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It will be a sensible investment. However, your employer might be able to fund or contribute towards the cost. For example, many law firms will retrospectively cover the cost of the LPC for all of the trainees that they take on.
You will also need to factor in whether or not getting a professional qualification is worth the time and effort. Will it help your career? Will it bring you extra recognition or improve your salary?
Some students spend money on acquiring a professional qualification before they are even guaranteed a job.
Before enrolling on a professional qualification course, ensure that the qualification you’ll receive is respected in your profession, and check that it is accredited by an established professional body.
The key thing to remember is that a professional qualification might improve your employability, but it isn’t a sure-fire route to employment.
What’s a professional qualification?
Professional qualifications are provided by professional bodies like the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply or the Chartered Management Institute. These organizations represent people doing a specific type of work, in much the same way that industry bodies represent certain types of businesses. As part of this, many professional bodies offer their own range of qualifications in the area they represent.
Instead of testing academic knowledge in a subject like maths or history, professional qualifications show your ability to do a job – they’ll cover everything from procedural best practice to more wide-ranging topics exploring how your particular role fits into a business as a whole, as well as more theoretical and strategic areas. So, a professional qualification is a course aimed at people who do a particular type of job, accredited by a professional body representing those people.
What do the levels mean?
Most professional qualifications are available at a variety of different levels, usually ranging from Level 2 to Level 7. At first glance these can look confusing – what happened to level 1?
In fact, the numbers correspond to the National Qualifications Framework, which assigns levels to different qualifications to give an idea of how they compare to each other in terms of difficulty.
Here’s a breakdown of the different levels in the National Qualifications Framework, along with some more ‘traditional’ qualifications at each level:
|NQF Level||Example Qualifications|
|Entry Level||Foundation Diploma|
|Level 1||GCSE grades D-G
BTEC Introductory Diplomas and Certificates
|Level 2||GCSE grades A*-C
BTEC First Diplomas and Certificates
|Level 3||A levels
BTEC Diplomas, Certificates and Awards
|Level 4||NVQs at level 4
BTEC Professional Diplomas, Certificates and Awards
|Level 5||HNCs and HNDs|
|Level 7||Master’s Degree|
So, you can choose to study most professional qualifications at anything from GCSE level to postgraduate level. However, it’s important to remember that when choosing a professional qualification you study at a level decided by your working experience, not your educational background. Because of this, it’s not unusual for a graduate to start studying at Level 3 if they’re new to the profession, or for somebody with no formal qualifications but years of working experience to start at a Level 5 or even higher.
How do I get a professional qualification?
Because professional qualifications are so closely linked to your work, most professional institutes recommend that you study while you work in a related role. Some colleges run part time courses, or many people choose to study via a distance learning course.
The course structure will depend on the specific qualification you’re taking, but most courses will be split into several units, with an assignment, exam or even a work-based project to complete for each one. To study the course, you’ll usually have to be a member of the professional body who accredits the course.
Are professional qualifications worth having?
Absolutely! Professional qualifications are fully accredited, and a professional qualification from a prestigious professional body is recognized worldwide as a mark of industry excellence. Because they show that you have a specific knowledge of the job at hand, they’re very valuable to employers, many of whom look for them specifically when they’re recruiting. Because of this, holding a professional qualification can benefit your career considerably – research has shown that having one could help you to earn up to £81,000 more over your working life.