National Occupational Standards

Introduction and history

The only qualification previously available to technical communicators was the City and Guilds 5360, an academic qualification following the traditional method of classroom instruction and formal examinations. It was therefore not possible to demonstrate the competence of people who did exactly the same job, but who did not hold the formal academic qualification.

The desire to produce these Standards commenced in February 1996, when a small number of like-minded individuals foresaw the need to have a work-based qualification for their staff/colleagues. They instigated a meeting, consisting of representatives from industry, NVQ authorities and providers, consultants, and the Government. This resulted in funding being provided to conduct a nation-wide functional and occupational mapping of the discipline. This mapping exercise proved that a very large number of people are either full- or part-time technical communicators. This evidence persuaded the Government to provide further funding, to allow development of these standards.

Since then, a considerable amount of progress has been made towards achieving NVQs for Technical Communicators. This progress was made possible through the combined and concerted efforts of many people, from a wide spread of companies and therefore with diverse backgrounds. The driving force was a Steering Group of around ten people, consisting of practitioners (five of whom are ISTC members), the consultants (Leigh & Baron) and the Lead Body (The Publishing Centre at Book House, Wandsworth).

The Steering Group planned a series of workshops, involving up to another 20 practitioners, drawn from a list of volunteers. The workshops contained both plenary and group sessions, which steadily developed and refined the Standards. Between these workshops, the consultants rewrote the document containing the Standards, to keep it in line with the workshop findings.

Following the workshops, the Standards were distributed to a number of independent reviewers, who were, similar to the workshop individuals, both practitioners and volunteers. The comments from these reviewers were passed back to Steering Group for consideration and action.

Following further Government funding, the next stage was to set-up field trials, in order to prove the efficacy of the Standards in real working conditions, and to see if assessment procedures for the workplace environment met the Standards. This required various individuals to act as workplace-based Assessors and/or Internal Verifiers, and companies willing to act as Assessment Centres. In all, 18 companies took part in the Pilot and each Unit was tested in at least one workplace environment. The resulting feedback was used to produce further refinement to the Standards. The resulting document contains the National Occupational Standards for Technical Communicators as they are today.

The ISTC intends to achieve joint Awarding Body status in partnership with the City and Guilds Institute (C&G), the Engineering and Marine Training Authority (EMTA) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), and to remain at the forefront of using these standards to developing higher level qualifications.

Gordon Farrington FISTC
Gerry Gentle FISTC


The original meeting in 1996, convened by Gordon Farrington of BAe Filton, drew upon the knowledge and expertise of a wide range of individuals from the engineering industry, Lead Bodies (as were) and NTOs, professional Institutions and the Engineering Council, academia, and others. To all of their employers must go thanks for allowing the staff concerned to take the time to participate and give freely of their expert views and opinions: to the individuals must go equal thanks for their active participation in the project.

The Publishing Training Centre who were the Standard Setting Body for the project and their representative Rosie Thorn whose diligence and enthusiasm kept the project on course.

Special gratitude is due, and is readily expressed, to the Department for Education and Employment for its support, including substantial funding to allow the work to be done.

The Steering Committee provided invaluable guidance and advice.

Steering Committee Members:

  • Ms Denise Burns – Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • Ms Rosemary Egan – ICL and ISTC member
  • Mr Gordon Farrington – British Aerospace Airbus Ltd and ISTC member
  • Mr Tim Feest- Occupational Standards Council for Engineering (OSCEng)
  • Mr Gerry Gentle – Author Services Technical (AST) and ISTC member
  • Mr Peter Greenfield- Abbey National and ISTC member
  • Mr Tony Hall – General Domestic Appliances
  • Ms Anke Harris OBE – Mapline Engineering and ISTC member
  • Mr Mark Novels – Qualifications & Curriculum Authority (QCA) Observer

Finally, thanks must be given to the consultants from Alan Leigh and Anne-Marie Barron (Leigh & Barron Consulting Ltd), for producing this Accredited Version of the Standards in a structure and language that took full advantage of the revised criteria of the Accrediting Authorities for the presentation of Standards; and which addressed the need to provide Standards that are more generic, and therefore more widely applicable across the engineering sector. Their consideration achievements are gratefully acknowledged.

Standards Working Group

  • Mr Mark Ambridge – Westinghouse Signals Ltd
  • Dr Anne-Marie Barron – Leigh & Barron Consulting Ltd
  • Mr Malcolm Beaumont – MPB Computing Ltd and ISTC
  • Mr Ken Behan – On-Line Consultants
  • Mr L P Best – Avitel Electronics Ltd and ISTC
  • Mr Brian Cann – Thomson Marconi Sonar
  • Mr Trevor Davies – Lucus/Varity Perkins and ISTC
  • Mr Brian Defty – Pilatus Britten-Norman and ISTC
  • Mr G D Devlin – Devlin Glozing Ltd and ISTC
  • Mr Mark Dyer – British Aerospace Airbus Ltd
  • Ms Rosemary Egan – ICL (TRAX) and ISTC
  • Mr Richard Ellis – EDS – Unigraphics
  • Mr Gordon Farrington – British Aerospace Airbus Ltd and ISTC
  • Mr Tim Feest – Occupational Standards Council for Engineering
  • Mr Dave Gale – British Aerospace Airbus Ltd
  • Mr Gerry Gentle – Author Services Technical and ISTC
  • Mr Kenneth Goddard – Independent and ISTC
  • Mr Tony Hall – Hotpoint Creda Cannon Service
  • Mr John Houghton – Westinghouse Signals Ltd
  • Dr Alan Leigh – Leigh & Barron Consulting Ltd
  • Mr Gerry Martin – EMTA
  • Mrs Lynn McBearty – Abbey National PLC and ISTC
  • Mr Steve Rendle – Haynes Publishing and ISTC
  • Mr S P Richardson – Hotpoint Ltd
  • Mr John Seaman – Europe UK Communications Ltd and ISTC

Participants in the field trials for the Technical Communicators’ Standards




Paul Baber
Eddie Harrod
Amanda Rawlinson

Marconi Communications (Coventry)


Dave Carey

Marconi Communications

Brian Cann
Gregory Osborne
David Simpson
Terry Johnson

Thomson Marconi Sonar


Peter Greenfield
Ian O’Brien
Katie Darvill
Barbara Bannister
Lynn Haverty
Sue Douglas-Green
Christine Lawrence
Keri Leale
Christopher Virgo

Abbey National


Ian Thompson
David Warner
Colin Macausland
Alan Bird
Gordon Wilkie

Rolls Royce PLC


Andy McNally

Short Bros NI

Arther McArther
Mick Dobbins

Off Shore Design Aberdeen

Jim Follen

GEC Marconi Avionics Edinburgh

John Seaman
Graham Beeston

Europe-UK Communications


Norman Clifton
David Chafer
Mike Jepp
Gerald Ramsell
Bryn Rhodes
Dave Riley

GKN Westland Helicopters Ltd


Dr Ing. Prof. Bill Hampson

Rolls Royce/Clarke


Jonathon Walton

Chapman Marine


John Houghton
Mark Ambridge
Richard Wood
Chris Phillips

Westinghouse Signals


Marian Newell



Malcolm Beaumont



Gerry Gentle
Brian Gillett
Colin Battson



Rosemary Egan
Adrian Quinnell



Peter Watts
(John Harris – Training)

GEC Marconi Electro Optics Ltd

Gordon Farrington
Christopher Carter
John Gooding
Christopher Coupe
David Gale

British Aerospace Airbus


Steve Richardson
John Beaumont
Russell Hall




  • Mark Novells QCA
  • Ms Jackie Forsyth DfEE
  • Ms Sharon McGuigan SQA
  • Ms Denise Burns SQA

Structure and Content of the Occupational Standards

The Occupational Standards are presented in two parts: The Keyword Glossary and the Units of Competence.

By design, the standards do not offer detailed suggestions for assessment which would relate to the use of Occupational Standards for design and delivery of qualifications. These Occupational Standards can therefore form the central core of a complete Standards Implementation Model that involves qualifications but also continuous professional development, education and training provision, appraisal and the myriad other applications that exist.

Key Word Glossary

The Key Word Glossary provides a definition of the Key Word (or, in some instances, a Key Phrase); and a list of the Units in which the Key Word/Phrase appears.

Units of Competence

The Occupational Standards are presented as Units of Competence, each of which is self-contained but which relates directly to others in accordance with the functional analysis. Full advantage has been taken of the opportunities provided by the Accrediting Authorities to present Occupational Standards in a structure and language that overcomes some of the difficulties encountered by users (and identified in the Beaumont Report on NVQs and SVQs published in 1995).

The Units of Competence contain four main components:

  • A ‘Commentary‘ describing the competence required for that unit.
  • An ‘Assessment Guidance‘ to outline the evidence required to complete the unit and the acceptable Assessment Methods.
  • Key Words - The Key Words identified in the performance statements for each unit are defined in the separate Glossary.
  • Statements of ‘What you must be able to‘. Note that the number of these statements will vary according to the identified requirements for each Unit.
  • Identified areas of ‘Specific knowledge you need‘ to apply. These relate directly to the statements of ‘What you must be able to do’

Using Occupational Standards

Occupational Standards are standards of competence: descriptions of what needs to be achieved in a work activity. In this context, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has defined competence as ‘The ability to perform the standards required in employment across a range of circumstances and to meet changing needs’.

Whilst National Occupational Standards have been used primarily in the development of National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications, NVQs and SVQs, it was always recognised that Standards can be used for a wide variety of other purposes, and OSCEng is committed to promoting these applications. The following offers an introduction to some of the more important uses for Standards: acknowledgements are due to the detailed guide to using Standards in the book Towards a Competent Workforce by Bob Mansfield and Lindsay Mitchell, published in the UK by Gower.

1.   Recruitment and Personnel Selection

  • Preparing recruitment specifications and job advertisements
  • Identifying components of jobs: present and future
  • Interview checklists

2.   Job design and evaluation

  • Producing the job specification and description
  • Monitoring roles and responsibilities
  • Establishing criteria for payment and reward systems

3.   Training and development programmes

  • Identifying and specifying organisational needs
  • Recognising individual achievements
  • Identifying training and development needs: Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
  • Strategic planning of organisational requirements

4.   Development of education and training programmes

  • Curriculum design and development
  • Relating skills-based learning to workplace requirements
  • Developing specific learning objectives
  • Developing the knowledge content for educational and training courses
  • Design of qualifications

5.   Career guidance and development

  • Auditing skills acquired and needed
  • Recognition of competences achieved
  • Identifying career progression opportunities

6.   Professional requirements

Linking Standards to the requirements of the professional Institutions (for example, SARTOR)

Review and Revision

The Publishing Training Centre in its role as custodian of the Occupational Standards, and the ISTC welcomes comments and suggestions for improvements and additions. Please contact:

45 East Hill
London SW18 2QZ

Tel: 0208 874 2718

Fax: 0208 870 8985

Email publishing

Alternatively, contact the ISTC.

© Crown Copyright, 1999,
© Publishing Training Centre, 1999,
© ISTC, The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, 1999