Professional qualifications are vocational qualifications, often involving an element of practical training. Usually, they are linked with a specific industry and are designed to help you improve and develop relevant skills for a particular career path.
Some careers require you to have certain professional qualifications in order to practise. For example, solicitors must complete the LPC before they can become a trainee solicitor.
Likewise, in order to obtain ‘chartered status’ in your chosen profession, you will be required to complete a professional qualification; for example, if you want to become a chartered accountant or a chartered engineer.
Commonly, if you wish to become a member of a professional body or institute, you will also have to do a professional qualification. As a result, most professional qualifications are accredited by professional bodies.
For example, many graduates who want to become chartered accountants will study towards an ACA or ICAEW (The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) qualification.
Most sectors have some sort of industry-specific award or professional qualification; it’s not just the usual suspects, such as lawyers, doctors and accountants, who study for professional qualifications. For example, you can get professional qualifications in areas such as advertising, marketing, sport and banking.
It can take anywhere between a few weeks and several years to achieve certain professional qualifications. Flexibility is often the key to completing a professional course, as most people study whilst working full-time. As a result, many professional courses are done part-time or are offered through distance learning.
Many of the large graduate schemes, school leaver programmes and traineeships require their trainees to work towards a particular professional qualification, whilst simultaneously gaining on-the-job experience.
Is doing a professional qualification worth it?
Some professional qualifications can be very pricey, such as the LPC, and you’ll have to work out if 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.