NCRQ or NEBOSH? Decide which route to take…

There’s been loads of debate on numerous forums and blogs regarding the NEBOSH and NCRQ Health & Safety course offerings. If you are thinking of building a career or progressing in the Health, Safety and Environment space, you might find this review valuable.

Having completed both the NEBOSH General Certificate and the NCRQ Diploma, I can shed light on my own experience with both routes.

Discussion and debate rumbles on about which is the best option.

Though, the question you should ask is ‘Which is the best option for me?‘.

It feels like a good time to pitch in given NCRQ’s recent claims on Twitter. They are reputedly now the most popular Health & Safety Diploma course provider in the UK (2017)….. NCRQ Tweet

The gauntlet has clearly been laid down by NCRQ. The ‘Which Course?’ question  has become even more intriguing for those wanting to complete an IOSH-recognised Health & Safety course.

Competition is healthy

NEBOSH has been clearly dominant for a very long period of time, in terms of both popularity and recognition.

However, it appears that the new kid on the block has made a significant impact within 3 years of introduction. We will look at the reasons why this might be the case.

We won’t look at the NVQ route as I don’t have direct experience myself and would not like to make assumptions. That said, it may be a reasonable option for those who are already established on their HSE career path.

Now, let’s look deeper into the potential reasons behind this apparent changing of the guard……

Same same, but a little bit different

The NEBOSH Diploma has long been regarded as the pinnacle of workplace H&S qualifications (in many quarters).

It had become revered in such a way that anyone with that certificate would automatically be inducted in the Health & Safety fraternity.

As a result, they would almost be assumed to be a health & safety expert because they ‘got their NEBOSH’.

Of course, much of that respect was well-deserved considering the stringent cross-examination by the NEBOSH examiner’s.

The strict marking criteria used produces relatively low pass rates.

For some, it was a way to keep the numbers down in the industry. Arguably, they may just be trying to maintain exceptionally high standards of graduate.

If either were ever part of the strategy, it has possibly backfired a little in the short-term at least.

Competition is more fierce than ever.

That isn’t to say that NEBOSH have rested on their laurels. After extensive consultation, NEBOSH most recently (Nov, 2015) updated their curriculum.

As a result, candidates are now required to complete a significant coursework element. This includes providing recommendations in a typical workplace setting.

The updates seem to have been timely with the appearance of NCRQ into the market.

Focusing on the ‘real’ world

NCRQ’s qualifications are said to be ‘for the real world’.

Perhaps a reference to the failure of some courses to provide student’s with the tools for managing Health & Safety in a practical context.

NCRQ’s intent is not to equip student’s with the ability to recite reams of legislative references and regulatory requirements.

Rather, they want to build the student’s confidence in finding the most relevant guidance and information and applying that effectively to real-life.

This includes testing the ability to provide unambiguous advice, to pitch Health & Safety to different workplace audiences, provide consultancy advice and so forth.

The broader aim is to use problem-based learning to assess the competency of individuals in dealing with both basic and complex situations.

Evidently, the approach has resonated with professionals in the H&S field, if the strong market reaction is anything to go by.

If you are considering taking a NEBOSH or NCRQ course then you may be quite new to the world of health, safety and environment. If so, once you’ve finished reading this, you might want to have a read at our guide to UK Health and Safety.

Also, don’t forget, if you would like to learn, network and have more impact in Health, Safety & Environment, make sure to join us for the Safeti Podcast!

OK, let’s move on…..

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How do they assess?

The NEBOSH qualifications have traditionally consisted of strict assessment criteria dominated by exams with a splash of coursework to deal with the ‘practical’ side of Health & Safety.

On the other hand, NCRQ have thrown all their eggs into one basket and ditched the exam and classroom format.

NCRQ have favoured a self-directed workbook style approach which focuses on case-studies and problem-based learning.

Students must also meet a set of specific competency criteria for each assessment to progress further.

For me, this was a bit like the difference between –

1) Being taught directly in a class (possibly by a poor teacher) to perform for expected exam questions

2) Being given the freedom to research for a dissertation in University.

Two very different styles of learning, each person will likely have their own preference.

It is definitely worth noting that a few NEBOSH provider’s now provide an online learning option. Some will even offer a mix between classroom and online learning methods.

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Each to their own

In my experience, the NCRQ course was more relatable to my day job due to the case-study based learning approach. Critically, it actually fired up my interest in the subject matter.

That said, by virtue of being self-study based, the NCRQ course is unquestionably ‘book heavy’.

Equally, the workbooks are excellently structured and you feel a sense of real progress when working through them.

It may not be to some people’s taste to have to work through three (Diploma-level) 300-page workbooks and this can get a little tedious, particularly towards the end.

I finished in around 8 or 9 months whilst working full-time. Perhaps that was a bit more aggressive than necessary, but it’s good to keep up momentum!

It can be completed over up to 3 years (for the Diploma), which means it is very flexible for whatever life throws at you during the course of doing it.

The important part is that you have the self-discipline to jump back on the wagon (so to speak) as soon as you can.If you would like to get an in-depth look at the NCRQ courses, take a look at our NCRQ Certificate or NCRQ Diploma posts.

How tough is NEBOSH?

One elephant in the room with NEBOSH is the Exam Pass Rate (maybe it should be Failure rate!).

I was surprised to see figures which were quoted in a post by the Communications & Management Institute here NEBOSH Failure rates (UPDATE: The article has been removed).

Quite alarmingly, in 2016, the failure rate was said to be 92% (Diploma).The potential reasons for this were discussed at length in the post, which unfortunately is no longer available.

Some of the key reasons included the variability in quality of course provision and answers given not being adequately aligned to the strict marking criteria.

If you have read any threads on the topic of pass rates, the confusion is plain to see. The rates can fluctuate depending on who’s telling (or selling) the story. We need facts on this stuff, not opinions!

Digging deeper

I think that this failure rate of 92% may have related the number of people who had to resit at least one exam. This would make some sense, but don’t quote me on that one.

I wanted to know what was going on with the pass rates, so tried to dig into the NEBOSH website a bit further.

The website itself isn’t easy to navigate to be truthful. However, I did manage to find the NEBOSH Strategic Report from 2017.

Take a look below at the trend on the cumulative pass rate for the NEBOSH National Diploma and the NEBOSH International Diploma.

The report only refers to the average pass rate across the last 12 years from 2006. It fails to discuss the steep downtrend in cumulative pass rates.

This lack of clarity should be cleared up to give students more confidence in taking on the NEBOSH Diploma.

NEBOSH Diploma pass rates bar chart showing declining rates

NEBOSH International Diploma bar chart showing pass rates declining over 10 year period

Declining pass rates

According to the graphs above, the pass rate for the NEBOSH National Diploma from around 90% in 2009/10 to now floating between 50-60%.

A massive drop.

The NEBOSH International Diploma has come down even harder, sitting at between 40-50%.

Notably, within the Strategic Report, NEBOSH signalled that their 2016 syllabus revision considered further the needs of employer’s.

This included a renewed focus on softer skills for influencing organisational change. Also, a greater emphasis on proportionate, sensible risk management.

This feels like it is more aligned to the NCRQ school of thought and is a welcome move.

Whether the level of difficulty in passing the NEBOSH Diploma has served the health and safety industry in a positive way is an interesting question.

Has it meant that those passing through the ranks are more committed to the cause?

Or has it served to disenchant those otherwise well-suited individuals who aren’t as “academic” from progressing in the industry?

Make an informed choice…

The NEBOSH Certificate was highly valuable for me and I had an enjoyable experience throughout the course.

However, after completion of the exams I was not chomping at the bit to do the Diploma.

That’s when I noticed the NCRQ option, which I thought aligned better with my personal learning style.

Along with that, their educational objectives resonated with me.

So I decided to give it a shot!

In my opinion, effective H&S shouldn’t be about memorising regulations and giving a prescriptive answer under exam conditions.

It is more about using available information/expertise to pragmatically reduce risk through positive engagement with the workforce.

I felt that NCRQ’s course nurtured those skills. The learning approach reflects the realities of being a health and safety advisor.

Thankfully, NEBOSH have now realised the gap in their courses and making changes to this effect.

As an HSE advisor, you often have to research a completely new or unfamiliar process/hazard etc. within a short timeframe, at a high level.

You must be able to align that fresh knowledge with previous experience to make a considered, proportionate and professional judgement.

Both course providers are recognising and tapping into that need.

If you would like to know more detail about the courses which NEBOSH provide, check out our post on ‘NEBOSH – What you need to know’

NEBOSH Blog Post art and page link

What are my career prospects?

The Health, Safety & Environment profession has an abundance of opportunity across the globe.

HSE practitioners can earn very attractive salary packages across different industry sectors.

Let’s look at the UK as an example:

Salary ranges for a HSE Manager in UK vary broadly – there is a wide range depending on experience, sector, location etc.

Check out the latest IOSH Salary Survey for more information, but here is a snippet of typical roles & average salaries.

  • Safety and health assistant: £28,000–£41,000
  • Safety and health officer: £31,000–£49,000
  • Safety and health consultant: £30,000–£53,000
  • Safety and health manager: £32,000–£50,000
  • Head of safety and health: £33,000–£55,000
  • Safety and health director: £37,000–£57,000

Not too bad, eh? Earnings may be much higher or indeed lower depending on the specifics of the position, industry and location.

NCRQ on the Safeti Podcast

I was so intrigued about how and why NCRQ actually started, that I invited their Chief Executive, Iain Evans, on to the Safeti Podcast to discuss their journey with me.

This was a really informative podcast for our listener’s and started some great conversation on social media. You can see my Linkedin post here. 

If you haven’t already connected with me on Linkedin, I’d be delighted to welcome you to my network! Connect with me on Linkedin.

You can listen to the Podcast here

Safeti Podcast NCRQ

If you are only starting off on your own HSE journey, check our post on how to get involved in Health, Safety & Environment for some additional guidance.

Nobody said it was easy

Let’s be clear, neither course is offering to take you out into a high-risk workplace for 6 months to show you the ropes.

However, where both courses attempt to provide exposure to real-life scenarios in different ways, it appears that NCRQ’s delivery structure is definitely working for some.

If self-starting (after work!) isn’t your strong point, then the more formal structure of NEBOSH may just be your thing.

On the other hand, if you are highly motivated and NEBOSH is preferred due to your location (outside of the UK), perhaps NEBOSH online-learning options may strike the right balance for you.

You can hear what SHEilds course tutor Victoria Hughes had to say about both the classroom and online options for NEBOSH in our podcast episode.

Also, for an insight into what the NEBOSH exams entail, access the latest NEBOSH Certificate level Examiner’s reports here.

What next?

The Health, Safety & Environment profession is pretty competitive, so it’s imperative that you make the right noise in whichever industry you are wanting to work in. This should include doing as much person-to-person and online networking as possible.

Make sure to check out my post & podcast on how to massively boost your professional profile using Linkedin. Start building your personal brand today and it will help you compete as your career develops into the future!


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