Vocational Training: Definition and Different Types

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 May 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

There are several methods of pursuing your specific career path. Vocational training allows individuals to develop skills and gain qualifications in highly technical or hands-on fields. In Australia, 4.2 million people take part in a Vocational Education and Training (VET) course annually. In this article, we define vocational training, explain the different programs available and explore what jobs you can get with vocational training.

What is vocational training?

Vocational training refers to instructional and hands-on programs and courses that focus on the skills required for a particular job function or trade. Typically, vocational training programs prepare students for specific careers and disregard traditional and unrelated academic subjects. At the end of a program or course, students receive a certification, diploma or advanced diploma. Students require vocational training to prepare for trades including, but not limited to:

  • Automotive repair

  • Plumbing

  • Culinary arts

  • Hairdressing

  • Carpentry

  • Dentistry

Australia's Vocational Education and Training (VET) system is a partnership between governments and industry. It provides career preparation and formal qualifications to people wanting to specialise in a certain area, upgrade their skills in a specific field, make a career change, join the workforce for the first time or re-join as a mature aged worker. Nearly 80 percent of students enrolled in the VET system immediately find a job in their chosen field after completing a program, so it's a worthwhile career path to follow.

Related: Learning Styles for Career Development

Who would benefit from a vocational training course?

Here are some scenarios where people benefit from vocational training:

  • Entering the job market for the first time.

  • Re-entering the workforce after taking an extended career break.

  • Needing to upgrade your skills in order to switch industries or to develop skills in an area of interest.

  • A secondary student hoping for a head start in a career that excites them.

Different vocational training types

People can accomplish vocational training through many channels and at varying stages in their career. Here are some ways you can receive vocational training in Australia:

  • High school VET programs

  • Technical colleges

  • Online learning

  • TAFE (Technical and Further Education)

  • Apprenticeships and traineeships

  • On-the-job training

  • Standalone courses

High school VET programs

Vocational training is available to high school students who wish to gain work experience in a trade, while continuing their academic studies. Some high schools offer this vocational training type as part of their high school curriculum, while others allow their students to complete the qualification at a registered training organisation (RTO) like TAFE. These vocational training programs allow students to explore different career paths and prepare for industry-specific work or advanced education. Students who participate in vocational training programs at this level continue to pursue their high school diploma.

Technical colleges

There are several independent technical colleges located across Australia. As RTOs, they deliver vocational training through full-time apprenticeships, VET in Schools programs and short courses and training. Available to year 10 to 12 students, technical colleges focus on face-to-face delivery and hands-on practical assessments, so their students graduate with a quality trade and a high school certificate. Apprenticeships available at technical colleges include:

  • Automotive

  • Civil construction

  • Carpentry

  • Plumbing

  • Electrical

  • Engineering

Online learning

Open Colleges is Australia's leading online education provider that offers nationally recognised vocational training courses in a variety of trades, including:

  • Building and construction

  • Horticulture

  • Beauty

  • Agriculture

  • Animal studies


One of the most popular vocational training providers in Australia is TAFE. With locations across Australia, TAFE courses range from certificates to advanced diplomas and can take anywhere from six months to three years to complete. Students can expect more hands-on learning than theory-based study and will graduate with the practical and technical skills necessary to thrive in their preferred industry. At TAFE, you can receive vocational training in various subject areas, including:

  • Agriculture

  • Arts and design

  • Building

  • Business and marketing

  • Health, including nursing

  • Education and languages

  • Engineering and transport

  • Hairdressing and beauty

  • Hospitality and tourism

  • Information technology

Apprenticeships and traineeships

Apprenticeships are one of the most common vocational training programs. They're available in hundreds of occupations and aren't exclusive to hands-on trade sectors like construction, plumbing and automotive. For example, people can also earn an apprenticeship or traineeship in the retail, business and information technology industries too.

While students pay for their vocational training certification at organisations like TAFE, apprentices and trainees receive a wage as they complete their training, which increases annually. You also get hands-on training from a qualified professional and employers receive financial incentives to employ apprentices and trainees. This makes it a win-win situation for both parties.

To enrol in an apprenticeship, contact an Australian Apprenticeship Support Network provider in your region. They're an invaluable government service that helps you find an employer and RTO to complete your training, provides a training contract and supports you during your entire apprenticeship.

On-the-job training

People complete on-the-job training through an employer or a third-party training provider like TAFE, which is sourced by the employer. Commonly, companies provide employees with job-specific training and general employment skills, such as human resources training, teamwork skills and computer training. Skills gained on the job can prove valuable for your current and future career prospects. Like apprenticeships, companies often pair new employees with an experienced colleague.

Standalone courses

Professionals hoping to develop their skills and improve their marketability often enrol in standalone courses. These vocational training programs suit students not seeking a diploma or degree. People take standalone courses for many reasons, including:

  • Fulfilling the requirements for membership into a professional organisation.

  • For professional development to update their knowledge of current skills.

  • To continue their education and expand on their current skill set.

  • To learn a supplementary trade.

Different vocational training qualifications

When you complete a vocational training program, you will receive one of the following qualifications:

  • Certificate I to IV. These course types are for developing and teaching industry-specific skills. The length of these programs vary from six months to two years.

  • Diplomas. To receive a diploma, students must complete one to two years of full-time study. Focusing on both industry and professional careers, many Australian universities use diplomas as a pathway to gain entry into some of their courses.

  • Advanced diplomas. Advanced diplomas provide a high-level of practical skills for fields like engineering and accounting. These courses range from 18 to 24 months of full-time study.

  • Vocational Graduate certificate and diploma. Equivalent to high school graduate diplomas, they provide students with a high level of knowledge and training in a specific industry. Certificates require six months to one year of full-time study, while diplomas are one to two years of full-time study.

Skills you can learn through vocational training

First, students can gain basic literacy and numeracy skills through pre-vocational training or foundation studies. Then, depending on your specific area of study, students can gain many skills through vocational training, including:

  • Construction

  • Automotive

  • Hair and beauty

  • Hospitality

  • Design

  • Information technology

Jobs you can land with vocational training

Here is a list of jobs you will be qualified for through vocational training:

1. Hairdresser

National average salary: $22.73 per hour

Primary duties: Hairdressers cut, colour, treat and maintain their clients' hair. They also style hair through blow drying, straightening and perms. Hairdressers typically receive their qualification through an apprenticeship at a salon.

2. Plumber

National average salary: $38.96 per hour

Primary duties: Another apprenticeship option, plumbers install, repair, test, and maintain different plumbing systems. Plumbers must have a high school certificate and sometimes may need licensing before practicing.

3. Electrician

National average salary: $46.52 per hour

Primary duties: Electricians require a high school certificate, licensing, and to complete an electrical apprenticeship. Their primary duties involve repairing, maintaining and installing wiring, reading blueprints, and testing for electrical issues. Because of the complexity of electrical systems and the dangers associated with working with live power, electrical apprenticeships often take four years to complete.

4. Dental technician

National average salary: $19.06 per hour

Primary duties: Through TAFE you can earn a Diploma of Dental Technology. Dental technicians work in dental laboratories and their primary duty is to make models of mouth and teeth from impressions provided by dentists and dental prosthetics. After completing this vocational training course, students can enrol in TAFE's Bachelor of Dental Prosthetics.

5. Baker

National average salary: $21.85 per hour

Primary duties: At TAFE, you can earn a Certificate III in Baking through hands-on training. A baker's principal duty is to produce various types of breads, pastries, biscuits and cakes for bakeries and other food establishments. Bakers must mix ingredients according to recipes and shape and fill products when necessary.

6. Carpenter

National average salary: $39.65 per hour

Primary duties: Through an apprenticeship, you can gain a Certificate III in Carpentry. A carpenter's primary responsibility is to construct, erect, install, finish and repair wooden structures and fixtures at residential and commercial properties. Alternatively, you can choose a specialty apprenticeship and qualify to become a cabinet maker (kitchen and bathrooms), stair builder, trades assistant (joinery and shop fitting) or cabinet maker (furniture).

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