If you dream of a career in childcare, engineering, hospitality, tourism, or even security management, but don’t know what your first step should be, then you might want to consider further education in the form of a vocational course.

What is a vocational course?

Vocational courses vary in length – they can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years to complete – and are offered through private and public colleges and specialised training schools. Essentially, vocational courses provide you with the education and training you need for specific jobs or careers, and some even qualify you to continue your studies at a higher level by giving you access to degree programmes at technical universities (or universities of technology, as they are now known in South Africa).


Some examples of vocational courses include:

N1 – N3 Engineering Studies courses

These courses equip students with the practical skills needed to work as an artisan in technical fields such as boilermaking, petrol and diesel mechanics, electrical engineering, fitting and turning, and millwright work.

Click here to view the Engineering Studies courses at Oxbridge Academy


N4 – N6 National Qualifications

These courses are available in various fields, ranging from Business Management and HR to Tourism and Educare.
Students who complete their N4 – N6 Certificates acquire practical knowledge and skills in their chosen fields, which they can immediately apply in the working environment.

Once students have completed their National N6 Certificates, they can log 18 months of relevant practical experience to qualify for their National N6 Diplomas. And once students have obtained their National N6 Diplomas, they can apply for further studies at various universities, including universities of technology and Unisa.

Click here to view the National Qualifications available at Oxbridge Academy

Other examples

Other vocational qualifications include those offered by bodies such as City and Guilds, as well as by beauty therapy schools, computer training colleges, and other similar institutions.

Student sitting at a table


How can you benefit from a vocational course?

A vocational course is designed to equip you with job-relevant skills. Here are some of the ways in which you can benefit by choosing to study a vocational course:

  • Depending on which institution you choose to study at, vocational training may be more affordable than studying a course at university. The duration of your training may also be shorter, which means you not only save on study costs, but you are also able to start working – and earning money – sooner.
  • It gives you the opportunity to earn a qualification that is directly relevant to your chosen career path. Through vocational education, you can gain the practical knowledge and skills you need to find a job, without having to spend unnecessary time on theoretical principles and abstract concepts that are not directly relevant in the working environment.
  • It makes you a more attractive candidate to employers in certain fields. Many employers prefer candidates who are able to walk in and start being productive on their first day, instead of requiring extensive training that takes up valuable time and costs the company money. This is especially true when it comes to hiring for certain positions, such as IT technician, office manager, childcare worker, or beauty therapist. (Note that the situation is different if you want to go into a specialised professional field such as law or medicine, where you are required to undergo extensive theoretical training if you want to become a lawyer or doctor.)

Vocational training can also benefit you if you have relevant experience in a practical field, and you need a formal qualification to earn a promotion or to apply for a better position.


Where can you study a vocational course?

You can study a vocational course through a variety of institutions that specialise in this type of training – including:

  • Private colleges (such as Oxbridge Academy)
  • Public TVET colleges
  • Online training institutions

Once you decide that vocational training is the right choice for you, you need to do some research, as not all vocational courses are equal. The quality, cost, and duration of training all differ from one institution to another.

To find the right course, and the right institution, it is a good idea to look at factors such as accreditation, fees, student support services, course duration, and curriculum. Consider what your needs and expectations are in these areas, and look for a course/training programme and institution that will be a good fit.

Also consider speaking to current and former students and tutors who are familiar with the course you want to do and the institution you want to study with. It’ll give you a good feel for what you’re signing up for, and it will help you see how studying a vocational course really can boost your career prospects.

To find out more about where you can study a vocational course in South Africa:

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Note: This article was originally published on 16 January 2015, and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.