Are you already working and want a qualification? Or are you looking to improve your skills to move onto the next professional level? NVQs could be the thing for you.

Girl holding scissors and comb for hairdressing

From a hairdresser, to a chef, to a travel agent - you can get NVQs in loads of professions.

What does NVQ mean?

NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualifications and can be taken at five levels. You can take them in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and reflect the recognition of real skills in real jobs. In Scotland they’re called SVQs.

How do they work?

NVQs are based on standards, or ‘competencies’, that have been agreed by professionals in their respective occupations, e.g. catering or business management. They are built up through units and assessed through practical work and a portfolio you will develop with an assessor over time.

Who can do an NVQ?

Anyone who’s employed, studying at college, has a part-time job, or access to a work placement. Occasionally, you can do them if you’re at school.

Where can you do them?

Most NVQs are offered through the workplace, as this helps with assessment of the practical elements. It’s also possible to do an NVQ at college or school, but you’ll need to find an opportunity to demonstrate the practical element, or relate it to past experiences.

Do I have to pay to do an NVQ?

Often, your workplace will pay for you as part of their staff development. But if you are liable for fees, make sure you access all the funding that is available to you.

What kind of subjects can I do?

NVQs are available in a huge range of areas – there are over 1300 to choose from. The majority fall into these areas:

  • Business and management
  • Sales, marketing and distribution
  • Healthcare
  • Food, catering and leisure services
  • Construction and property
  • Manufacturing, production and engineering

How are they assessed?

You’ll be assigned an assessor who will guide you through the process from beginning to end. They will help identify which skills you already have, and which you need to work on. They will also help you to demonstrate your work, which is a crucial part of the assessment. There are no grades, but the assessor will ‘sign off’ units when you have reached the required standard, and then you are deemed either ‘competent’ or ‘not yet competent’.

How long will it take?

There is no set time for doing an NVQ, but the average time is about one year to complete an NVQ at level 1 and 2, and around two years for an NVQ at level 3.

Do I really need to do an NVQ if I can already do the job?

Sometimes parts of the NVQ can seem tedious, like giving detailed descriptions of a task which is second nature to you. This can be frustrating, but for many jobs an NVQ is becoming a requirement and, more importantly, it also means that you can get paid more than someone else doing the same job without the qualification. It also gives you an advantage over other people if there is a chance for promotion or moving to a higher-qualified job.

Where will it lead me?

As well as the financial and job prospect advantages, doing an NVQ can lead to further NVQ training. If you reach a level 3 you could also go on to study in higher education in areas such as:

  • Higher National Certificate
  • Higher National Diploma
  • Foundation Degree
  • Other vocational specialisms

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015