Making sure that your employees have the skills they need is essential. NVQs are work-based qualifications that focus on ensuring that the individual can carry out their job to the required standard.

Helping your employees achieve a relevant NVQ can be a very effective form of training. You can use external providers or develop your own in-house training and assessment skills.

The basics

Getting started

Time and costs

External providers

Becoming an NVQ centre

Avoiding bureaucracy

1. The basics

NVQs are nationally-recognised qualifications

  • NVQs are available for almost all occupations. For example, there are NVQs for customer service, training, small business management and so on.
  • NVQs can be used in almost any business of any size. Most businesses will have some employees for whom an administration or customer care NVQ would be suitable.
  • NVQs are available at five levels. Level 1 represents performance at a basic level, level 3 is typically performance at a supervisory level and level 5 is typically performance at a senior level.

NVQs are based on standards of work performance

  • NVQs measure what employees should be able to do, how well they do it, and in what contexts or conditions.
  • The standards for each NVQ have been developed nationally and agreed by industry.
  • The standards are based on work performance, underpinned by knowledge.
  • The standards are grouped into units. Each unit represents an area of work activity which is of value to an employer.
  • The usual way to achieve an NVQ is to demonstrate work performance that meets the specified standards.
  • Assessment is conducted in the workplace. It is not tied to any specified training programme or period of time.

You can use the NVQ standards as a standalone business tool

Many businesses choose to use the standards alone initially, delaying the introduction of certification (see below). You can use the standards for:

  • training needs analysis;
  • design, delivery and evaluation of training and development;
  • preparing recruitment specifications;
  • career development and succession planning;
  • continuously assessing and appraising performance.

Introducing NVQ certification provides additional benefits

  • Managers and employees of all ages can achieve national recognition for competent performance.
  • Individual units of NVQs can be assessed and awarded flexibly.
  • You can use NVQ certification as part of a business-led performance management system, such as Investors in People.

NVQ jargon-buster

  • NVQ: a national vocational qualification, based on industry defined standards that describe competent workplace performance.
  • Portfolio: the compilation of evidence for assessment in a suitable form.
  • Evidence: the results of observation, questioning or the review of outcomes of performance, used by assessors to judge workplace performance against industry defined standards.
  • NVQ assessor: a qualified line manager, supervisor, or external provider who judges the evidence produced by NVQ candidates.
  • Internal verifier: a qualified line manager, supervisor or external provider who supports assessment practice, advises on it and monitors its quality.
  • External verifier: an individual employed by an awarding body to assure the quality of assessment practice across approved NVQ centres.
  • Approved NVQ centre: a company, college or private provider, approved by a national awarding body to offer specified NVQs.
  • Awarding body: a national certificating body, approved to assure the quality of NVQs and certificate them.

2. Getting started

Select a priority area for action

  • For example, you may want to improve training or appraisal, or to restructure roles for a particular group or department.
  • Identify a pilot group of managers or employees in the selected priority area.
  • Contact your local business support organisation, trade association or college of further education to see what advice, support and funding they offer.
  • Contact business contacts you know who already use NVQs.
  • Start by thinking about your business needs, not by seeing which NVQs are available.

Obtain and review the standards

  • Search the Ofqual Register of Regulated Qualifications for qualifications and awarding organisations, or contact local training providers.
  • Contact the marketing department of the awarding body for copies of the NVQ standards that interest you.
  • Check the unit and element titles in the standard against the job descriptions or role profiles of your selected pilot group.
  • Select NVQs at a level which will be challenging to your employees. If the standards only reflect what the employees already do, the process of assessment might be demotivating and achieve little for your business.

Select assessment options

  • You may choose not to get involved in the formal NVQ process at this stage.
  • You may wish to test the standards within your own appraisal and training systems.
  • You may choose an external provider to assess NVQs during the pilot and help develop systems.

Decide how much in-house NVQ expertise to develop

  • Your pilot project will help you to decide the best way forward.
  • You may choose to use an external provider in the long term. If you plan to limit NVQ certification to small groups of employees, a good relationship with an external provider may be the best option.
  • You may wish to become an approved NVQ centre. This will be cost-effective if you plan to introduce NVQ certification for large numbers of employees. You may need external support initially to develop your in-house skills and systems.

Selecting an awarding body

Not all awarding bodies offer all NVQs

  • However, the same NVQ offered by different awarding bodies will be based on the same standards.

Costs vary

Ask the awarding body for details on:

Some awarding bodies may be known to your managers and employees

  • Managers and employees may be more motivated by an NVQ from an awarding body they consider prestigious.

3. Time and costs

Most time and money will be spent starting the pilot and developing systems

  • You will need to commit more resources if you wish to become an approved centre.

Training and development requirements will vary for each candidate

  • The NVQ standards do not specify training programmes or training periods.
  • Each candidate will need to be briefed at the outset.
  • If you have selected challenging NVQs, initial assessment will identify the candidate's development needs.

Assessing NVQs does require some additional time

  • If your managers become assessors, NVQ assessment should become an integral part of people management.
  • You can use your own systems to minimise the paperwork.
  • You can purchase an off-the-shelf recording system or develop one of your own.

Pay registration and certification fees

  • Each candidate must be registered for an NVQ at least ten weeks before an award can be claimed.
  • Registration fees are paid per person and depend on the qualification level and awarding body.
  • Certification fees are often additional.
  • Contact the appropriate awarding body for details of their fees. External providers may also charge for training and development sessions, or assessment.

NVQ quality control can be built into your own quality assurance systems

  • Internal verifiers, from your own company or from your provider, ensure individual assessors are consistent.
  • An external verifier from the awarding body normally visits each approved centre twice a year to ensure consistent assessment across centres.

4. External providers

Identify approved centres

  • The provider must be approved by your selected awarding body for the NVQs you wish to offer.
  • Your local business support organisation may have a list of approved centres.
  • Your selected awarding body will provide a full list.

Check whether the provider will be suitable for assessing your NVQ candidates

  • Will the provider design assessment records to fit in with your own appraisal system?
  • Will the provider assess your employees in the workplace?
  • Will the provider require candidates to prepare large paper-based portfolios? This may be a sign the provider isn't doing enough about avoiding bureaucracy.

If you plan to become an NVQ centre, check whether the provider will help

  • Is the provider approved to train and assess your own internal assessors?
  • Could the provider offer continuing assessment support if you chose this in the long term?

5. Becoming an NVQ centre

Many larger companies choose to become approved NVQ centres. This saves the cost of external providers. In addition, using your own managers and supervisors as assessors encourages them to take a greater role in managing staff performance

Select technically competent individuals to take on the necessary roles

You will need:

  • Approximately one NVQ assessor for every six NVQ candidates.
  • Approximately one internal verifier for every ten assessors.
  • A co-ordinator to manage the registration of NVQ candidates and to request certificates. This role is frequently undertaken by the internal verifier.

Prepare a submission for your company to be approved as an NVQ centre

  • You will need to demonstrate to the awarding body that you have the required resources, structure and quality systems.
  • The awarding body will provide a guidance pack on becoming an approved NVQ centre.
  • The awarding body may charge an approval fee, as well as charging for any pre-approval advice. Check with your local office.

Train your assessors and verifiers

  • They must have a clear plan for achieving the appropriate assessment and verification units.
  • Typically, it takes individuals three to six months to achieve the required units.
  • The standards for these assessment and verification NVQs are available in the same way as other NVQs
  • Like other NVQs, training and development NVQs are assessed on work performance. Your assessors and verifiers must already carry out these roles themselves in order to be able to assess you.
  • Most companies choose to use an external provider to train the company's own assessors and verifiers.

6. Avoiding bureaucracy

In the past, the NVQ system has been criticised for its bureaucracy. You can reduce the administrative burden by taking a business-led and not NVQ-led approach.

NVQ candidates do not have to produce huge amounts of paperwork

  • You do not have to use the awarding body's assessment documentation, as long as your own systems are adequate to maintain an audit trail. You must agree this approach with your awarding body.
  • NVQ candidates do not have to produce a large paper-based portfolio. Evidence needs to be suitably organised, but can take a variety of forms.
  • You can integrate NVQ assessment with your own company appraisal system.
  • A good external provider or consultant will help you develop documentation which minimises the burden and satisfies the awarding body.

You can use NVQs as flexibly as you want

  • You can introduce the standards without introducing the NVQ assessment and certification components.
  • You can choose which units of which NVQs to use. Employees gain credit for the units completed.
  • The NVQ system imposes no restrictions on the training programmes you use or the time candidates take to complete them.
  • Candidates who can already demonstrate competence can even achieve an NVQ without any training, although they may need help in presenting evidence.
  • You can incorporate the standards into your own company-specific ones, but you may not then be eligible for an NVQ.


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