What are NVQ courses?
Alistair Stafford

What are NVQ courses?


First published date December 04 2013 Amended date October 05 2015

Looking for a new qualification to get your dream job? Want to gain new skills without the stress of countless written exams? If you fancy taking plenty of practical experience to help forge a career in a particular industry, then taking an NVQ course could be for you.

NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualification and is an industry recognised qualification that gives you practical skills and knowledge to be able to work in a specific career. Sound like it’s relevant to you? Then read our NVQ FAQs to find out more...


How is an NVQ course structured?

A typical course is split into numerous units, with each unit part assessed and then signed off when completed. Each unit will test a different part of working in that industry and make the student demonstrate certain skills and knowledge to pass it.


Who takes NVQ qualifications?

NVQs are open to people of all ages, with many entry level and low level courses being studied by those still in full time education. Traditionally, low level NVQs are offered to students who academically may struggle to achieve good GCSEs, while many school leavers go on to take NVQs as part of apprenticeship programmes. This doesn’t mean NVQs are only suitable for those still in education, with mature students using NVQs as a career stepping stone or to gain a new qualification to help their job prospects.


What is an NVQ qualification?

Each NVQ level has its own spot within the education classification system, ranging from entry level to level eight, with the higher levels being a higher academic qualification (don’t worry, it’s not as complex as it sounds). An NVQ level two qualification is the equivalent of getting five A*-C GCSEs, while a level three NVQ is worth the same as two A Levels. The higher levels are worth the same as different stages of university study, although usually take considerably more time and work to complete.


What subjects can I study?

There are a huge variety of topics you can study, to help you pursue a career in a wide variety of jobs. From NVQ hairdressing to NVQ health social care, you’ll be able to find a course at a level to suit you, with over 1,100 different programmes available to choose from dozens of different industries.  


How will I be assessed?

With most NVQ programmes, you’ll generally be expected to build up a portfolio of work you’ve done during the course, which will then be assessed by your mentor or teacher. That portfolio will make up a percentage of your total mark, with the rest usually being compiled by an assessor watching you perform tasks and judging your ability to work in that industry.


What prior qualifications do I need to have?

The qualifications you need to enrol on a course depends on which NVQ level you’re planning to study. For those taking entry level or low level NVQs, it’s likely that the course won’t require any specific qualifications for you to enrol on, although the college may ask you to take an entry test to show you’re competent in Maths and English.


How are NVQs accredited?

Many courses include industry governing body qualifications as part of their syllabus, while the qualifications themselves are overseen by a separate organisation called the National Occupational Standards. These take advice from different sectors to make sure the courses will make you as fully prepared as possible for a career in the industry.


Once I have an NVQ qualification, do I have to study the same subject in the future?

Generally, most programmes allow you to switch subjects as you progress through the levels of qualifications, which means that you can gain vocational qualifications in several different subjects.  So, whether you have a level two NVQ qualification in IT or have passed your GCSEs, the vast majority of courses will enrol you on a level three programme of any subject, increasing your versatility when applying for jobs. Be wary though that this isn’t always the case, so it’s worth checking the entry requirements of the course you’re interested in first.


How long does it take to complete?

Unlike many qualifications, with NVQs there isn’t really a specific time period to complete your course, allowing students to work at a relaxed pace. The length of the programme does vary depending on the level you’re planning to study, with NVQ courses taking anything from a few months to over three years to finish. Most programmes allow you the option of either studying your NVQ full time or part time, while a distance NVQ means you can complete an NVQ at a location and time to suit you.


Can I study NVQs in Scotland?

There are a very limited number of NVQ programmes available north of the border, but that’s due to the fact that Scotland have their own variation of vocational programmes called SVQs. The Scottish vocational qualifications have very similar structures and are worth the same classifications as the NVQs, but are only taught in Scotland.


What happens when you’ve finished?

After completing an NVQ course, you can either use your newly gained skills and knowledge to try and break in to your chosen industry or continue to the next level of study to further enhance your qualifications. Whatever you decide to do after you finish the programme, your new course will have given you plenty of positive traits to highlight on your CV and to be transferred into any industry.


Alistair Stafford

With a BA in Journalism, Alistair has a passion for writing, especially if it's got anything to do with football or other sports. In his spare time, he's big on exercise and he once completed the London Marathon.