Vocational Qualifications

Vocational qualifications are practical qualifications that relate to a specific job or career sector.

Unlike more academic courses like A-levels, they combine a mix of theory and practical learning and you’ll probably do some work experience too.

There’s a huge range of different courses that you can do, and many types of qualifications you can get, from entry level to advanced. The length of the course depends on what level you study at.

Vocational qualifications are a good option if you have a clear idea of what type of career or trade you’d like to work in. They can help you to get the specific skills you need to get your first job or progress further in your career.

However, if you’re not sure yet what you want to do, you could find many (but not all) of the courses quite limiting.

You can take vocational qualifications from the age of 14 (although there are a lot more options from 16) alongside, instead of, or after, academic ones like GCSEs, A-levels or degrees.

There are literally hundreds of different vocational subjects that you can do. Here’s just a sample:

• Accounting
• Animal care
• Beauty therapy
• Business
• Customer service
• Construction
• Child development
• Electrical installation
• Engineering
• Environmental services
• Food technology
• Gas installation
• Hairdressing
• Health and social care
• Health and safety
• Heating and ventilation
• Hospitality
• IT
• Journalism
• Logistics
• Management
• Manufacturing
• Media and communications
• Plumbing
• Retail
• Warehousing

Entry requirements to these courses vary depending on the level you want to study at, and the qualification you’ll get at the end depends on the subject, where you are working (if you study on the job) and the organisation awarding it. Here are some examples:

  • BTEC
    Business and Technology Education Council qualifications (BTECs) have been around for over 30 years and are designed to give you the skills that businesses are looking for.
    You could go straight into work or onto further study with a BTEC. There are options at many levels, everything from levels below GCSE to levels that are equal to a degree.
  • NVQ
    National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are based on the national occupational standards for each career sector. National occupational standards are lists of skills and knowledge that employers say you need to be able to work in a certain sector.
    Usually you get the knowledge and skills you need for an NVQ by being trained while you are working, so they are good for people who want to combine working and learning. They are available from Level 1 (equivalent to one GCSE) to Level 8 (equivalent to a postgraduate degree level).
    They are usually studied part-time and can be taken as a stand-alone qualification or as part of an apprenticeship.
  • Diploma
    The aim of diplomas is to give students practical training and work experience while learning. That means you get out into the workplace more and there’s less classroom-based learning compared to A-levels.
    You can study for a diploma at four levels – foundation, higher (HND), progression and advanced. A foundation diploma is equivalent to five GCSEs at grades D to G and an advanced diploma is worth 3.5 A-levels.
March 18, 2021

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