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Degree, Apprenticeship, Traineeship or TAFE? What’s the Difference?

Posted:
25 October 2021   |   by Explore Careers
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It’s that time of year when things start to feel crunchy for many young people as they focus on their next steps after school.

On top of getting through assessments, assignments and exams – it’s a lot to think about! We definitely wouldn’t blame you for wanting to stick your head in the sand for a bit and hope it all blows over!

We know better than most that decisions are easier when you have the right tools and information to help you understand everything out there and what might be right for you.

And to get started, we’re laying it down: Degree, apprenticeship, traineeship, or TAFE – what on earth is the difference?

Degree Programs

Degree programs are a popular pathway for many young people. They offer the opportunity to pursue a preferred subject at a higher level, ready to pursue a career within a set industry once you graduate.

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by universities upon completion of a course of study lasting three to six years. Entry into universities across Australia is usually based on your ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) score. Scores required vary depending on the university and course you want to study.

Pros Cons
●      Opportunity to dive deep into learning about a preferred subject.

●      Preferred pathway for many careers and essential for some, such as law, engineering or medicine.

●      Flexibility to study online or on campus.

●      Finance options support students to gain qualifications now and pay back loans over time.

●      Bursaries and stipends also exist to help students financially.

●      Opportunities to socialise and follow your interests in other areas, meet new people and be a part of student communities.

●      Many young people make friends for life during their uni days.

●      Tuition fees are at an all-time high – many students face a lifetime paying back tuition costs.

●      Degrees are saturated qualifications within the job market – it can be very competitive to get a job with a degree alone.

●      Many university degrees focus on academic study that may not translate well to the workforce, with many employers wanting to see a degree plus work experience.

●      It could be four years before you gain your qualification and enter the workforce properly for the first time.

●      Degree programs require a higher demand of study with less support than you may be used to in a school environment. You’ll need to be prepared for the academic demands.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships offer you the opportunity to gain industry-recognised and accredited qualifications alongside actively working in your chosen sector. You’ll gain hands-on experience in a real-world environment, learn new skills, and get paid. Apprenticeships are available across over 500 different occupations in Australia, and this list is growing every year.

Traditionally, apprenticeships focused on trade roles such as plumbing, construction and mechanics, but there’s so much more to them now. From hospitality and catering to childcare, social work, marketing and business administration. Apprentices typically split their time between the workplace and place of study.

Pros Cons
●      Apprenticeships allow you to explore your professional interests in more depth, outside the classroom.

●      You get the chance to experience the best of both worlds – work and study simultaneously.

●      Apprentices are paid a wage when they work, so you’ll also earn an income as you get started in your chosen career.

●      Real-world experience on your resume means you’ll be ahead of your peers when you complete your qualifications.

●      Many employers employ the apprentices that train with them – it’s never a guarantee, but many employers are so impressed with their apprentices, they’re eager to hire them professionally before anyone else does!

●      Direct access to industry mentors to help you develop.

●      No training costs to you.

●      Working and studying as a school-leaver can be challenging. You’ll need to be prepared to commit.

 

●      Apprenticeships are highly specialised, so you may narrow your options to some degree once you start one. If you’re unsure of what you want to do, an apprenticeship may not be suitable for you just yet.

●      Your wage is lower than the national average. Because apprenticeship training costs are subsidised by your employer and/or the government, you’ll take home a lower hourly rate than other employees.

●      Competition for apprenticeship placements can be tough, as you’ll need to be placed with an employer. Starts are determined by employer capacity.

●      Some students miss the social aspect that university offers.

Traineeships

Traineeships, similar to apprenticeships, allow you to gain professional, industry-led qualifications alongside real-world work experience.

Trainees are trained in a vocational area such as hospitality, retail or office administration. They tend to be shorter than apprenticeships and offer young people the chance to explore an industry without making too much up-front commitment. They can be the perfect stepping stones into career pathways, apprenticeships or other vocational courses.

Traineeships can be commenced while you’re still in school through a school-based traineeship, meaning you can complete your qualifications in a familiar environment.

Pros Cons
●      Traineeships give you a stepping stone into different industries to explore potential roles you’re interested in.

●      They’re a perfect gateway into longer-term apprenticeships if you decide it’s right for you.

●      You get the chance to experience the best of both worlds – work and study simultaneously.

●      Trainees are paid a wage for the time they work.

●      Real-world experience on your resume means you’ll be ahead of your peers when you complete your qualifications.

●      Direct access to industry mentors to help you develop.

●      No training costs to you.

●      Working and studying can be tough. You’ll need to be prepared to commit.

●      Your wage is lower than the national average. Because apprenticeship training costs are subsidised by your employer and/or the government, you’ll take home a lower hourly rate than other employees.

●      Competition for traineeships can be tough, as you’ll need to be placed with an employer. Starts are determined by employer capacity.

●      Not all schools offer school-based apprenticeships, so you may miss out on opportunities if you don’t know who to speak to or where to find them.

TAFE and Vocational Education Courses

TAFE institutions provide tertiary education like universities, except rather than bachelor degrees which rank higher in the Australian Qualification Framework, TAFEs focus on vocational education and training. This includes certificates I, II, III and IV, diplomas and advanced diplomas.

TAFE courses can take anywhere from one to three years to complete. Students can also expect a difference in teaching and learning methods, as TAFE courses emphasise more practical learning than academic research-based learning.

Entry into TAFE courses does not typically require an ATAR, but you must complete your high school certificate.

Pros Cons
●      TAFE courses are highly accessible, you can study online or at your local campus, and regardless of grades, there’s an entry point to get started.

●      Shorter courses mean you can get qualified, accredited and start earning sooner than your peers.

●      Your tutors are often industry professionals with a strong background in what they teach – they can be excellent mentors and guides for starting your career.

●      The government usually subsidises course fees to help more people get access to the right course.

●      Qualifications are lower than degrees, so many students find them less intense and more manageable.

●      TAFE is often experiencing budget cuts and course removals, meaning your course may be cancelled if not enough people enrol.

●      Vocational education is considered less ‘prestigious’ than a university degree; however, this is a problematic cultural perception.

●      Vocational education can be limiting. The skills you’ll learn are very particular to one field, so you need to be sure it’s what you want to study.

●      While vocational courses are generally cheaper than university courses, there are add-on costs. You might need to pay for tools or uniforms out of your pocket.

Your Next Steps?

Your next steps are entirely up to you. We recommend you spend time familiarising yourself with all your options and see how well they align with your own personal and professional goals.

If you’re interested in learning more, the Good Universities Guide has an excellent section exploring your study options.

Nothing is ever set in stone, and you always have time to change your mind, but doing your research now will help set you up for those first successful steps forward!

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