Vocational qualifications

What are vocational qualifications?

If you know what job or job sector you want to go into you may want to study a vocational qualification. 

There are many different types of vocational qualifications in a wide range of subjects at all levels, from Entry Level right up to Level 8 - you can look at the Careerpilot Qualification Planner to view all the different qualifications and levels.

Vocational courses are designed to help you learn in a practical way about a specific job area. They can help you get the skills you need to start a job, progress in a career or go on to higher education.

Vocational qualifications include:

  • Subjects that are related to a broad job areas such as business, engineering, IT, health and social care
  • Practical courses that lead to specific jobs/ apprenticeships such as hairdressing, plumbing, or catering.
  • Apprenticeships where you will be trained for a specific job role and gain qualifications to enable you to do that job.

Vocational subjects

Vocational subjects are general qualifications that develop practical skills and knowledge related to an employment area. They can be offered in both schools and colleges. They include a significant amount of classroom-based activities. Assessment is usually by both written and practical examinations.

Vocational Courses

Vocational courses (now called technical or professional programmes) provide training and qualifications related to a specific job, such as being a plumber, hairdresser or a professional cook. These courses are mostly offered at Further Education Colleges. They are usually very practical and involve learning in real situations, with real customers, such as cutting hair in the college salon which will be open to the public, cooking for paying customers in the college restaurant or installing bathrooms in the plumbing workshops.


Apprenticeships are offered by employers, who will train you to do a specific job in their company. You will spend most of your time in the workplace gaining job-specific skills, but you will also spend time - eg one day a week working towards relevant qualifications at a FE College or training provider.

When can I take a vocational qualification? 

Some schools offer vocational qualifications alongside your GCSE subjects. However, they are mainly for 16 to 19 year olds.

Where can a vocational qualification lead?

Vocational qualifications have been designed in partnership with employers, universities and professional or trade organisations - this means that you can develop the skills that employers want. You can also acquire the knowledge needed to progress to a higher level - such as a degree level courses or apprenticeships. 

How do they compare?

Vocational qualification levels can be compared to other qualifications. Entry Level qualifications build confidence and help people prepare for further learning and work. Level 2 qualifications are the equivalent of GCSE grades A* to C (grades 9 to 4 in the new GCSE grading system) and Level 3 qualifications are equivalent to A levels. Level 4 and 5 are equivalent to a Foundation Degree and Level 6 equivalent to an honours degree. See vocational qualifications in a diagram alongside other qualifications.

New vocational qualifications

Vocational qualifications are changing with the recent introduction of...

  • Technical Level Qualifications

  • The Technical Baccalaureate

  • Applied General Qualifications

Technical Level Qualifications

There are two types of Tech level qualifications.

  • Level 2 Tech Certificates - preparatory qualifications which lead onto employment or a level 3 Tech Level.
  • Level 3 Tech Levels which specialise in training for a specific or technical job.

Tech Level Qualifications [T levels]

On a par with A levels - These are for post 16 students who wish to specialise in a specific industry, occupation or technical role. New qualifications have been developed to take account of where the country has skills shortages and they aim to make vocational qualifications as challenging as academic ones. There are lots of new courses in areas such as Video Games Arts and Animation and Cyber Security. These qualifications have been developed by universities, industry and professional associations to make sure they are going to give students the opportunity to develop specific knowledge and practical transferable skills. In some cases, these qualifications provide a ‘licence to practise’ or exemption from professional exams. After these qualifications students could progress onto apprenticeships, employment or university.

T levels will replace all other vocational courses offered by FE colleges and will be available by 2020.

There are Tech Levels being designed in:

  • Agriculture, horticulture and animal care
  • Arts, media and publishing
  • Business, administration and law
  • Child development and well-being
  • Construction, planning and the built environment
  • Engineering and manufacturing technologies
  • Health, public service and care
  • Information and communication technology
  • Leisure, travel and tourism
  • Retail and commercial enterprise

The Technical Baccalaureate

The new Technical Baccalaureate (TechBacc) is awarded if students complete an advanced (Level 3) programme that includes:

  • an approved Tech Level
  • Level 3 maths
  • an extended project

Students with a TechBacc will be in a good position to apply for technician roles and Higher Apprenticeships in a wide range of industry sectors. Alternatively, they could enter professional training or university.

Applied General Qualifications

Applied General qualifications are level 3 qualifications that allow 16 to 19 year old students to develop transferable knowledge and skills. They are on a par with A levels and are for students who want to continue their education through applied learning.They are offered in broad vocational areas such as Business, IT and Child Development.Applied General qualifications allow entry to a range of higher education courses, either by meeting the entry requirements in their own right or being accepted alongside and adding value to other qualifications at level 3 such as A levels. 

Explore jobs and job sectors to find the ones you like

Careerpilot has information on 19 job sectors. Each sector has hundreds of job profiles explaining what is involved, what you will earn, routes into the job, etc.

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