Careers – BTEC’s and Vocational Courses

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BTECs and Vocational Courses

What is a Vocational Course? 

Vocational qualifications offer practical learning programmes that relate to specific job roles or job 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. Vocational courses are designed to help young people learn in a practical way about a specific job area – helping them to get the skills needed to start a job, progress in a career, or go on to higher levels of education. Some vocational qualifications, such as BTECs and Cambridge Technical Qualifications are offered in schools although a wider range of vocational qualifications is offered by colleges and through apprenticeships. If a young person is studying for a BTEC in a college, they might also do this alongside one or two A levels. 

Vocational qualifications can lead to employment and higher education. Some Level 3 vocational qualifications, such as BTECs earn UCAS points towards higher education, in the same way as those given for A Levels. 

Types of Vocational qualifications 

  • Vocational subjects that are related to a broad employment area such as business, engineering, IT, health and social care 
  • Vocational courses that lead to specific jobs such as hairdressing, accounting, professional cookery, plumbing 
  • Apprenticeships where you are employed and trained for a specific job role – getting paid as you learn and gain in-work qualifications 

Vocational Courses 

Vocational courses 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 (FE) Colleges. They are usually very practical and involve learning in real situations, with real customers, such as cutting hair in the college salon that is open to the public, cooking for paying customers in the college restaurant or installing bathrooms in the plumbing workshops. 

What is a BTEC? 

BTEC stands for the Business and Technology Education Council. BTECs are specialist work-related qualifications. They combine practical learning with subject and theory content. There are over 2,000 BTEC qualifications across 16 sectors – they are available from entry level through to professional qualifications at level 7 (equivalent to postgraduate study). 

Who are they for? 

BTECs are designed for young people interested in a particular sector or industry but who are not yet sure what job they would like to do. You could study a BTEC at Level 2 or 3, either alongside academic qualifications or as part of a wider programme (such as an apprenticeship). You can also study a BTEC as a standalone course. 

There are over 2,000 BTEC qualifications across 16 sectors, including: 

  • applied science 
  • art and design 
  • business 
  • childcare 
  • construction 
  • engineering
  • media 
  • health and social care 
  • hospitality
  • ICT 
  • land-based 
  • performing arts 
  • public services 
  • sport
  • travel and tourism 

The different types of BTEC 

BTECs are broken down into three main levels of study: 

  • BTEC Firsts are available from entry level to Level 2 (similar standard to GCSEs). These offer an introduction to work in the vocational sector.
  • BTEC Nationals are available from Level 3 (similar standard to A levels). Many of these are well regarded by universities, further education colleges, and employers. A BTEC National qualification can lead to employment, continuing study, or professional development programmes.
  • BTEC Apprenticeships are available at Levels 2 to 5 across more than 25 sectors.  

How do they work? 

BTEC qualifications are flexible – you can take one alongside (or instead of) GCSEs and A levels in schools and colleges. They’re also usually studied full-time, either in college or jointly between a school and a college. 

BTECs are divided into units, which cover specific areas of knowledge, skills, and understanding required by the particular sector or industry.  

  • Every BTEC student takes the core units, which provide a broad foundation and understanding about the sector. 
  • There is a range of optional units to choose from which enable students to focus on interests and plans they have for next steps into further study, an apprenticeship, or employment.  
  • The course involves a series of assignments which can be written or activity-based, for example creating a film clip, planning, and putting on a performance, or creating a business plan. Students complete some assignments individually and some as part of a team. For some BTEC courses, students can also apply their knowledge and skills through work experience. 

What are the entry requirements for a BTEC? 

Entry requirements vary depending on the college and the particular BTEC course you are interested in. You may need up to five GCSEs at grade 9 to 4. 

What can you do next? 

BTEC Nationals 

On successful completion of a BTEC National qualification, students can progress to employment or continue their learning in the same or related areas of study, in higher education and professional development programmes. 

Some BTEC National qualifications are recognised as technical certificates and form part of the apprenticeship framework. They can attract UCAS points but if you are thinking of going to university or on to higher education, it is important to check whether the universities offering the courses you want to apply to accept BTEC Nationals. 

BTEC Firsts 

These enable you to go on to further study at Level 3 (for example BTEC Nationals), to do an apprenticeship, or to go into employment.