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College courses for tradespeople

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College is typically - though not exclusively - a great way for younger people to start a career in the trades. See how it might work for you...

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Would college suit me?

Choosing college might be a good fit for you if:

  • You’re not ready to be part of the workforce yet.
  • You think you might struggle to balance work and study.
  • You want to go into a trade but you’re not sure which one, so you’re not ready to commit to an apprenticeship.
  • You might want to go to university in future, so you need a Level 3 qualification.
  • You already work in a trade and you’d like some qualifications to back up that knowledge or to help you go for a promotion.

There are plenty of trade jobs where you don’t need a college qualification. It’s a good idea to check out the National Careers Service so you know what employers want.

What kind of courses can I do?

There are vocational courses available that you can do from level 1-3 (sometimes called NVQs) in practical subjects like carpentry, plumbing, painting and decorating.

You can get an Award, Certificate or Diploma.

  • An Award is any qualification with up to 130 hours of study and equal to up to 13 credits.
  • A Certificate is any qualification with between 130-370 hours of study or 13-37 credits.
  • A Diploma is any qualification with over 370 hours of study or over 37 credits.
You’ll usually need two or more GCSEs at grades 3 to 9 (D to A*), or equivalent, to get onto a Level 2 course. Have a think about the college you want to apply to and check out the course pages on their website. You’ll find the entry requirements and the courses available for study. Finally, check the qualification is accredited by an organisation like City & Guilds so that employers recognise it.
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A Levels

If you want a career like construction management, civil engineering or quantity surveying then consider taking A Levels in subjects like maths, technology or design.

You might also hear about BTECs, now being replaced by awards, certificates and diplomas. They tend to be more practical than A Levels and you might find them in subjects like construction & the built environment.

Whatever qualification you take you’ll study full time, for 1-2 years.

What about money?

If you’re an apprentice, then you earn money while you study. But if you’re at college, you can:

  • Get a part-time job. This is also a way to get the kind of practical experience employers want.
  • Apply for a bursary for 16-19-year olds to help you pay for things like clothing, equipment and transport. You’ll have to provide evidence to show you need it.
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WilI I get a job in a trade after college?

College will give you loads of theory and maybe some practical experience in workshops or through work placements.

But they don’t give you the same number of hours of on the job training you’d get in an apprenticeship. And that means your first job will be on the bottom rung of the ladder, as a trainee.

There’s no 'right' route to get a job in a trade, so it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of college and apprenticeships to see what might work for you.

Training and skills