machinist – Advanced Manufacturing Engineering
- Mechatronics Maintenance Technician
- Product Design and Development Technician
- Toolmaker and Tool and Die Maintenance Technician
- Technical Support Technician
Intuitively, it feels that some – if not most – of these sub-options are misplaced. In fact, one wonders why some of the options for fitters are not simply merged with another standard – Engineering Fitter (3) – which appears elsewhere in the map in the Manufacturing and Process Operative/Technician cluster.
When we look at this through an O*NET lens, some other, potentially significant, differences emerge.
(Note that for this part of the analysis we have mapped each of the sub-options in the Engineering Technician (3) standard to O*NET occupations and then we examine O*NET elements – like skills and abilities – using the Revealed Comparative Advantage method described in our previous post).
First, we see a distinct split between those options which rely more on physical, psychomotor and sensory abilities than on cognitive abilities…
…which tends to tally with the options that rely more on technical skills than, say, system and problem-solving skills…
…and when we look at the particular mix of complementary elements that indicate occupations with requirements for innovation-related skills (as we described in this previous post), then we find in particular that the Product Design and Development Technician and Technical Support Technician options in particular score higher than the rest…
Again intuitively, one can understand why these two options score higher on innovation-related skills. An examination of the standard itself tends to support this observation. The role profile for Product Design and Development Technician states that ‘[typically] they work closely with engineers in bring new concepts to life or supporting redesigns of existing products’, while the role profile for Technical Support Technician states that they ‘…work as part of a team to provide technical support and expertise for all areas of the Engineering and Manufacturing function including…product development and innovation’.
So, what does this tell us about the current IfATE occupational maps and their potential for becoming skills frameworks, suitable for wider uses than those for which they were originally intended (i.e. to inform T Level development)?
In our opinion, to make that conversion would mean a comprehensive stripping-down of the current maps from being placeholders for Trailblazer (apprenticeship) standards to representing full occupations, such as shown as the options within many of the standards. Then those ‘target’ occupations would need to be represented as sets of skills and competences and re-clustered accordingly.
This represents a good deal of rework – perhaps more than IfATE is willing to apportion at the present time. The good news, though, is that mapping the current standards and options to O*NET occupations – work that has already been done – gives access to a rich database of skills and competences for each occupational cluster that informs the process of transitioning to a skills framework of the type used in, say, Singapore.
We’ll look at this process a little closer in the next post.
 In fact, in the first full release of the map, only the Airworthiness, Planning, Quality and Safety Technician option was included in this occupational cluster.
 Perhaps this is because the developers of the Engineering Technician (3) standard (BAE Systems et al.) are different from the Engineering Fitter (3) standard (Rolls Royce et al).