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Getting your hands dirty – the importance of practical training

In some industries, you go straight from school or university into the workforce. In others, you combine learning and earning by doing an apprenticeship or traineeship.

Apprenticeships usually last three to four years and are generally for people wanting to acquire a trade, such as carpentry or hairdressing. Traineeships usually last one or two years and are found in industries, such as retail, where there's no tradition of apprenticeships.

Both apprenticeships and traineeships involve on-the-job training combined with study at a Registered Training Organisation, often a TAFE, where you'll graduate with a nationally recognised qualification.

How to get an apprenticeship or traineeship

Finding an apprenticeship or traineeship is not very different to looking for a job. You can tap into your network of friends and family members to see if they know of anyone who can offer you one, you can look at online job boards like SEEK (search for apprentice) and you can visit Centrelink or your local employment agency to see if they can put you in touch with potential employers. For apprenticeships, you can also check out an Australian Apprenticeship Centre.

While it's sometimes assumed that apprenticeships and traineeships are only for younger workers, they are undertaken by people of all ages. If, for example, you're interested in doing a carpentry apprenticeship, you should be aware that taking on an apprentice is a big responsibility for an employer, especially one running a small business. An apprentice often doesn't move from being a cost to an asset for a business until the final stages of the apprenticeship, so it will be up to you to convince any potential employers that you'll make the most of the opportunity.

Someone doing a traineeship in retail is more likely to be employed by a medium to large-sized business. Again, the employer will be spending time and money developing the trainee's skills and will want to be reassured that they're making a good investment.

Especially for those who are more practically oriented, apprenticeships and traineeships are a great way to learn through hands-on experience and vocational training. While you generally won't earn much while doing one, once you're qualified, a range of opportunities will open up to you.

Apprenticeship and traineeship courses can be exactly what you need to get a foot in the door of your desired career.