Is TAFE the right choice for your teenager?

Not all teenagers enjoy their time at school and trying to successfully navigate the stress of social and academic pressures can get more challenging as they’re faced with making decisions about their future. While some students finish high school, take a year off or head to university, there’s a growing number of teenagers keen to explore a different path. 

TAFE is an increasingly popular alternative to university with more than 1200 courses and diplomas on offer.

“It really gives students the opportunity to broaden and explore their skill set,” says one former TAFE Head Teacher. “We have a number of course areas ranging from engineering and electrotechnology to health and fitness, digital media, agricultural and environmental studies – even preparation for work.”

Could TAFE be the next step for your teen? Here’s everything you need to know.

Teenagers are treated as equals

“TAFE is an adult learning environment and therefore, students are treated equally as adults – not children. They’re not considered teens like they are at school. There’s a level of respect between TAFE teachers and their students, which is reciprocated and creates a really nurturing and enjoyable environment.

"Everyone’s there because they choose to be, they’re not forced. TAFE teachers aren’t trainers – they’re educators, and there’s definitely dual respect in the classroom. They try to get students to embrace a work focus from day one. If your teen is studying a trade, they’ll start their day at trade time – if they’re doing a vocational course like finance, community services or IT, they’ll start their day at TAFE at 9 am." 

Dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s

“While TAFE offers courses that prepare teens for working in the real world, there are a few things your teen will need to consider before making the move. Teens who head to TAFE need to have left school with the ROSA certificate, which is the old Year 10 school’s certificate equivalent.

"If your teen is under the age of 17, they’ll also need permission to attend TAFE – basically, they’ll have to show that they’ve totally left the school system with a letter from their school’s principal. Alternatively, your teen can also do Year 10, HSC or tertiary preparation courses at TAFE if they’ve dropped out of school but still want to finish high school.”

A future beyond university

“For the most part, university courses attract high fees (except in the sciences) and after three years of study and a large HECS debt, many students still don’t have a job in their field of choice. More often than not, these students end up doing a Masters Degree, which is even more expensive, and then you spend half your professional life paying off your HECS debt.

"Australia needs tradesmen and women to join the workforce and help support and eventually replace aging tradies – yet so many people think a tertiary qualification is best. It’s not really sustainable. This country needs educated and experienced people who are going to be able to fix things and build things. The Cert III courses at TAFE are comparatively inexpensive compared to university fees, and some courses are actually free as of this semester.

"TAFE also offer Diplomas and some degrees in vocational areas. Accounting at TAFE, for example, will actually teach you to be an accountant – you’re not in an economics degree, you’re learning actual accounting. Then there are courses like a Diploma in Community Services, which gives you one year of a university course in social sciences.”

Engaging in a supportive environment

“What’s great about TAFE is that you don’t have to be academically inclined. There’s so much support that students might not necessarily get at other institutions. For example, if your teen wants to be an electrician but isn’t great at maths, TAFE will teach you the math, so you can carry on with your course.”

Test the waters

“Before your teen leaves school to potentially pursue a trade as a hairdresser, electrician, builder, plumber or joiner for example – it’s a good idea to get them to spend some spare time working with a small company that does the same kind of work.

"This way it gives them some insight into whether these kinds of roles actually suit their personality and interests. Maybe you have a family member that owns a small business that could offer your teen some work experience before they reach the end of Year 10? Sweeping floors never hurt anyone, and the added benefit of soaking up daily exchanges is a great introduction into what they can expect in the real world.”

All teens can continue learning, no matter what their situation

“There are some great programs for disengaged youth called YES programs. These teens attend school but come into a TAFE college one day a week for close to one term in order to be exposed to a trade or vocational area like hairdressing or plumbing.

"The idea is that students who are disengaged at school get to see skills in action and experience a workforce that may interest them in the future – and perhaps remain at school to finish their ROSA, so they can come back to TAFE full-time in the future.”

TAFE marries real-world experience with education

“TAFE really sets you up with skills where you can leave and get a 'real' job – it gets teens into work. Apprenticeships start at Certificate III but Traineeships can start at Certificate II level. Year 10 is considered a Cert II level. Apprenticeships are well regulated by the industry, but the wages are low because you are training with a master four to five days and attending TAFE one day a week. Some TAFE and private organisations have school leavers attending college four days for six months and then they assist the trainee to find an apprenticeship and start on second-year wages.

"The apprenticeship wage assumes your teen is still living at home, and while your teens can’t access a reduction in transport fees under a 20-hour training program – attendance at TAFE is generally only one day a week.”

Expanding the social circle

“TAFE teachers go through strenuous means to become educators and teachers – they really understand the development of teens and how they interact with adult learning principles. What’s more, TAFE provides a great social environment for your teen because they meet other students who have similar interests or have walked similar paths – they find each other, and it’s great to see.”

Next steps for parents and teens interested in TAFE

“If you’re interested but not entirely sure, give TAFE a 12-month trial period. This will give your teen some grounding and they’ll leave TAFE with skills and a better understanding of what they want for their future. Best of all if they like it – they can stay on and become qualified within their chosen field of study.”

For more information on a range of available TAFE courses in your state, head to TAFE NSW, TAFE Queensland, TAFE SA, TAFE Victoria, TAFE WA or TAFE Tasmania.

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