Vocational qualifications

What are vocational qualifications?

Vocational qualifications offer practical learning programmes that relate to specific job roles or employment sectors.

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 levels of education.

Vocational qualifications include:

  • Vocational subjects that are related to a broad employment area such as business, engineering, IT, health and social care
  • Practical Vocational Courses (often now called technical or professional programmes) that lead to specific jobs such as hairdressing, plumbing, or engineering.
  • Apprenticeships where a student is based with an employer where you will be trained for a job role and get paid as you learn

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 (often 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 be supported by a specialist learning provider (Further Education Colleges are often learning providers for apprenticeships), to build up your knowledge and qualifications.

When can I take a vocational qualification? 

Schools can offer vocational qualifications (for example BTECs and OCR Cambridge Nationals) alongside GCSEs, however, they are mainly available at post 16, offered at your school, another school, in local colleges, sixth forms, and at other learning providers.

In school, you might be able to take a vocational qualification by itself or in combination with GCSEs or A Levels.

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 course. Often employers encourage their employees to gain vocational qualifications whilst at work.

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 have been changing with the recent introduction of...

  • Technical Level Qualifications

  • The Technical Baccalaureate

  • Applied General Qualifications

Technical Level Qualifications

Some existing Level 3 (advanced), vocational (work-related) qualifications are now known as Tech Level Qualifications (T Levels).

Technical Level Qualifications prepare you for a specific technical occupation (job). These qualifications have been recognised by employers as a good preparation for specific job roles.

There are Tech Levels 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. Altenatively, they could enter professional training or university.

Applied General Qualifications

A range of Level 3 (advanced) vocational qualifications (like BTECs) are now described as Applied General Qualifications. These qualifications are for students wishing to undertake broad study of a specific vocational area - for example engineering, business or IT.

Some Higher Education Institutions (Universities) recognise these qualifications as fulfilling entry requirements to a range of HE courses, either in their own right or alongside other Level 3 qualifications. Some employers and professional or trade bodies have also pledged support for Applied General qualifications.

Explore jobs and job sectors to find the ones you like

Careerpilot has information on 22 job sectors, in 'Types of Jobs' you will find hundreds of job profiles explaining what is involved, what you will earn, routes into the job, etc.

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