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Vocational qualifications are designated National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) and, in Scotland, Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ). They are equivalent.

Occupational standards, defined by the industry, form the basis of all NVQs and SVQs and for the Merchant Navy, these standards have been set by the Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) in consultation with the Marine Safety Agency (MSA) and other interested parties.

NVQs and SVQs for the Merchant Navy are awarded by the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) and the Scottish Vocational Education Council (SCOTVEC) respectively.

The fundamental aim of a VQ is to ensure that training and vocational education meets rigorous contemporary standards and thus raise the level and quality of performance in the workplace. There are also benefits for the individuals who can have their occupational competence recognised in a national qualification.

NVQ and SVQ Levels

The VQ framework incorporates five levels to cover the provision of NVQs and SVQs from the most basic to those representing advanced professional and managerial roles. The higher level of qualification, the more of the following characteristics it is likely to require:

• breadth and range of competence

• depth and breadth of knowledge and understanding

• capability in dealing with complexity and difficulty

• specialised capabilities

• ability to transfer competence from one context or work area to another

• ability to innovate and cope with non-routine activities

• ability to recognise and plan work

• ability to supervise others

The N/SVQ levels relating to Merchant Vessel Operations are as follows:-


Competence relating to the job roles of all qualified Ratings, on Deck, in the Engineroom or elsewhere. This means that the person has to exercise some individual responsibility and autonomy, though collaboration with others through membership of a work group or team is sometimes required.

Level 3

Competence relating to the job role of a Junior Watchkeeping Officer. This means that the person must apply knowledge in a broad range of varied work activities performed in a wide variety of contexts, many of which are non-routine. There is considerable personal responsibility and control or guidance of others is often required.

Level 4

Competence relating to the job role of a Senior Officer. This means that the person must apply knowledge in a broad range of varied and complex work activities, performed in a wide variety of contexts and with a substantial degree of personal responsibility and autonomy. Responsibility for the work of others and the allocation of resources is often present.

Level 5

Competence relating to the job roles of Master or Chief Engineer. This means that the person must apply a significant range of fundamental principles across a wide and often unpredictable variety of contexts. Very substantial personal autonomy and often significant responsibility for the work of others and for the allocation of substantial resources feature strongly, as does personal accountability for analysis and diagnosis, planning, execution and evaluation.

Structure of NVQs and SVQs

All Vocational Qualifications are made up from a number of units. Each unit represents competence in a relatively free standing area of work activity and is the main building block of a VQ.

Units are made up of elements. Each element describes a work activity for which a standard has been set. Although elements making up each unit can be separately assessed, it is the unit which carries the first level of national recognition and transfer.

Normally, VQs are awarded when the candidate has been assessed as competent in all of the units which make up a qualification. However, certificates of achievement can be issued when the candidate has been assessed as competent in all of the elements which make up a single unit.

The Occupational Standards are written as a set of requirements:

• the Element title describes the work activity in which the candidate's competence is being judged;

• the Performance Criteria describe the critical results of performance in that work activity which enable competence to be indicated or "inferred";

• the Range Statement describes the range of circumstances and equipment across which a candidate must demonstrate his competence;

• the Underpinning Knowledge specifies the knowledge requirements necessary to support the candidate's performance within a particular element.

The standards therefore, define how the candidate should perform, over what range of circumstances, and suggest what evidence should be collected. It is the candidate's responsibility to gather evidence. This can come from current work activities including periods of study. These activities may be able to satisfy some of the requirements of several elements or units within the qualification.

Once a candidate has been assessed as competent in a VQ by a suitably qualified Vocational assessor, the judgement is then subject to verification to ensure quality control of the assessment of the accredited qualification before the award is issued.