Are you already working but still wanna get a qualification? Or are you looking to improve your knowledge and skills to start climbing that career ladder? If either of those answers is a yes then an NVQ meaning ‘National Vocational Qualification’, could be exactly what you’re looking for. The Mix explains.

Two young women are in a studio. They are doing NVQs. This is a close-up image.

What does NVQ stand for?

NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualifications.

What is NVQ?

NVQs, meaning National Vocational Qualifications, are a set of qualifications which can be taken at five levels. The lower levels are the equivalent of GCSEs and the higher levels are the equivalent of A level and higher education qualifications. You can take them in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

The reason they’re separate from GCSEs and A-levels is because they offer training in workplace knowledge and skills rather than academic subjects. We should also mention that they’re available in Scotland as well; the only difference is that they’re called SVQs. If you want to find out more, you can read about SVQ levels here

What’s the equivalent of each NVQ level?

It’s time for an NVQ breakdown. Whether you’re starting a level or about to complete one – this is info you need: 

  • The entry level NVQ is Level 1 which is equivalent to 3/4 GCSE grades 1-3 or D-G
  • Level 2 NVQ is equivalent to 4-5 GCSE grades 4-9 or A*-C
  • NVQ Level 3 is equivalent to 2 A Levels
  • The NVQ Level 4 is equivalent to a Higher Education Certificate or BTEC
  • NVQ Level 5 is equivalent to a Higher Education Diploma or a Foundation Degree

Basically, no matter what qualification you’re going for, getting an NVQ will probably cover it.

How do NVQs work?

NVQs are based on standards, or ‘competencies’, that get vetted by professionals in their respective occupations, e.g. catering or business management. They’re taught through units and assessed through practical work and a portfolio you’ll 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 can do an NVQ. There are no special entry requirements whatsoever. Plus, occasionally you can do them while you’re at school. But honestly the position you’re in right now doesn’t have to be an obstacle to getting an NVQ, meaning if you’re interested in it then you can find a way to make it happen.

How to get NVQs

Most NVQs are offered through the workplace, since this helps with assessment of the practical elements. It’s also possible to do an NVQ at college or school, but it does make it slightly more complicated. 

That’s because you’ll need to find an environment for the practical element that produces evidence of your skill, or relates it to past experiences. Your best option in that situation is to ask your supervisor or tutor about getting an NVQ if you’re not sure how to get started. 

Do I have to pay to do an NVQ?

Usually your workplace will pay for you to get one as part of their staff development. But in case you end up having to pay for it yourself, make sure you access all the funding that is available to you. If you’re in the dark about what you’re eligible for, check out the National Careers Service website.

What kind of subjects can I do an NVQ in?

NVQs are available in a huge range of areas. In fact, there are over 1,300 to choose from. Since we can’t list them all here, we’ll just say that 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

To get an idea of what it’s like check out this example from Daryl, who gained NVQ qualifications as part of his cooking apprenticeship.

How are NVQs assessed?

You’ll be assigned an assessor who’ll guide you through the process from beginning to end. They’ll help identify which skills you already have, and others that you need to work on. They’ll also help you to demonstrate your work, which is arguably the most important part of the assessment. 

The good news is that there are no grades, but this doesn’t mean you can slack off. The assessor will watch you work in a work based job role and ‘sign off’ units when you reach acceptable occupational standards. After that you’re either categorised as ‘competent’ or ‘not yet competent’.

How long does an NVQ take?

Technically speaking, there’s no set amount of time for doing an NVQ. But on average people usually spend about a year to complete an NVQ at level 1 and 2, and around two years for an NVQ at level 3.

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

We totally get that parts of the NVQ (or maybe the entire thing) can seem tedious. For example, giving detailed descriptions of a task which is second nature to you. Unfortunately, for many jobs getting an NVQ, or equivalent, is quickly becoming a requirement. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom because getting qualified means that you can get paid more than someone without an NVQ doing the same job. It also gives you an advantage when you’re being considered for a promotion or a higher-ranking job because it’ll show that you have a detailed knowledge and understanding of the field. So, in the long-term, it’s usually worth it. 

Where will an NVQ lead me?

As well as the benefits for finances and job prospects, 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

Considering an NVQ? Why not ask for some opinions from the community on our discussion boards? And for more advice and support around qualifications, check out our ‘what qualification’ resources here.

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 05-Apr-2022