What Are the Different Kinds of Qualification?

19 Dec, 2023

In Australia, there are plenty of ways to upskill, reskill, or plain old skill, whether you’re a young go-getter or a wise workaholic. You can find a qualification for careers of all kinds, and it all starts with, well… this article!  

The most important thing is that you’re driven enough to go searching for the pathway to your dream career. The next most important thing is that you find the answers you’re looking for down below.  

MP Training & Recruitment is passionate about providing accessible services to put you in the running for that next job. Through courses like these and articles like this one, you should have all the tools to chase your calling.  

The Australian Qualifications Framework  

The AQF is a policy that has been in place since 1995 as the nation’s official education and training system.  

Using this 12-tier system, everyone can identify where their qualifications sit in the grand scheme of things and what this means for their career.  

The Framework includes schooling, vocational education and training (VET), and higher education. It provides learning outcomes, policy requirements, qualification pathways, and more. Make sure to head to the AQF website to learn more about the Framework in depth.  

Senior Secondary Certificate of Education 

This first tier of the AQF aims to qualify people with knowledge, skills and values for diverse pathways to further learning, work and participation in civic life.  

Simply, senior secondary education is intended to give people the best chance to understand the world around them and construct a life of their choosing. 

The skills provided by this tier include literacy, numeracy, communication, cognition, problem-solving, and technical and creative skills for specific disciplines.  

The broad nature of this tier represents the spectrum of people who are encouraged to complete it.  

Certificate I 

Once leaving high school – or in the case where high school wasn’t completed – students have the opportunity to gain or reinforce that foundational knowledge with a Cert I (1). 

The Certificate usually takes 6 to 12 months to complete, providing graduates with autonomy in defined contexts.  

Graduates may then choose to study a Certificate II or simply take their newfound knowledge into everyday life. 

Certificate II 

This third tier of the AQF provides more basic skills with a slightly more defined curriculum. You will find Cert II (2) courses available in a myriad of specific disciplines such as healthcare, hospitality, engineering, construction, animal studies and so much more.  

While the Cert II is also a 6 to 12-month course, graduates will be expected to show an accountability for the quality of their output in a given field. Many assessments in a Cert II may require limited autonomy and judgement of one’s own quality of work, as will be the case in the eventual workplace.  

This may lead to a Cert III or entry into a junior position in a chosen discipline.  

Certificate III 

This is where things start to become even more serious, as a Cert III (3) often takes from 1 to 2 years, with some courses lasting up to 4 years. Depending on your chosen field, this can sometimes be enough of a qualification to apply for a full-time job where you will continue to learn on the job. Alternatively, some graduates in more technical fields will move onto a Cert IV (4) upon completion of its precursor. 

To achieve a Cert III, graduates must display cognitive, technical and communicative skills to interpret and act on the material provided. This will allow them to adapt and transfer their skills into given scenarios that reflect the real-life workplaces they are striving for. While a professional educator is on hand to guide students, a Cert III requires a higher level of independence and discretion to display a passible knowledge base.  

Many students opt to leave high school before their senior years and fulfil Cert III and IV instead. This may be because their chosen field is more suited to the structure and depth of a Certificate over a Degree.  

Certificate IV 

The highest level of Certificate and the fifth tier in the AQF, a Cert IV often requires students to obtain a Cert III first. This prerequisite ensures that all Cert IV students have the base-level knowledge to complete a more complex curriculum, which can be transferred directly into the workplace.  

A Cert IV will often involve a placement in a real workplace, which gives the students an in-depth experience and makes finding jobs that little bit easier.  

A Cert IV can last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, meaning some Cert III & IV courses can last for a combined 6 years.  

This qualification prepares students for unpredictable yet entirely realistic and probable scenarios. Thus, a high level of problem-solving ability, confidence and organisation are essential to achieve a Cert IV.  


Stepping away from Certificates and up into the sixth tier of the AQF, a Diploma is often the lowest level of qualification offered by universities. In contrast, Certificates can be provided by independent institutions that specialise in a given field.  

These often last for 1 to 2 years and provide even more specific knowledge than their Certificate precursors. A Diploma may lead to an Advanced Diploma or an undergraduate degree, depending on the discipline and the institution.  

Advanced Diploma & Associate Degree 

The seventh tier of the AQF is interesting because it includes two separate qualifications – an Advanced Diploma and an Associate Degree. These two begin to represent the difference between studying for academic and practical professions.  

While a budding plumber might study for an Advanced Diploma, a budding paralegal may start with an Associate Degree. The structure of these courses better suits the colour of each collar, and better prepares them for the workplace.  

These qualifications can last from one to two years, after which graduates may either find a job or progress to a bachelor’s degree.  

Bachelor Degree 

This is where most blue-collar workers will head off to jobs while their white-collar counterparts dive into further study. Of course, no pathway is superior, and it will all depend on where your individual passions lie.  

A Bachelor’s Degree is a common pathway for Year 12 graduates who have achieved a score that qualifies them for university. This course often last between 3 to 5 years, as graduates are taught by industry professionals how to critically analyse, consolidate and synthesise the knowledge presented. Assessments often involve presentations, reports, and exams where the student will be required to display their depth of understanding for the class and the teacher. Group assignments are commonplace as students are encouraged to practice the teamwork required in most jobs that take place after graduation. 

If an individual’s field is exceptionally complex, such as medicine or engineering, the graduate may require further study to secure a job.  

Undergraduate Certificate 

This qualification was implemented following an AQF review and in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. The six-month certificate can be used to understand where a student’s knowledge ranks in the framework and places them among levels 5 (Diploma), 6 (Advanced Diploma & Associate Degree), or 7 (Bachelor Degree).  

Students of this Certificate are given the opportunity to express their knowledge, skills and their ability to apply it in the context of their field.  

Once complete, students and advisors will have a clearer picture of the student’s academic journey.  

Bachelor Honours Degree, Graduate Certificate & Graduate Diploma 

These three qualifications are the first of the post-graduate journey where students can opt to continue their studies into more in-depth subject matter.  

A Bachelor Honours Degree typically involves one further year of study following a Bachelor Degree. This consolidates the previous qualification and builds on a substantial knowledge base. A selection of fields may require this to enter the workforce, while an Honours degree is merely a nice resume-builder for others.  

A Graduate Certificate can be useful to jobseekers who want to bolster their credentials without spending at least 12 months on another qualification. This Certificate takes roughly 6 months and can provide further learning for more niche jobs. 

A Graduate Diploma can take up to 12 months of full-time study and serves a similar resume-building purpose. As previously explained about Diplomas, however, this qualification is more tailored to blue-collar work.  

Masters Degree 

There are three kinds of Masters Degree (Research, Coursework, and Extended) which the AQF explains in detail, but each serves to compound the knowledge gained through prior degrees.  

This qualification is rarely accessible without a Bachelor Degree, unless you have already acquired a high level of prior work experience. This is for good reason, as subject matter can be highly technical and worthy of in-depth discussion between students and teachers.  

Graduates will further develop their mastery of a discipline and the theory behind it, allowing them to enter the workplace with an active and working understanding of their field.  

The length of a Masters degree depends on a range of factors including the field of research, the type of Masters, and the student’s prior qualifications. This means they can last anywhere from 1 to 4 years.  

Doctoral Degree 

This twelfth and final tier of the AQF is the highest academic honour an individual can earn in Australia and indeed the world.  

Graduates at this level will gain and display expert knowledge of their field as they independently and systematically engage with and contribute to the subject matter.  

There are two strains of Doctoral Degree – Research and Professional. The former (typically referred to as a Doctor of Philosophy) makes a significant contribution to their discipline’s body of research and builds upon existing ideas, often debunking and rebutting them. This displays a graduate’s ability to think critically about their field and solve problems that often haven’t been solved before.  

The latter (titled, Doctor of [field of study]), sees graduates make a significant contribution to the field in the context of professional practice. This could be seen as the practical strain while Research is purely academic. 

Both strains undertake a similar curriculum and learning outcomes, but display the knowledge gained in different ways.  

Contact Us to Learn More 

MP Training & Recruitment is all about guiding individuals to their highest potential. We offer training in a variety of fields and passionately point you towards your dream job. If any of these qualifications sound like your ideal schooling experience, get in touch and we can help you to understand the pathways required.  


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