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Tuesday, 2 October 2023

Vocational qualifications

Vocational qualifications (VQs) are work-related qualifications. They’re designed to allow you to learn in a way that suits you, and give you the skills that employers are looking for. There are lots to choose from, in a wide range of subjects. Find out how these flexible qualifications work.

How vocational qualifications can help you

Vocational qualifications can help you:

  • get the skills you need to start a job
  • progress in your career
  • go on to to further learning

Vocational qualification levels

Vocational qualifications are grouped together in different levels on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF). The level shows how difficult each qualification is – from entry level right up to level 8.

Vocational qualification levels can be compared to other qualifications. Entry level qualifications build confidence and help people prepare for further learning and work. Level 2 qualifications are the equivalent level of grades A* to C at GCSE and level 3 qualifications are the equivalent level to A levels.

The title of a vocational qualification tells you:

  • the qualification level - from entry level to Level 8
  • the size of the qualification - an award, certificate or diploma
  • the subject you’re studying - such as sport and active leisure

Qualifications you could gain include:

  • Level 1 Award in Retail Skills
  • Level 4 Diploma in Accounting
  • Level 3 Certificate in Photography

The size of the qualification

Vocational qualifications are made up of units of study. You can study units at your own pace. These can then build into qualifications that are right for you.

Each unit has a credit value that tells you roughly how long it takes to complete – one credit represents about 10 hours’ work.

Every QCF qualification is made up of a number of credits:

  • Awards are 1 to 12 credits (10 and 120 hours’ learning)
  • Certificates are 13 to 36 credits (130 to 360 hours’ learning)
  • Diplomas are 37 credits (370 or more hours’ learning)

So if you are doing a Level 1 Certificate in sport and active leisure you may choose a unit on how the body works, which has a credit value of four. This would take you around 40 hours to complete.

The subject you’re studying

Vocational qualifications are available in a wide range of subjects which relate to different jobs and industries, such as:

• health and social care
• retail and distribution
• hair and beauty
• business and management
• food, catering and leisure services
• construction and property

Find the right vocational qualification for you

Choosing what to study

A qualification is made up of a number of units which you need to complete. You can usually choose some units but others will be compulsory. This will give you the chance to build a qualification that suits your personal circumstances, interests and skills.

Making previous study count

If the qualification you want to study includes units you’ve already completed for another qualification, you can transfer the credit you’ve gained to your new qualification. You don’t have to take these units again.

Combining learning from different places

Units are portable and are available from a wide range of learning providers including employers, across England, Northern Ireland and Wales. You can combine units from training at work and units from training at college to gain a qualification. You can also complete a unit in one part of the UK, and then combine it with other units taken elsewhere in the UK.

Existing vocational qualifications

Vocational qualifications include names you may already be familiar with, such as:

  • NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications)
  • HNCs (Higher National Certificates) and HNDs (Higher National Diplomas)

The names of vocational qualifications may indicate who awards the qualification, for example BTECs from Edexcel, City and Guilds and OCR Nationals. There are lots of other organisations which award qualifications - see 'Organisations awarding qualifications'.

Qualifications help and advice

Advice for young people

For advice on learning and qualifications for 13 to 19 year olds, contact the National Careers Service.

  • Call an adviser on 0800 100 900

The 'It's your choice: options after 16' section has information about options after Year 11.

Advice for adult learners

Get advice about qualifications for adult learners from the National Careers Service.

  • Call National Careers Service on 0800 100 900

Other sources of advice

You can also get advice from your school, college, employer or careers adviser.

Additional links

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