Professional qualifications are offered by professional associations or bodies; organisations that support their members by providing training, qualifications and career development appropriate to a specific career sector. Universities, colleges and training providers run courses approved by these bodies and in some cases university departments themselves, such as business schools may be accredited by professional organisations.
In some areas of work, for example, social work and teaching, studying approved courses are essential for training and it is compulsory to register with a specific professional body if a licence to practice is required. For others, qualifications accredited by a professional body carry a stamp of approval and can have positive benefits for your employability.
For those who have a non-vocational degree ( perhaps you chose to study a subject of particular interest or wished to keep your options open), a conversion course can be the first step towards a specific career aim, for areas such as teaching, social work, law, psychology, medicine and the health professions.
You may wish to build on your degree by adding a vocational edge. For example, Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is for students wishing to become law professionals.
If you wish to make the first steps towards a career change or return to work, many introductory level professional qualifications can be studied without first being in related employment. Examples are marketing, counselling and web design courses. Vocational qualifications will be attractive to employers, and a way to slant your CV towards a new career direction. However you must be sure to check that the qualification or training provider is accredited by a reputable professional body relevant to your career area of interest.
Professional qualifications can often be studied part-time during the day or evening or by distance or e-learning. This means you can fit study around work and other home commitments and continue earning. Numerous private organisations offer distance learning and on-line courses and may offer access to a tutor for help, to mark assignments and for exam preparation.
The Open University, for example, offer professionally accredited courses at postgraduate certificate, diploma or masters degree level, such as the Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Studies in Education.
Fast track courses
Fast track courses are often available for those who wish qualify quickly and reduce costs by starting/returning to full-time work as soon as possible. It is possible, for example, to complete a fast track MBA in six months.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
For some areas of work this is mandatory to maintain competence to practice, and in most others is encouraged to keep knowledge and skills up-to-date, particularly in rapidly changing industries. Employers are encouraged to ensure staff members can develop personally and professionally in order to progress and move up the career ladder. It is always worth enquiring about training courses you may be eligible to undertake to develop your role or move sideways into other roles and employers may be prepared to fund or part-fund or give study leave.
For example, courses in soft skills such as change management, leadership, people management, problem-solving and project management are widely available and relevant for many areas of employment.
Associate Study Modules
Although not offered by professional bodies, these short courses offered by universities and colleges can also be used to enhance your employability, as stand-alone modules or credits towards further study. You can search for professional development courses on many university websites.
Joining a professional association is often beneficial for career progression. Taking courses accredited by a professional association can lead to being ‘chartered’, being registered as a member with a certain level of knowledge and skills and with a title that can be used for professional recognition.
In the past, being a member of a professional association and studying professional qualifications was strongly associated with the traditional professions, such as teaching, accountancy and law. Now you can take advantage of the fact that almost all areas of work have related professional bodies, offering vocational qualifications endorsed by employers, to enable you step on to or move up the career ladder.