The benefits of hands-on experience

TAFE focuses chiefly on equipping students with practical skills

If you're looking for job-ready employees, you'd be wise to consider hiring TAFE graduates.

In recent decades, the dividing line between TAFE and university has grown fuzzier. Obviously, if you're looking to hire a doctor you're still going to expect them to have a university degree, while if you're looking to hire a hairdresser you'll be expecting them to have the relevant TAFE certificates (See Do I need a Certificate, Diploma or Degree?).

But there are now many fields – nursing, IT, fashion, tourism and graphic design, to name a few – where employers have the option of going with either a TAFE or university-educated applicant.

The benefits of vocational education

Both TAFE and university are accredited by the government and both seek to provide their students with the skills they need to have a satisfying career. However, as a general rule, TAFE focuses chiefly on equipping students with practical skills while university encourages students to explore the more abstract, theoretical side of things. As a result, TAFE produce graduates with lots of hands-on experience for the following three reasons:

1. Close relationships with industry

Much more so than university, TAFE's role is to provide graduates with the skill sets that industry bodies and employers say they need. TAFE works closely with particular industries when designing courses and employs teachers with plenty of relevant experience.

2. Work placements

While other educational institutions may encourage some form of work experience, none come close to TAFE in terms of having students undertake substantial, well-designed and productive work placements. During these deployments, students learn not only technical skills but also about the workplace culture of the industry they're interested in.

3. An emphasis on practical skills

TAFE places students in small classes, gives them lots of hands-on training and requires them to complete a number of practical assignments. For example, someone studying film at TAFE - Certificate IV in Screen Media - will learn skills such as lighting a room, correctly position a boom microphone and operate a camera, rather than writing essays on the history of world cinema.

Historically, university qualifications are usually still seen as more prestigious than those acquired at TAFE. However, employers interested in hiring those with the skills to make a contribution to their organisation from day one would do well to consider opting for a TAFE NSW graduate.