• Fraser Harper

Occupational maps – a bright and productive future?

Occupational maps have become a part of the UK’s skills and qualification infrastructure and are well used by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE1). To date, the maps have been focused on the development of the new Technical (T) levels2 and the management of the apprenticeship standards across the 15 routes3 identified in the Sainsbury Report4.

Questions arising now the occupational maps have been established and widely accepted as being very useful, are: how can they be developed further; where can they be applied; and what other forms of occupational maps should be considered?

Occupational maps are well established for looking at careers and clusters of careers, and also to show clusters of occupations in specific locations5. typically, occupations with similar or shared sets of skills, knowledge, and behaviours are identified as occupational ‘clusters’, which are in turn linked to other clusters based on the degrees of proximity of the skill sets. Reinforcing these nascent occupational maps have been professional bodies, standards and qualification organisations, and sector skills agencies. More recently, regional structures such as in London, Manchester and Sheffield, have sought to manage occupational maps and pathways specific to their cities.

Professional bodies tend to ‘own’ an occupation and usually operate some form of licencing system to ensure both professional and technical standards are maintained6. In the UK, these professional bodies and the shadow they cast over related occupations affect around one third of the total workforce. Standards and qualification organisations usually seek to work with employers and employer bodies to define occupational standards and related work-based standards – for example, through apprenticeships – while sector bodies (the former sector skills councils7) seek to cut across both the professional and standards bodies to ensure their sector-specific needs are recognised and met.

The current IfATE occupational maps have a limited set of stakeholders, consisting mainly of professional bodies, policy setters and, of course, IfATE itself.  Blue Mirror Insights believes the utility of the maps for the current stakeholders can be extended and could even be re-purposed for a wider audience, such as students, career starters and career movers.  For this to happen, the maps should:

  1. Be driven by a focus on occupations – and not qualifications or awards related to an occupation

  2. Be data-driven based on occupational content, empirical data on actual occupational moves, and employment8 – occupational and work content data must be used to derive occupation maps which can then be extended with related data, and such data must be up-to-date and reflect the current occupational work tasks, skills, knowledge etc.

  3. Differentiate between totally new occupations and hybrid and emerging ones – a challenge for all occupational information systems is to keep it up-to-date and clearly indicating where change is happening and so might require further exploration

  4. Respect natural work levels – there are only 5-7 natural work levels and these are usually reflected both in organisation structures and also qualification levels, and any occupational map will probably find that natural work levels can be group in around 4 in all ranging from basic, entry level occupations through to highly experienced professional ones

  5. Be reviewed and updated frequently to recognise the rate of change of both knowledge, technology and practices – maps should be reviewed annually and updated at least bi-annually and this way the all pervasive adoption of new skills coming from the application of digital and green technologies are captured

  6. Show the relationship between occupations and specific standards for both apprenticeships and national occupational standards – this introduces a series of levels to the maps where the core level is the occupation, and the next one might hold the relevant standards linked to the occupations

  7. Facilitate choice, future opportunities for personal development and progression and overall labour market flexibility (skills transferability) – often maps are shown as near, single and self-contained pathways with little cross-reference between two or more maps, it is important to be able to show on at least one layer of the map the cross-links and potential movements between individual occupations maps

  8. Reflect a formal sector focus, an overarching theme (e.g. like innovation, environment and sustainability, compliance/HSE, innovation, creativity etc.) and also to reflect geographic differences – having the occupational data held in a way and across a range of variables to allow occupational map re-configuration is a key feature to support emerging career pathways to be explored and to support economic and industrial strategy development

  9. Reflect outputs rather than be solely activity (skills and knowledge-based capabilities) – this is a complex requirement and in effect seeks to reconfigure a map based on similar outputs rather than similar (skills) inputs and this can reveal the depth of adaptability of a workforce

  10. Reflect not just occupation capabilities but also the potential of occupation holders – another layer of data in an occupational map is to take actual patterns of experience of occupation holders to map their future potential career moves within and across career clusters and pathways

It is reasonable to expect the more agile and creative job matching and advertising web-based businesses to take up some of these challenges along with the occupation data leaders like Burning Glass. The framework offered by occupational maps provides a productive way of capturing and portraying data and meets the needs of multiple stakeholders.


  1. Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education owns and updates the current occupational maps, and these can be accessed and downloaded from the Institute’s website. https://www.instituteforapprenticeships.org

  2. Technical Levels – these are the new technical qualifications equivalent to A levels with one T-Level being equivalent to 3 A levels and they were recommended in the Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education (2016) Chaired by David Sainsbury. Departments for Education, and Business and Innovation and Skills. 102 pages

  3. 15 routes were proposed in the Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education (2016) op. cit. Pages 34-35. And they are: agriculture, environmental, and animal care; business and administration; catering and hospitality; childcare and education; construction; creative and design; digital; engineering and manufacturing; hair and beauty; health and science; legal, finance and accounting; protective services; sales, marketing and procurement; social care; and transport and logistics.

  4. ibid.

  5. See: Career Clusters. Forecasting Demand for High School through College Jobs, 2008-2018. (2011) Researched and written by Georgetown University, NRC and CTE. 111 pages; and, Industrial Clusters in England (2017) Research Report No 4 by NIESR, Spaziodati and City Redi (University of Birmingham) for the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

  6. See: Forth, J et al (2011) A Review of Occupational Regulation and Its Impact. Evidence Report No 40. UKCES. 202 pages; and, Kleiner, M. M. and Krueger, A. B. (2011) Analysing the Extent and Influence of Occupational Licensing on the Labour Market. Discussion Paper No 5505, IZA Bonn. 45 pages.

  7. Sector Skills Councils replaced the 70 or so National Training Organisation in the early 2000s and had four main priorities: reduce skill gaps and shortages; improve productivity; increase opportunities for all individual in the workforce; and, improve learning supply

  8. When does an occupation come into existence? Does an occupation only exist once there is at least one occupation holder?

#Careerpathways #OccupationalMaps #Opinion

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