Vocational Education Training: What Is It?

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August 27th, 2019 No Comments Features


Across Australia, Vocational Education Training (VET) programs provide students and professionals with the skills they need to thrive in their chosen industry. Every year, 4.2 million working age Australians participate in a VET course to become masters of their trade. Over 4,500 registered training organizations provide training, and students can choose from more than 1,450 qualifications; 1,300 skill sets; and 750 courses. The sky is truly the limit.

The goal of this post is to help you understand the VET system so that you can make an informed choice over whether it’s the right career path for you. In a world where the job market changes so quickly, demanding different skills from one year to the next, it’s essential to stay abreast of current career trends and to take responsibility for your own professional development.
Nearly 80 percent of students who choose the VET route find work in their chosen field directly after completing their training. You can feel confident about your future when you know so many others have found their way by following the same path. With that, here is the information you need to know when considering VET as your next step.

What Is VET?

Australia’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) system is designed to ground you in the real world, with real job opportunities to boost your career. Based on a partnership between governments and industry, VET courses provide career preparation and formal qualifications to those wanting to specialise in a certain area, upgrade their skills in a chosen field, make a career change, join the workforce for the first time, or re-join the workforce after a break.

You might associate vocational courses with trade-based occupational skills like dentistry or welding, but they’re more than that. VET programs have a much wider range of applications, such as pre-vocational training or foundation studies involving basic life skills like literacy and numeracy training; basic vocational skills for specific occupations (e.g. floristry and automotive); and semi-professional vocational training (e.g. business advertising, occupational health and safety).

Because they are monitored by the government’s Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF), VET courses follow national education standards and related certifications and degrees are accepted by employers across the country. The AQTF offers standards for the registration of training providers, those bodies that regulate and accredit training in the states and territories, the delivery and assessment of subjects taught, and administration systems.

How Did VET Develop?

The VET system began in Australia as a series of apprenticeships offered across a wide variety of industries and fields along with the establishment of vocational institutions, regulated state by state with little Commonwealth funding. In the 1970s VET expanded to include a range of occupations with greater involvement from the federal government. In the 80s, the qualifications framework shifted from curriculum-based to competency-based training. The 90s saw a nationally recognized and regulated system grounded in core units of competency, recognition of a student’s prior learning, greater influence of industry in the educational framework, and the development of a more open national training market.

Changes since the 90s have included more student and employer support in trading providers, targeted subsidies and income-contingent loans from governments made available to a range of public and private RTOs, and training package reform work released by the Australian Qualifications Framework to ensure that the AQF continues to connect students, employers, and education providers to the wider community.

Currently, the Commonwealth is working to make data more readily available to students so they can identify career pathways and job opportunities, with the addition of a Skill Transferability Tool, through a Jobs and Education Data Integration Project.

What Qualifications Are Offered?

The VET sector offers several types of qualifications, including certificates I to IV for introductory skills and training; diplomas to prepare students for enterprise and paraprofessional careers; advanced diplomas to provide a high level of practical professional skills; vocational graduate certificates/diplomas for high-level employment-related skills and knowledge; and English language courses.

Certificate IV, diploma, and advanced diploma level courses can provide students with a pathway into the higher education sector. In addition to helping students meet entry requirements, VET courses can also provide credit towards some higher education courses. For example, students who graduate with a diploma may receive up to two or three semesters of credit towards a related bachelor’s degree. The exact amount of credit granted depends on the institution, the degree, and the VET qualification completed. Make sure to check with your institution to find out what arrangements are available.
Additionally, some institutions offer a vocational graduate certificate or diploma, which is designed to help students develop an advanced skill set covering a wide range of knowledge areas to prepare them for a quickly changing job market in the future.

How Are VET Courses Accredited?

VET courses are provided by Technical and Further Education Institutes (TAFE), registered training organizations (RTOs), and other schools and universities. All courses adhere to the Australian Qualifications Framework, which defines the standards for various vocational qualifications.

Government and industries collaborate to create the curricula, which means the training is designed to prepare students for the workforce. Many programs offer on-site training as well, giving students an even higher leg up in their industry of choice.

Credit from VET courses at the certificate, diploma, and advanced diploma levels can go toward higher education courses—even as much as two or three semesters of credit toward a related bachelor’s degree. Some courses may replace the entire first year of university, depending on the VET provider and tertiary institution. Or, if you’re an international student thinking of moving to Australia, signing up for a VET course may help you secure a visa and enter the job market more easily.

How Are VET Courses Taught?

VET programs are rooted in “competency-based training,” which means students must demonstrate specific skills to meet industry standards. The industry itself develops qualifications and competency standards which structure VET training methods. Most VET institutions use training packages that set the competency standards and dictate how the courses will be taught. Teachers have some freedom in how they choose to approach their instruction, however. Training packages are reviewed every three years by an industry advisory body, industry personnel, training providers, and other stakeholders to make sure they’re still up-to-date.

In some cases, students with skills gained through informal or formal training may be eligible for recognition of prior learning (RPL) through their VET provider. Whole or part qualifications may be awarded depending on the skillset.

What’s the Difference Between VET and TAFE?

Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutions are the vocational training institutes owned, operated, and financed by state and territory governments. Along with private colleges, TAFE institutions are Australia’s largest providers of VET courses.

VET courses are the classes provided by TAFE which allow anyone to gain practical skills in their area of interest. VET courses can also be provided by private colleges, adult and community education providers, community organizations, industry skill centers, commercial and enterprise training providers, and some universities and schools.

TAFE-operated VET programs are for professionals looking to further their education, those interested in developing their skills and supplementing their income through apprenticeships and traineeships, students seeking pathways to universities, international students hoping to improve their English skills, and those just entering the job market.

Who Can Take VET Courses?

Anyone over the age of 15 years old can enroll in a VET course. Half of VET course participants are over 25 and most study part-time. Although many students enroll in VET courses to pursue a higher education a year or two after leaving secondary school, a large portion of participants already hold university qualifications or degrees and simply wish to develop a new skill set. Others are required to take VET courses by their employers as part of their professional development track, or complete a course while still in school as part of the “VET in Schools” program.

The VET sector serves people of all backgrounds and education levels, including students living in both urban areas and remote regions; native English speakers and ESL speakers; Indigenous and international students; and students with disabilities.

What Are Apprenticeships and Traineeships?

VET programs offer apprenticeships and traineeships in order to supplement educational training with practical training. They are available in hundreds of occupations, and not just in the traditional sectors like construction and plumbing. You can find apprenticeships and traineeships also in the retail, business, and information technology sectors.

Apprentices and trainees receive a wage as they complete their training, which increases as they progress. They may even be matched with a proper job by a group training organization and placed with an employer. Employers also receive financial incentives to use apprentices and trainees, as well as to re-train current workers, so it’s a win-win situation for all.

An apprenticeship or traineeship is also an excellent way to try out a particular position before committing to it. Once you’ve had the opportunity to see what it’s like on the inside, you can decide whether your chosen path is the right one for you or whether you should shift your studies and refocus in a different area. There’s no better way to know how you’ll like a profession than to try it out. The VET system allows you to do just that, which sets it apart from a more conventional academic path that may not offer the same opportunities for practical application.

How Much Flexibility Do VET Courses Offer?

The Australian Qualifications Framework offers multiple pathways for students with different needs. Depending on what skills you need and when you need them, you can enroll in qualifications, accredited courses, industry-recognized skills sets, and units of competency.

Whereas a traditional university education might require you to take extra courses that aren’t closely aligned with your career interests, VET courses allow you the flexibility to focus on what you really need in order to fulfill your personal ambitions. Learning programs through VET are tailored to the specific needs of each student, making them a great choice for those looking for more flexibility in their education.

The VET system also works to provide students in remote and rural areas of Australia with the education they deserve. Whether you’re in metropolitan Sydney or country Victoria, you can complete your training, either online or through mail-home course materials, and keep your toolbox of skills sharp enough to compete in the job market on equal footing with people living all across Australia.

What Are Some Common VET Courses?

Popular vocational courses in Australia include accounting, business administration, marketing, information technology, multimedia design, hospitality management, agricultural studies, horticulture, applied science, architecture, arts & design, hairdressing, cookery, food technology, child care, computer technology, (electrical, mechanical, computer systems technology, detail drafting, or civil) engineering, English language, environmental science, fashion design, health & beauty, community service, nursing, manufacturing, media studies, marine study, music, tourism and etc.

You can specialize in a diverse selection of areas within each industry as well, such as Community Rehabilitation or Speech Pathology within the broader category of Health and Dental.

Australia’s leading online education provider, Open Colleges, offers nationally recognized vocational education courses in many of the areas above. To date, Open Colleges has helped over 800,000 students find their passion and launch their careers. You can view a full list of courses available at Open Colleges here.

A vocational and education training course may be the right choice for you if you’d like to enter the job market for the first time, re-enter after taking a break, upgrade your skills, switch industries, or simply learn more about an area that interests you. You may have previous work experience, or you may be a student fresh out of secondary school. In fact, you may still be a secondary student hoping to get a head start on a career that inspires you. In all of these cases, a VET course may be just what you need to pursue the dream you have in mind.


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Saga Briggs is Managing Editor of InformED. You can follow her on Twitter@sagamilena or Facebook.

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