All prospective students should however consider that there are less onerous and more accessible options, which are also more affordable and shorter in duration, that will open doors to a wide range of careers, an education expert says.
A key consideration which is often overlooked because it is not as widely understood as degree study, is vocational training, says Siyavuya Makubalo, Marketing Manager at Oxbridge Academy, a leading South African college and a brand of ADvTECH, Africa’s largest private education provider.
“Vocational qualifications are based on practical training that prepares you for a specific job function or a trade, with a great emphasis on the skills and knowledge that are required for a particular occupation or industry. On the other hand, academic qualifications are based on traditional classroom learning that covers various and broad subjects. They emphasise theoretical knowledge and understanding gained over several years,” she says.
“So while there is a case to be made for both kinds of studies, one’s path should take into consideration your personal interests, goals, resources and circumstances."
"There is a misconception that vocational training is a second-choice route, when in fact getting a good grounding in a specific field or trade often places you on the fast track to gaining ground in an industry or indeed starting your own business. This is because vocational training teaches you the specific targeted skills and knowledge employers are looking for, or that you will need to start your own business.”
Examples of vocational courses include, but are not limited to, for instance: Engineering studies, Business Management, Human Resources Management, Tourism, Educare, Contact Centre Management, Occupational Health and Safety, Supply Chain and Logistics Management.
For prospective students who are interested in evaluating vocational training as an option, Makubalo provides the following answers to frequently asked questions:
WHAT IS VOCATIONAL TRAINING AND WHY IS IT A GOOD FIT FOR MANY PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS?
Vocational training allows students to earn an income while studying, particularly if it is done via distance learning. It is also more affordable and flexible than degree study. Through vocational education, students can gain the practical knowledge and skills they need to find a job, without having to spend unnecessary time learning about theoretical principles and abstract concepts that are not directly relevant in the working environment.
It is particularly relevant in the South African context, where many employers prefer to appoint entry-level employees with practical knowledge and experience in positions which require these instead of a more generic university degree.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF VOCATIONAL TRAINING?
Training can be gained in a number of different ways, including formal education through a registered and accredited college, an apprenticeship where you learn by working a trade alongside a skilled professional, on-the-job training where you work while receiving formal education through a provider with the support of the employer, and continuous development where you update your existing skills and experience by attending complementary programmes.
In South Africa, even for entry-level technical positions, having completed a formal recognised programme will however set you apart from all the other candidates applying for a position, Makubalo notes, so it would be advisable to include some kind of formal vocational programme in your career strategy.
WHY IS VOCATIONAL TRAINING POTENTIALLY A BETTER OPTION THAN UNIVERSITY STUDY FOR SOME PEOPLE?
Vocational qualifications are more flexible and accessible than academic qualifications and often have lower entry requirements, are of shorter duration, are more affordable and more accessible in terms of delivery methods. Vocational qualifications are also more practical and experiential than academic qualifications and often include work-based learning opportunities as part of their requirements, which allow for real-world experience to be developed.
HOW SHOULD ONE EVALUATE THE OFFERING AND VALUE AT A VOCATIONAL COLLEGE?
Always investigate an institution’s accreditation, fees, student support services, course duration and curriculum before signing up. One of the major factors that will determine the difference between success and disappointment, is the level of student support offered, so make it your mission to find out and be satisfied that you’ll receive easily accessible, quality support.
“Without excellent support and peer interaction, distance learning can get very lonely and ultimately lead to students abandoning their studies. By choosing a college that can demonstrate it will be there for you throughout your studies, going the vocational training route can set you squarely on the path to success, one victory at a time.”