Beyond the “NVQ” mentality: Why modern apprenticeships deserve a fresh look

Guest Blog written by Paragon Skills’ Curriculum Manager, Charly Webb-Ellis

The world of work-based learning in the UK is constantly evolving. The transition from traditional apprenticeship frameworks to the new standards model, which kicked off with a pilot in 2014 and truly got underway in 2018, placed greater emphasis on robust, industry-designed curricula and rigorous assessment. While this represents a positive shift, the lingering shadow of the “NVQ” label can cast doubts on the value of apprenticeships. 

At Paragon Skills, we’re determined to dispel these outdated perceptions. We champion the quality of modern apprenticeships by developing industry-leading curricula that equip learners to thrive – both in their qualifications and their careers. Our innovative ‘Elevate’ curriculum, used for Adult Care and expanding into childcare, serves as a prime example of our commitment to redefining what apprenticeships can be. 


The NVQ hangover: Why misconceptions persist 

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) once earned a reputation for being “Not Very Qualified.” This stigma stemmed partly from inconsistent standards and a focus on tick-box assessment over genuine learning. Unfortunately, the term “NVQ” has stuck around even though the landscape has dramatically changed. 


A new era: What sets modern apprenticeships apart 

Let’s explore why modern apprenticeships deserve a fresh perspective: 

  • Apprenticeship Standards: Apprenticeship standards aren’t merely outlines; they’re comprehensive documents developed by industry experts that clearly define the exact knowledge, skills, and behaviours an apprentice must master to excel in a specific occupation. These standards promote consistency across providers and employers, giving both learners and employers a clear path to success. 
  • End-Point Assessment (EPA): Gone are the days of portfolio-based assessments that might not have accurately reflected an apprentice’s competence. Robust, independent EPAs involve practical tasks, projects, and in-depth interviews carried out by assessors with no prior connection to the apprentice. This rigorous approach guarantees that only apprentices who genuinely meet the high standards can achieve their qualification, giving employers confidence in the skills and abilities of their new hires. 
  • Degree-Level Options: The scope of apprenticeships now encompasses degree-level choices, solidifying their position as a credible alternative – or complement – to traditional university routes. These apprenticeships combine high-quality, on-the-job training with academic learning, leading to a recognised degree alongside valuable work experience. 


The curriculum factor: Paragon Skills’ approach 

A strong curriculum lies at the heart of a successful apprenticeship. It’s where standards translate into meaningful learning experiences. At Paragon Skills, we address the shortcomings of the past with: 

  • Rigorous Assessments: Our assessments go beyond rote memorisation and theoretical exercises. We design simulations and scenarios that reflect real-world challenges apprentices will face in their professions. This ensures they can not only demonstrate knowledge but effectively apply it to solve problems and make sound decisions. Regular progress reviews provide valuable feedback and allow us to tailor the learning journey as needed to ensure every apprentice succeeds. 
  • Practical Skills Focus: Hands-on learning is a cornerstone of our approach. We prioritise giving apprentices ample opportunities to develop the practical skills they need to flourish in their chosen field. This could involve workshops, supervised projects, and job shadowing experiences that allow them to learn from seasoned professionals. Apprentices gain proficiency in the technical skills specific to their trade, but we also focus on broader employability skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. These well-rounded capabilities are essential for success in today’s workplace. 
  • Clear Learning Objectives: Transparency is key. We work collaboratively with subject matter experts (SMEs) to define clear learning objectives for each stage of the apprenticeship. These objectives outline the specific knowledge, skills, and behaviours apprentices will master at each level. This keeps learners focused and motivated, and ensures employers are confident apprentices are gaining the right competencies for their organisations. 


Beyond the label: Embracing the true value of apprenticeships 

It’s time to ditch the outdated “NVQ” mentality and discover the wealth of talent that modern apprenticeships produce. Employers recruiting for new hires can benefit greatly by looking beyond traditional university degrees. Apprenticeships cultivate well-rounded individuals with a strong blend of theoretical knowledge and practical skills honed in a real-world work environment. These apprentices are not only proficient in the technical aspects of their chosen field, but they are also equipped with transferable skills that are highly sought-after by employers today, such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. By embracing modern apprenticeships, employers gain access to a pool of motivated and qualified candidates who are ready to make a positive impact from day one. 


The “NVQ” hangover may linger, but forward-thinking organisations like Paragon Skills are at the forefront of change. We’re committed to demonstrating that modern apprenticeships can develop high-calibre professionals across a wide range of industries. By embracing apprenticeships, employers invest not only in skilled employees but also contribute to shaping the workforce of the future. 

Are you ready to break down the old barriers around apprenticeships? Whether you’re an employer seeking skilled talent or a potential apprentice exploring your options, we invite you to discover the range of quality programmes offered by Paragon Skills. Visit our website or reach out to learn more about how our approach can empower both individuals and businesses to succeed. 

What our client say

We are Rated as ‘Excellent’