Pathways is a broad term that covers the diverse range of options available to individuals to transition from secondary education to further and higher education and training, from education and training to employment, from not being in employment, education or training (NEET) into employment, and upskilling, re-skilling and cross-skilling when in employment for career progression or change. Pathways are seldom linear, and the journeys that individuals take are often akin to stepping stones or a criss-crossing of routes, and can be life-long.

As the largest education sector in Australia (Source: Trends in VET: policy and participation), vocational education and training (VET) offers a range of different options and programs to everyone from secondary and post-secondary students to those looking for a career change or progression as well as the unemployed. These include VET in Schools, apprenticeships and traineeships, general VET courses, pre-apprenticeships and pre-vocational programs, and foundation and enabling courses.

In 2019, 4.2 million students were enrolled in VET with an Australian training provider (Source: Total VET students and courses 2019).

What are the different vocational pathways?

School to work

Secondary school students have two main VET options: school-based apprenticeships and traineeships; and VET subjects and courses taken as part of their school curriculum. Combining general curriculum with vocational studies that often include structured work placements provides students with the opportunity to gain workplace skills and knowledge through nationally recognised qualifications from industry-developed training packages or accredited courses while still at school.  

In 2019, there were 235 800 VET in Schools students: 17 100 school-based apprentices and trainees; and 218 700 students undertaking other VET subjects and courses (Source: VET in Schools 2019).

School to VET

Postsecondary students choosing a vocational pathway can enrol into an Australian Apprenticeship or undertake a general VET course. Both these pathways can lead to nationally recognised qualifications across a range of industries and can lead to employment and/or further and higher education and training.

VET to employment

Successful completion of VET courses and programs, including apprenticeships and traineeships, lead to nationally recognised qualifications for employment across a range of industries, including: building and construction; retail, hair and beauty services; health and community services; science and technology; and agriculture and food processing. 

Pathways between VET and higher education

Students who chose a vocational pathway can articulate to higher education and a university degree. Likewise, university graduates can pursue a vocational pathway, building on to their university qualifications or branching out into a different career path.

The boundaries and connections between VET and higher education has become blurred and there are now dual-sector provider and qualifications. Dual Award Partnership Degrees have been established in various programs that lead to both VET and university qualifications (Source: The boundaries and connections between the VET and higher education sectors: 'confused, contested and collaborative').

NEET to education, training and employment

Foundation and enabling courses, pre-apprenticeships and pre-vocational training programs provide bridging pathways for individuals who may have become disengaged from mainstream options, such as young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET), or non-traditional students with no experience of tertiary education (first generation entrants).

Career development and change

Participation in education and training doesn’t stop once people enter the labour market. VET courses and programs enable employees to acquire new skills and qualifications as they progress through jobs or transition to new or related occupations.

Transfer arrangements

Transfer arrangements enable students to transition between educational sectors, institutions and programs. The AQF Qualifications Pathways Policy recognises the multiple pathways students may take to gain qualifications and aims to enhance student progression into and between AQF qualifications by maximising the credit that students can gain for learning already undertaken.

Articulation arrangements enable students to progress from a completed qualification to another with admission and/or credit in a defined qualification pathway.

Credit transfer provides students with exemptions, status or credit obtained in a course based on identified equivalence in content and learning outcomes between matched qualifications.

Recognition of prior learning (RPL) is an assessment process to determine status or credit for courses or subjects on the basis of recognised competencies gained previously through informal/formal/non-formal training, experience in the workplace, voluntary work, social or domestic activity.

Where to go for more information

How to cite this overview

NCVER (National Centre for Vocational Education Research) 2020, Getting to know VET overview: Training products, VET Knowledge Bank, NCVER, Adelaide, <>.

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