Vocational qualifications come in many shapes and sizes and they are offered at different levels. Is a vocational study route the best option for you?
Vocational courses cover a huge variety of work-related subject areas – for example, instead of taking three A-levels, you might choose to take a Level 3 Diploma in Engineering or a Level 3 NVQ in Professional Catering.
Your school or college might offer a combination of study options, where you can do three AS-levels alongside a Level 3 Award or Certificate in year one and then continue the three A-levels in your second year.** The level of difficulty of the Award, Certificate and Diploma is the same but the size of the qualification (how long it takes to complete the qualification) will be different.
Should I choose a vocational course instead of A-levels?
There is more than one way to skin a cat as they say and there are both vocational and academic routes into all sorts of careers, for example in engineering.
Vocational qualifications are directed toward a particular occupation, for example construction and the built environment or business. They contain units of study which enable you to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills required by the specific sector, and to gain general employability skills.
Whilst academic qualifications like A-levels are subject specific such as history or geography, they are not aimed towards any particular occupation in the way that vocational qualifications are.
Are A-levels better than vocational qualifications?
Neither pathway, be it vocational or academic, is better than the other. They offer different ways of developing your skills and knowledge and both are a pathway to university study if that’s what you want to do.
As a rule though, if you want to learn how to use equipment and ‘do the job’ so to speak, you will have more opportunity to do so if you choose the vocational pathway than if you choose the academic route because the academic option is more theory-based.
What’s the difference between a BTEC and an NVQ?
NVQs are competency-based qualifications. This means that you’ll have to demonstrate your skills in a practical way like cooking, for example. BTECs are knowledge-based, where you will develop and evidence your understanding. Some BTECs are combined qualifications, which mean that they are both knowledge-based and competence-based.
What’s the difference between vocational and academic pathways?
Exams are the biggest difference – or rather the lack of them, in the case of vocational courses. This doesn’t make vocational qualifications easier than A-levels – You’ll have a lot of coursework to complete on a vocational course and plenty of hard work to do, but you won’t have to do any final exams at the end of the year.
At the end of the day, it is up to you whether you choose to take a vocational qualification or academic. An awful lot will depend on how you like to learn and which offers the best way into the career that you are interested in having in the future. What shouldn’t influence your decision is whether anyone else thinks that the only way is the academic A-level way. This is right for some students but not for all.
** Note that the new government proposals, if they go ahead will not allow for a combination of academic and technical study, but will require that you make a choice between these.