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Understanding your sector
Understanding your sector

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2 Professional and sector qualifications and their importance

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Figure 2

In the previous section, qualifications were highlighted as being a significant area of activity for professional and sector bodies. Life would be very difficult without the existence of professional qualifications, i.e. any qualification that confers a right to practise, whether as a solicitor or as a carpenter. How would you be able to choose the right person to mend a burst pipe if there were no universally accepted plumbing qualifications?

Of course, just having the right qualifications does not automatically mean that a professional is supremely competent at what they do. Professional qualifications, however, allow us to have some confidence that an individual has received training up to a level sufficient to indicate their competence.

Understanding qualifications, and the training required to achieve these, is fundamental to understanding your sector. Take the example of a doctor. All doctors do a certain amount of core training, normally two years pre-clinical and three years clinical training during their first five-year degree course. They then follow a two-year foundation programme covering general medicine and surgery, but also more specialised fields such as anaesthetics, paediatrics or general practice.

After this, they will probably opt for a particular field of medicine requiring further specialist training and the gaining of more qualifications over many years. There are also opportunities throughout a medical career to do continuing professional development in order to keep up to date with new techniques and advances.

Those medical students at the start of their first degree will be expected to have some understanding of this progression and, while their plans may understandably be uncertain, they will be asked about these at interview. In other words, they will have to demonstrate an understanding of their sector before they begin.

In the same way, it is important for you to understand the qualifications within your own sector and how these can shape your future progress and options. They might not be as difficult to achieve as those of a doctor, but they will almost certainly be as important.

Activity 3 Identifying qualifications in my sector

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Think about your own sector, or one that you have previously worked in or would like to work in. Are there any professional or vocational qualifications that apply to this sector? Does obtaining these qualifications help you to progress within your sector or organisation? If you cannot think of an example in relation to your own sector, can you think of one in relation to another?

Table 3 Identifying professional qualifications and progression in my sector
Sector Job or profession Required or desirable qualifications Progression
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There is no single specific answer to this as it will depend on the sector that you are involved in or are considering. The example below of a motor mechanic will give you an idea of a possible response.

Table 4 Example of professional qualifications and progression
Sector Job or profession Required or desirable qualifications Progression

Motor mechanic

Institute of the Motor Industry Accreditation: Light Vehicle Maintenance and Repair
  • Service Maintenance Technician (2 years)
  • Diagnostic Technician (3 years)
  • Master Technician (5 years)

So, knowledge of the training and qualifications that apply to any particular field or sector can be fundamental to planning your future career path and may also indicate other routes for you to follow. For example, in the case of the motor mechanic in Activity 3, gaining these qualifications allows them, and their employer, to be listed on a professional register open to the public. There may also be opportunities to use these qualifications with appropriate experience to move into more senior management roles within the industry.

There is, in fact, a national qualification framework in the UK (covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland) based on the Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF) and the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ). It has nine levels incorporating vocational qualifications such as NVQs and BTEC, and academic qualifications such as GCSEs, AS/A levels, degrees and postgraduate-level qualifications.

To find out more about this framework, you should visit the GOV.UK website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Use this framework to identify your highest level of qualification but also the level of any vocational or professional qualification that you have. You may find that these are very different; it is not uncommon to have a level 6 vocational qualification but to be working towards a professional qualification at level 3.

The national qualification framework will give you a good understanding of the range of qualifications available and how they match against each other. Of course, you also will need to find out more about the specific qualifications available in your sector and their level in the national structure but contacting the appropriate professional or sector skills body should be a useful first step in this process.