BTEC National Certificate in Construction

If you’re interested in getting a building qualification, but you’ve no previous qualifications to speak of, then a BTEC National Certificate in Construction, commonly referred to as the ONC, is the perfect place for you to start.

This introductory course is the very first step that you’ll need to take, so what are you waiting for…

BTEC National Certificate in Construction…

ONC courses are very hands on and vocational in nature, which makes these type of courses perfect for those that want to gain qualifications in the world of construction. With BTEC courses you’ll find that there is the perfect mix of project based work and written theory.

At this first stage you won’t get bogged down with too much written work. Instead, you’ll have plenty of time to get your hands dirty and gain a greater understanding of basic construction skills and techniques, that are essential for practical application in the working world.

Why you need to choose a ONC…

A BTEC National Certificate in Construction is perfect for those that are seeking a career in construction or a similar discipline. Most students find that the structure of ONC courses are the best way to work.

Much of the syllabus will require students to work most independently on projects, and in small group settings with the help of the course leaders.

As well as the practical application of skills and the vocational learning style, students will also get the opportunity to improve upon their key skills, and will be required to attend weekly classes in maths and English.

What does the BTEC entail?

During your course you will be working on projects and scenarios that you can expect to encounter in the working world. Students will build a multitude of transferable skills that can be applied during professional employment.

The course is equally suited to those that are already employed in the construction industry, those that have left school, and learners of all ages.

There are several areas that will be covered during the course. These will include the following…

  • Building Surveying
  • Building Technology
  • Health and Safety
  • Construction Science and Technology
  • Graphical Detailing
  • Measurement
  • Tendering and Estimating
  • Site Surveying

Before and after your BTEC…

Many ONC courses often have pre-requisite course requirements, so be sure to find out from your chosen college what the requirements are.

The are various routes that learners can take on completion of the ONC course. The BTEC is equivalent to two A-levels, and learners will be able to progress on to either a HNC and or HND level courses, as well as one year foundation degrees that feed into honours degree level courses.

As well as educational routes, learners will also be qualified to take on a number of roles within the construction industry.


Luke – I had got started on a foundation Bricklaying course at Wilson Avenue College, Brighton East Sussex…I therefore passed and decided to continue on through to higher skills level, Diploma level 2…Again having achieved at higher skills level, a Distinction became a better achievement…and so level 3 Diploma became the focus….I then went on to eventually pass the higher Diploma level…A merit achievement award I have today in my possession…Happy to have done well throughout all three course years.
The next step forwards is said to be Btec…a higher national diploma…Construction management is my focus…therefore not being employed in the industry, how is it possible to step up the ladder and reach for a higher diploma at Btec level??
I am currently unemployed because injury becomes exacerbated by doing manual work…Hence, Quantity Surveying could well be an ideal career option to aim for…
I can lay bricks and blocks, for sure I can…I have the Diploma level 3 bricklaying award…but there’s more to it, I like to think, for as part of the diploma level 3 course we students had to also produce an Estimate of materials and labor costs required to build a small bungalow…therefore a test for my mind it became, to produce the Quantity calculated costs to which we call the (PC) prime costs, estimated financial summary, for the client to clearly understand…Therefore, a quantity surveyor ideally is a good move forwards in my thoughts… to learn and challenge what it takes to become a quantity surveyor apart from to knowing how to lay a good many bricks, is in my view an asset of underpinning knowledge in the field of the construction industry….Quote me if i am wrong!…myself is trying to find a direction to further myself through to the Btec challenge.

As you already have some practical work experience and relevant qualifications you may be able to by-pass some of the entry requirements for a higher national course which would be your first step towards a professional surveying career.

Your first port of call, therefore, should be the built environment department of your local higher education college where you can ask for advice on what to do next. It may be that they can accept you straight on to a higher national course by taking into account your past experience.

Chris – I have been doing site engineering and supervising for about 5/6 years now, I’m 24 and have no qualifications but would like something just to have on paper, what would be the best course to do and can I by pass any? READ MORE…

There are several options you could consider:

Construction Skills Site Safety Plus – The Site Supervisors Safety Training Scheme (SSSTS) is a two-day course which covers current health and safety legislation and your responsibilities as a site supervisor. There is a simple multiple choice exam at the end of it and you’ll get a certificate. This isn’t an academic qualification as such but if you find yourself looking for work in the future you’ll notice that the SSSTS is often cited as a requirement for the job.

NVQ – If you’re currently working as a site supervisor the Diploma in Construction Site Supervision is a Level 3 NVQ which is a worked based qualification. It will involve some classroom based study and on-site assessment.
The construction industry has adopted the NVQ framework as a measure of work-based competence and if you don’t already have a CSCS Gold Supervisor’s Card you’ll need this qualification to obtain one.

BTEC Nationals – These are vocational qualifications which are recognised throughout the industry and involve classroom based study for at least one full day a week for two years (there may be some evening courses available but they are not common).

The BTEC National Certificate in Construction (see above) is more commonly known (rightly or wrongly) as the Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) and is more suitable for new entrants to the industry.

The Higher National Certificate (HNC) is a more advanced course suitable for anyone who wants to progress into management or one of the professions. Although the entry requirements are higher your past work experience will be taken into account and in most cases will be enough to get you onto the course.

The HNC is a qualification taken up by a wide range of people of all ages and from all walks of life. You’ll find everyone will struggle with some aspect of the course regardless of their previous academic achievements so don’t be daunted by it.

The HNC is a level 5 qualification and is eligible for funding via the student loan scheme.

Get in touch with the head of the built environment dept at your local college and arrange to have a chat about your options.

Ashley – I am currently a soldier deployed to Afghanistan and is currently in the royal engineers .. 5 years I completed a BTEC National Diploma in construction earning a merit grade where upon I entered university, excuses aside, I performed poorly and I left after my first year to join a construction role with the military. As a question if I were to leave the forces and opt to look or work within the construction what kind of job roles could I fulfil? Any advice would be much appreciated be it work or education related. READ MORE…

Over the medium to long term a return to University would be your best option. The construction industry is in recovery mode and some firms are already struggling to recruit people in certain roles, particularly in project or site management and many other technical areas.

Of course this doesn’t help you in the short term and you’re probably looking for the fastest route into a career of some kind?

The large construction firms have for the past few years been recruiting mainly young graduates or people already ‘in the loop’ – so to speak. This makes it difficult for someone returning to the industry, particularly as a lot of recruitment is now being handled by external agencies with a very narrow minded approach.

However, there are lots of smaller firms and sub-contractors who will be more open-minded and flexible, particularly as suitable recruits become even more harder to find.

Assistant or junior management/surveying jobs are advertised fairly frequently and could be a good opportunity to get you started. Once you are employed within the industry it becomes a lot easier to advance forward.

Once you have found a suitable job you may want to consider studying part-time for a foundation degree?

Another area you may not have considered is health and safety which has grown phenomenally over the past few years. The NEBOSH Diploma is a recognised qualification which can be achieved relatively quickly and there is continued demand for people with this within the industry.

There has also been a lot of talk recently about helping ex-forces personnel into the construction industry although there isn’t much evidence yet of anything really been done. The few programs recently publicised include:

The CITB, in partnership with Career Transition Partnership (CTP), are promoting an initiative to provide career opportunities for ex-services personnel. The training offered seems to be very much biased towards skilled trades rather than professional or management opportunities but may be worth a look? More details here

The Nuclear New Build (NNB) program is an initiative with the aim of meeting predicted demand for skilled workers and there is a proposal to provide career and training opportunities for those leaving the armed forces. No details have been announced yet but it’s expected to commence early next year.

This is probably not applicable to you but I’ll mention it as it may benefit someone else reading this. Construction Youth Trust is a London based charity set up to help young people find jobs in the industry. They provide career advice, training workshops and access to funding. Even if you’re not in the age range they are targeting they may still be a source of further advice?

Natasha – I’m a woman in her mid twenties looking to get into the construction industry. For various reasons I will not be able to complete a full or part time study of the ONC. I have seen ICS Learn and Reed offering distance learning versions of the course. Do these count the same when it comes to applying for jobs or for further education courses? Or are there practical elements that are missed out? READ MORE…

As far as I’m aware the online courses on offer are a Level 3 BTEC course which may be accredited by edexcel but they are not the equivalent of the course you would do at a college. The only widely recognised construction course you can do online is the NEBOSH certificate although you still need to sit the final exam at a college or training organisation.

Rather than spend a lot of money on a course that may turn out to be a waste of time I think you’d be better off getting some practical experience at some level first with a view to looking at studying for qualifications when your circumstances change.

Anon – i was doing a btec national diploma in construction and engineering at college. i decided i was going to leave after my first year. i didnt want the year to be a waste of time so i got all my work up to date and passed with a level 3 in construction and engineering. i have some labouring experience, and the rest of my experience is in the food sector. i was told my certificate would be enough to get me into employment in the construction sector? if this is so what jobs could i be applying for? or what courses could i be applying for to get a good chance of getting a good well payed job? READ MORE…

The qualification you have isn’t going to guarantee you get any sort of work although it is bound to help.

Try applying for roles with small, local businesses as they tend to be more open minded.

For a start you could do a first aid course and the site supervisors safety certificate (SSSTS)- both can be completed in a few days and will give you an advantage. Longer term you could do the HNC in Construction which could lead to a managerial or technical position.

Claire – I am looking to start a career in Quantity Surveying and would like some help as to how might be the best way to do this. I am a qualified primary teacher and have worked in the education system for 13 years and now feel the time has come to change career. I would like to start studying and have been looking at the RICS foundation course. Do you have any other suggestions that may help me? READ MORE…

The RICS Foundation is a good course but if your current knowledge of construction is limited you may find it difficult.

Depending on your timescale and budget it might be better to start with a general construction course first. The BTEC National Certificate is the usual route to entry but given your age and education I’d suggest the HNC would be a better option.

This covers all aspects of commercial construction including various aspects of surveying (not just quantity surveying) as well as construction management and will broaden your outlook.

Rebecca – I’m looking to train up a current member of the accounts admin team as a QS, but she doesn’t have any A Levels. I’ve been advised that she needs to do the ONS in Building Studies (BTEC) – is this correct as there seem to be a number of different courses. READ MORE…

The ONS (formally known as the BTEC National Certificate in Construction) could be the right course, depending on the age and experience of the student.

The only drawback with this option is that it is a level 3 qualification so she would also have to do the Level 4 HNC afterwards. Good HNC grades will usually count towards a relevant surveying degree course. Each course lasts for 2 years before you even get to the degree stage.

Ideally the student will be able to demonstrate sufficient experience in the industry in order to be accepted onto the HNC course – eliminating the need to do the ONC and saving a lot of time.

The logic behind this is that you need to have a thorough knowledge of construction methods and practice before you can study to become a QS. The ONC is for those who have virtually no knowledge while the HNC is a bit more advanced.

The head of the built environment dept at your local college should be able to advise you on the best way forward.

Sam – I was looking to do quantity survey at university I’m currently in year 12 doing a trial period of my subjects for 2 week so I can decide whether I want to continue with them or change them .

At the moment I have chosen these A level subjects Maths, ICT and geography which I think will help me to pursue my dream. (Can you please tell me if they are ok and which other subjects could also help me to pursue this, as there really isn’t much help out there on the university websites as to what they exactly want.)

My parents also suggested I do biology as a back up subject if (god forbid) quantity survey doesn’t work out I could then, go it the health sector. So being me I researched a little bit more and found out a number of university’s accept btec extended diplomas (equivalent to 3 A levels) for QS but unfortunately they did not state in which subject areas. ( so if anyone knew a little bit more about this could you please help me out.

Because a btec extended diploma in biology would be something, I would be looking into doing.if it’s accepted for quantity surveying if not please let me know). I did try calling up university’s but they’ve all been really busy with clearing and admissions so they would just put be back through to the automated call service. I will again try again after the rush but was just hoping someone who knew a little about this could help me out.

As a general rule all maths and science subjects are ideal. Biology may not seem that relevant but it is a science and a good grade in this subject would demonstrate your ability to get your head around complex subjects.

The fact you’ve given some logical thought to choosing this subject is also to your credit (albeit with some parental coercion).

RICS have a list of recommended subjects here:

It’s worth bearing in mind also that quantity surveying covers a diverse range of disciplines. If you do decide it isn’t for you many of the principles learned will stand you in good stead for any number of alternative options – not just within the surveying profession.

George – I am 23 years old currently working in construction in spain as what could probably be seen as a project manager for a small building firm organising all materials, relevant tradesmen and keeping the jobs on track for completion date.

I have been in the industry for nearly 3 years after taking a change from retail management. I am now looking at using my experience and interests in becoming a quantity surveyor.

I left school at 16 without a levels so would you recommend I take a btec in construction and one in surveying and estimating or do you think I would be eligible to advance on to the HNC which would give me a faster route to a degree?

Im looking for the most time efficient way whilst studying from home in order to continue work and gaining more hands on experience, but ultimately qualifying as a quantity surveyor.

I would be looking to return to the uk for university but would rather complete the necessary qualifications for entry via distance learning. READ MORE…

There isn’t a distance learning option so you can rule that out. Doing the HNC will be the fastest way to getting on a degree course for you and there is a chance you’ll be accepted on work experience, although you might want to rethink the way you explain this?

HNC courses tend to run on a part-time day release basis (one full day a week) for 2 years although there may be some colleges offering it on an evening basis (very few, if any though).

First step is to talk to colleges in the UK and take it from there.

Ian – I’m keen to study this qualification via distance learning/online as I have a fullIan – I’m keen to study this qualification via distance learning/online as I have a full time job.

From a search it looks as though some distance learning providers do offer the course but it is often listed as being ABC Awards accredited rather than BTEC. I wondered if you know whether ABC Awards are properly recognised/valued or if you know of a BTEC online offering? READ MORE… READ MORE…

There are a few such courses available to do online but they are not recognised by employers or universities. To put it bluntly, they are a waste of time and money.

If getting time off work is a problem get in touch with your local college and ask if there is anything they can do to help you.

Mark – Hi i have been working in the construction industry all my life since I was 16. With an apprenticeship as a bricklayer I have been working as a a self employed builder to this present time. I am now 54 and would like to gain an hnc or degree in construction. Is there a possible route for mature students. READ MORE…

Yes. Skip the National Certificate, if you can, since it will be too basic for you and go straight onto the HNC.

I did my my HNC when I was 40, there were others in my class much older (older than you). The first step is to contact your local college and arrange to speak with the head of the ‘built environment’ dept. He/she will be able to waive the normal entry requirements for students with industry experience.

You will be surprised how much advantage your experience gives you although some of the subject material will be a struggle at first. I found I learned much more from other students than I did from the college. You get some who are good at maths or some other of the technical aspects but who have no idea how buildings are constructed and visa versa.

Jack – I have recently received my certificates for my HNC in construction passes. I now look to perhaps build on this as I aim to potentially work abroad as a Quantity Surveyor in the near future. I have 2 years actual experience working with 2 main contractors and I have most recently been promoted to assistant quantity surveyor.

During the last two years I have predominantly spent most of my time working on commercial refurb projects, though now as an assistant I have moved onto the construction/entire build projects ranging from £2-5 million.

I am wondering what could be my next course of action to gain more qualifications, though please note I am not really willing to complete my honours degree at a university, as I look to potentially move abroad within the next 2 years. Is there any alternative options for this? would my current qualifications and experience that will have grown by two years be enough by then? READ MORE…

It may be that your current qualifications and experience will be sufficient in some cases but your long term prospects will be greatly enhanced if you complete a degree course. If you don’t want to or can’t study in the UK RICS have a list of accredited courses here:

The availability and practicalities will depend on which country you plan to move to but there are some courses available with a flexible study option.

Robert – I’m trying to replace lost TEC and HTEC certificates in Structural Steelwork from 1982 and 1984 , but the college where I studied say they only keep records for 7 years. Can you suggest which body in the UK may be able to supply replacement copies or equivalent? READ MORE…

If the college can’t tell you then I don’t know what else to suggest? Pearson are the usual suspects with most certificate regarding the construction sector but HTEC is not a scheme I’m familiar with.

Pearson: Apply for a copy of your results or certificate Get a replacement exam certificate

Robert – I sat the triple bar test in 2015 in my then employers office in Glasgow, the company has since went into liquidation and never gave me any paperwork or certificate. The company must have got the paperwork as I worked at Hunterston power station for them. Is there any way I can get a copy of my pass certificate etc now as it is valid till 2018 and would save me sitting it again? READ MORE…

The triple bar scheme is administered by the CITB so they should be able to answer your question more directly. You can phone them on: 0344 994 4400 or via the contact form here

See Also
HNC in Construction
Surveying site using a theodolite
Construction Degrees