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Which qualification level should you choose?

Which qualification level should you choose?

What’s the difference between a Certificate IV and a Diploma? Which one should you enrol in to boost your chances of securing your dream job? Unfortunately the formula isn’t a simple one, as the latest research shows.

Did you know there are six levels of vocational qualifications: four certificate levels, diploma and advanced diploma? It can be confusing to sift through course descriptions and compare vocational programs, not knowing which will be of greater benefit to you.

Our consultants field a lot of enquiries on exactly this dilemma. In some cases the explanation is easy: a few jobs have minimum requirements so if you want to pursue a particular role, you will need a specific qualification to comply with legislation. Qualifications like the Certificate IV in Work Health & Safety or the Certificate III in Education Support fall into this category.

For other courses the pathway is not so clear. Researchers at the University of Melbourne have published a paper, ‘Vocational education's variable links to vocations’, that “considers the roles that tertiary education qualifications, in particular mid-level qualifications, play in assisting their graduates to gain entry to and progression in work and how they may be strengthened”.

Lower level certificates

For the most part, graduates of lower level certificates—Certificate I and II—experienced a lower employment rate than graduates of higher levels. The researchers compared the 58% employment rate for Certificate I graduates and the 67% employment rate for Certificate II graduates with the employment rate of more than 80% for graduates from higher-level courses.

However, many Certificate I and II courses are designed for absolute beginners, particularly those who have not recently studied and have no experience in the field. They are often used as an introductory qualification that then allows its graduates to continue to a higher level, from which they then achieve a higher employment rate.

With this in mind, only consider Certificate I and II courses if you do not meet the requirements to enrol in a higher-level course. Your time and money is better spent on a qualification that is more likely to lead to a job.

Further study

Interestingly, Certificate III graduates were less likely to proceed to further study, with only 29% enrolling in a higher qualification after completion, but they still experienced high employment rates. This may be due to the fact that Certificate III is the level at which students can take on apprenticeships and traineeships, reflecting a strong employment focus.

Uptake of further study did differ by field, though, with creative arts (48%), information technology (47%) and banking and finance (43%) graduates more likely to undertake further study compared to agriculture (23%), and process and resources engineering (22%) students.

The report also noted: “In banking and finance, graduates of diplomas and above had a modest employment rate of 69%. This may reflect students' use of the diploma as a path to higher education qualifications, which employers use as entrance screening for higher-level work in finance fields.”

Higher aspirations

What prompts students to enrol in a Diploma or Advanced Diploma instead of a Certificate IV? In addition to meeting legislative requirements where applicable, diploma qualifications and above have a number of benefits including eligibility for government funding, such as VET FEE-HELP, but also a perceived prestige that may serve to give graduates an edge when applying for employment.

Assuming you meet the entry requirements, you should consider undertaking a higher qualification if you have considerable knowledge of, or work experience in, the field. Undertaking study that only serves to confirm what you already know is merely an exercise in getting a piece of paper to formalise your existing skills. It can therefore be boring and a waste of your time as you aren’t advancing yourself. Formalising existing skills and knowledge and then adding to your arsenal with more challenging study is a much better use of your efforts.

The paper also investigates the rate at which graduates are employed in the field of their qualification and whether or not they worked at a higher skill level than they did prior to undertaking study. Download ‘Vocational education's variable links to vocations’ by Gavin Moodie, RMIT, and Nick Fredman, Emmaline Bexley and Leesa Wheelahan, University of Melbourne if you’d like to read more.

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