The real benefits of vocational qualifications

Following the release of the Government’s response to the Wolf Review, vocational qualifications are again in the spotlight.

And in light of the changes happening in higher education, the press have been exploring the value of vocational qualifications and whether they are an alternative to a university degree (Guardian , Telegraph  and BBC).

As someone who has vocational qualifications, I find attitudes towards them interesting. Some people still believe that vocational qualifications are easy and not as valuable as other qualifications. That’s a view that I would challenge.

I studied vocational qualifications by accident. The guidance that I received about post-16 options was a brief look at my predicted grades by the Head of Year, who responded with “Well, you’ll be going into the sixth form then. Just pick the subjects that you’re good at”.

I got B grades, an A and a C at GCSE. So I started A levels in the sixth form.

After a week, I realised that I’d made a mistake and that I needed to find an alternative.

I visited an FE College. After talking to tutors and discussing what I was interested in, I signed up for an Advanced GNVQ. This turned out to be one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.

For the first time I felt happy with the way I was learning. I’d never been very academically talented or had a talent for music, sport or art. I’d never found what I was ‘good at’.

The GNVQ helped me develop skills that made me feel that I was ‘good at’ something for the first time. I’d never given a presentation, worked in a project team, developed strategies or thought about solutions to problems in terms of how effective they were. My vocational qualification taught me to develop all of these skills. These are the skills that have been the most valuable to me throughout my career and are my key ‘toolkit’ to this very day.

At the time I wasn’t as positive. I was embarrassed that I wasn’t doing A levels like my friends and one of my former teachers told me that I was wasting my ability and had chosen the easy option.

I achieved a Distinction grade in my GNVQ. Although everyone was pushing me to do a degree, I didn’t want to commit to another three or four years in education, so I decided to do an HND.

Through the HND, I built on my knowledge and skills and learnt to apply them in a more strategic context.

When I started my first job, my manager told me that one of the reasons that I’d been selected was that at interview I’d been able to demonstrate where I’d used my knowledge and skills in projects and activities that I’d undertaken as part of my vocational qualifications. Other candidates, including those who had degrees and were at least a year older than me, hadn’t.

I’m very proud of my vocational qualifications and I know that I would not have experienced the fantastic things that I have throughout my career had I not studied them.

More young people should be encouraged to take on vocational qualifications, not because they are an “easier” option but because, like me, they might find that they provide the skills, knowledge, motivation and confidence that they need to build a successful career.

The only issue that I’ve had a couple of times is explaining my qualifications to employers. GNVQs are no longer available. I don’t think that they (and other qualifications) were given enough time to establish a presence with employers. Hopefully the Wolf Review will help to stabilise vocational qualifications and give them time to become established with learners and employers.

Vocational qualifications are incredibly valuable, not only for the young people who take them but for the future economic prosperity of the country. I hope that as part of its plans for changing careers guidance and increasing impartiality, the Government will ensure that more young people are encouraged to consider the benefits of a vocational qualification.

2 thoughts on “The real benefits of vocational qualifications

  1. I am really interested in the training of musical theatre an the performing arts do you think that doing the NVQs will help with my singing so that I can get chorus parts in west end as that is my dream


    1. Vocational (work-related) performing arts courses are widely available, at many levels.

      Those starting out could take a BTEC Introductory Diploma or level 2 First.

      If you have more experience, have a look at a higher-level course, such as a level 3 National or Higher National Diploma (HND).

      You can get experience by joining local singing or amateur dramatics groups, or by offering to help out at your local theatre or concert hall.


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