Vocational training: Definitions, careers and examples

Updated 31 July 2023

There are many different ways for you to get the training you need for your desired career. Vocational training is a great option if you are looking for a job that requires hands-on experience or technical skills to complete. It can also work well for people who like learning by doing. In this article, we take you through what vocational training is, suggest where you can take vocational training courses and give examples of the types of careers that vocational courses can prepare you for.

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What is vocational training?

Vocational training is a course or programme that focuses on teaching the skills or abilities required for a particular career or trade. Vocational courses are often delivered by professionals in the relevant field and can take place on the job or in a college. People often contrast vocational training programmes with academic courses of study, which involve a student learning a broader range of subjects at a university or school in a more theoretical approach.

Vocational training courses can vary in length from short introductory sessions lasting a few days or weeks to long apprenticeships or traineeships lasting two or more years. Due to the variety of formats in which vocational training is delivered, people at all stages of their career can participate in these courses, either in the workplace or during their spare time.

Related: The complete guide to national vocational qualifications

Where are vocational training courses delivered?

Here are some of the most common places where you can find vocational training opportunities:

Secondary Schools

Some secondary schools offer vocational training as part of their curriculum in subjects like cookery, carpentry or IT skills. School pupils who take these types of courses still have to complete other standard school subjects, like maths and English. For pupils approaching the end of their secondary education, some schools cooperate with colleges or other institutions to offer vocational courses in life skills or more specific profession-based abilities to help with the transition to the world of work or further education.

Related: How to get your first job


Further education colleges offer a range of courses and certificates aimed at preparing you for a trade or profession. For example, you can take college courses to become an electrician, plumber, beauty therapist or cook. These courses sometimes include a mixture of class-based instruction along with work placements to help you gain on-the-job experience. You can obtain various qualifications through vocational courses at college depending on your level of study. These qualifications include national vocational qualifications (NVQ), national certificates (NC), higher national certificates (HNCs) and higher national diplomas (HNDs).


Employers often provide vocational training for new hires and existing employees. One of the most common forms of vocational training is the onboarding process for new employees, which usually involves you learning how to use the equipment and follow the procedures related to your new role. Another example of vocational training in the workplace is when an employer offers courses to existing employees to teach them how to use a new system or computer program.

Employers are also involved in longer-term vocational training programmes, including apprenticeships. An apprenticeship is usually aimed at people who have left school and want to learn a particular trade, such as plumbing or bricklaying. The apprentice is hired by the employer and completes a combination of on-the-job training and coursework to obtain a qualification or license that allows them to practice their desired profession. During an apprenticeship, you are paid a wage that is typically lower than a fully qualified professional in your chosen field. Apprenticeships can last for several years.

Related: What are the benefits of a graduate scheme?

Private companies

Some private companies may offer vocational courses aimed at teaching people how to use their products or services. For instance, a company that sells software packages for computers may provide professionals with the chance to get a certificate that demonstrates their proficiency in using the software.

Related: The difference between a private and a public company

Governments and local authorities

Job centres and local authorities may offer vocational training programmes to help people get back into the job market or to support them to retrain for a new career. These programmes can include things like how to complete a CV and how to prepare for a job interview.


Charities providing social services may provide their volunteers with training opportunities to improve their skills and abilities. For example, a healthcare charity may organise first aid courses for their volunteers so that they all know how to respond in the event of a medical emergency.

Related: How to find voluntary work

Careers you can pursue through vocational training

Here is a selection of career pathways that you can take with vocational training. Since there are so many career options to choose from, the following list is not comprehensive:


Several construction-related professions require you to obtain a certificate or diploma at college or go through an apprenticeship. For example, apprenticeships are available for plumbers, bricklayers, joiners and electricians. Once you complete the relevant vocational training programme, you are considered a fully-qualified professional in your chosen trade, which will allow you to apply for jobs.

Related: 18 different construction job types for you to consider


Many positions in the healthcare sector are performed by people who have completed vocational training. For example, care workers based in elderly care facilities or healthcare assistants in hospitals often complete college courses to learn the skills necessary for the role. Professionals providing therapeutic services can also obtain their training through a vocational course. For example, music therapists or massage therapists can practice if they have obtained a college diploma.

Administrative occupations

People who want to work in administrative professions can take a course or other vocational qualification in IT skills, office management or a related discipline to improve their chances of getting a job. Office administrators, clerks and secretaries can also take on-the-job training to develop their skills throughout their careers. You can also learn more advanced knowledge required in specific fields through a vocational programme. For example, an administrative assistant at a law firm who wants to be a legal secretary can obtain support from their employer to attend a training course while they continue in their existing role.

Motor vehicles

Car mechanics and other motor vehicle specialists may start their career by taking a vocational course at college or doing an apprenticeship at a car garage or repair shop. Vocational courses can teach you how to repair light-duty or heavy-duty vehicles, how to test engines or how to carry out bodywork repairs.

Food preparation

Chefs or cooks can take vocational training programmes to learn new skills or take on new responsibilities. For instance, an HNC in professional cookery can teach aspiring chefs how to manage a kitchen, how to adhere to industry standards and how to perform advanced cookery techniques to a high standard.


A trainee hairdresser may learn their trade through on-the-job training from a more experienced stylist. Alternatively, they may take more formal college courses, such as an NC or HNC in beauty or hairstyling, if they want to develop advanced skills. For example, an HNC in hairdressing can allow someone already working as a stylist to develop their knowledge of current fashion trends and learn how to create their own styles.

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Types of vocational training

Vocational training programmes are available in several different formats, including:

Classroom-based learning

This form of vocational training involves students receiving instruction from a lecturer or teacher in a classroom. This can include lectures, practical demonstrations or class discussions about relevant topics. Students may perform practical tasks in class or practice them during their free time.

On-the-job training

Vocational courses in this category are performed by an employee during their regular hours of work. Examples of on-the-job training include onboarding for new hires, apprenticeship programmes, and continuous professional development courses offered by an employer.

Related: On-the-job training examples (With benefits and tips)

Distance learning

Distance learning courses are typically offered by a college or other educational institution. You can perform the vocational training at home or a place of your choosing. Parts of the course may also take place online so that you can interact with your fellow students or tutors. If you are taking a distance learning course, some aspects of it may take place in-person. For example, If you take a distance learning college course, you may need to travel to a central location to take the final exam.

Related: A guide to distance learning (Plus benefits and tips)

Mixed courses

Many vocational training programmes combine various approaches to teaching and learning. One common type of mixed programme is a college course that requires students to undertake some classroom-based learning alongside work placements. The idea behind this is that you gain an understanding of the basic theoretical concepts in a classroom setting before learning how to apply them in practice in a workplace setting.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

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