Tertiary and trades education 


What options are there for me when I leave school?

There are lots of options to choose from when it comes to tertiary training, including bridging courses to prepare you for university study. The options are outlined in the tertiary providers section.

Where can I get course advice for going back to retrain?

Retraining is a good way to keep your skills and knowledge for your current career up to date. This can be especially important for careers where the technology used changes rapidly. You can also retrain in order to change careers.

Careers New Zealand can tell you what your options are and help you decide which path is right for you - whether it is university, polytechnic, an Industry Training Organisation, apprenticeship, community based education or something else. You can get in touch with Careers New Zealand by phoning them on 0800 222 733 or visit their website for information and advice.

If the role you are retraining for requires a university qualification, you can get in touch with the University you want to study at and ask to talk to a course advisor. The course advisor can talk you through your study options. Also see the question How do I find out what training courses I need in order to enter the career I’ve chosen?

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What options do I have for trade training?

Trade training is the term used to describe the training required for trades e.g. plumbing, building and hairdressing. There are many different paths you can take for trade training and qualification.


An apprenticeship is traditionally a form of industry training which you receive on the worksite under the supervision of experienced people in the trade, while being paid in accordance with your position as a beginner. New Zealand Apprenticeships is a government scheme to bring apprenticeships in line with modern educational standards. A New Zealand Apprenticeship is

  • for people of any age
  • for people who want to gain skills and a qualification while working
  • subsidised by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC)

For more information on how to apply for a New Zealand Apprenticeship see the Careers NZ guide

You could consider industry training (see below).

Industry training from an Industry Training Organisation (ITO)

This might be an option for you if

  • you’re already employed in an industry covered by an ITO
  • you want to earn money while gaining a qualification as part of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF)
  • want to become highly skilled in the industry you are working in

You must apply to the appropriate Industry Training Organisation (ITO) for the industry you work in, for example the Building and Construction ITO if you work in construction.

To find out if there is an ITO that covers your trade, go to the Tertiary Education Commission’s website for the directory of ITOs.

Pre-trade training

Pre-trade training aims to give you some basic theoretical and practical skills before you start on a New Zealand Apprenticeship or an industry training course. It might be the right path for you if you

  • tried to get into industry training, but the employer thought you didn’t have enough basic knowledge or practical experience
  • are interested in trade training but want to shorten the time you spend training
  • want to try out a certain job or industry before making a commitment
  • want to try a variety of things to see what kind of job you might like
  • are really interested in apprenticeship or industry training and want to show your commitment to a future employer

More information is on the Careers New Zealand website.


Cadetships are another, less common, type of workplace learning which are offered by some organisations in the engineering, surveying, horticultural science and information technology (IT) fields. In general, a cadetship allows you to work and study at the same time, and you get help with some of your study costs.

You may get mentoring from an experienced professional in the field. In return for the organisation’s support you may be bonded to them (i.e. you must stay with the employer and can’t leave to work for someone else) for one or two years after you graduate.

You can find out about cadetships at the educational institute which offers the qualification you’re interested in, from your school careers counsellor, or by researching and approaching local medium-to-large businesses or council.

Information about organisations in the technology fields is on the futureintech website. 

On-the-job training

While this isn't formal training, it is worth bearing in mind as a way of getting more experience while you are in paid work. The most common way to get this kind of training is to talk to your employer about subsidising or paying for training in a qualification relevant to your job or accepting an offer from your employer to pay for training or a qualification. This may suit if you

  • are already in a job
  • want to build on your current knowledge and qualifications
  • are not in an industry covered by an Industry Training Organisation (ITO)
  • have an employer who’s keen to build on your current knowledge or skills

More information is on the Career New Zealand website

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What is an ITO?

An Industry Training Organisation (ITO) helps people achieve NZQA-recognised qualifications on the job. They can give you information about industry training, apprenticeships and sometimes job vacancies. You can find an ITO online.

What are my tertiary training options?

Tertiary education in New Zealand covers all post-secondary school education from adult and community education, literacy and numeracy skills, and industry training (including New Zealand Apprenticeships) to certificates and diplomas, bachelor degrees and postgraduate qualifications at universities and polytechnics.

You need to think hard about your options because course fees can be significant and completing the course work requires commitment. You don’t want to find out halfway through that the course is not for you. Get as much information as you can, and try to talk to people who have done the course you are thinking about. 

Sometimes a break from study is a good idea. It refreshes you, and you have a chance to gain work experience which gives you a better idea of what you want to do – or at least, what you don’t want to do.

There is also a range of options if you don’t feel that university is for you. You might want to look at trade training when you leave school. Options for this area are discussed elsewhere on this page. 

To help you figure out what job or career path suits you, your personality and your skills, you can talk to a school careers counsellor or contact Careers New Zealand on 0800 222 733.

There are many tertiary training options

Youth Guarantee programme
Suitable if you are:

  • aged 16 or 17 years
  • have few or no school qualifications
  • want to gain valuable skills that will help you get a job or into further training

More info is on the Careers New Zealand website 

Bridging Courses

You might want to look at doing a bridging (foundation) course if you

  • haven’t achieved the required entry-level qualifications for a particular training course
  • aren’t sure whether you can cope with training or not
  • want to get a taste of what it’s like before you commit a lot of money to a course

Full-time study at a tertiary institution

This is when you attend a tertiary institution such as a university or technical institute. It can be the right option for you if you 

  • want to finish your degree as quickly as you can
  • don’t mind making changes to your lifestyle
  • are willing to make the commitment (time and money)

Part-time study at a tertiary institution

This option lets you gain a degree, diploma or certificate over a longer time frame, so you don’t have to completely change your lifestyle. You can still keep commitments to sport, music, family and work (but be prepared to juggle these commitments).

Distance learning
Also known as correspondence or extramural courses, this option lets you complete a degree or qualification by studying at the times and locations that suit you. This might be a good option if you

  • prefer to study at home 
  • are motivated and an independent learner
  • cannot attend classes because of your location or personal situation
  • need to be able to fit study around other commitments

For help deciding which option is best for you, visit the Careers NZ website or by phoning 0800 222 733.

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I’ve finished university, but I have no idea what I want to do with my degree. Can anyone help me?

Your university normally has staff who specialise in helping students decide what to do with their degree, i.e. a university careers counsellor. You should get in touch with your university careers counsellor for advice.

Universities will also often have careers fairs or career days where employers go on campus to talk to students about opportunities in various industries and careers. These career events are usually aimed at students but could also be suitable to a recent graduate.

Can I be too old to do a course at university?

You’re never too old to go back to university and continue your education. Universities now have many students in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Mature students often do exceptionally well because they are very committed and work hard – they are not so distracted by the social life, although many have additional responsibilities that younger students don’t have, such as children.

As long as you have the will, understand the time commitment, and are comfortable with the costs involved, then there is no reason not to give it a go. Universities often have classes to teach you how to write essays, how to use the library and so on.

Now I’m 37, can I get into any university course even though I don’t have university entrance?

As long as you’re over 20 years old at the beginning of the university year, are a New Zealand or Australian citizen or permanent resident, and you meet the English language requirements (if English isn’t your first language), you can apply for special admission. This lets people who didn’t qualify for university entrance while at school go to university. Once you’ve decided which university you wish to attend, contact them to ask about special admission.

More information about university admission in general, is on the Universities NZ website. 

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How do I find out what training courses I need in order to enter the trade I’ve chosen?

You can get general information about careers, as well as information about training for careers, from:

  • a careers guidance counsellor (also known as a careers advisor)
    if you are at school, your school may have one
    if you are employed by a large organisation, there may be one at your workplace
  • Careers New Zealand
    Their website has a comprehensive list of career types and includes personal profiles of people in each career, what qualifications are required (if any) and which training organisations in New Zealand offer these qualifications. You can also get free one-to-one help from a careers advisor on 0800 222 733 or via online chat 
  • an Industry Training Organisation (ITO), if you are thinking of entering a trade but a New Zealand Apprenticeship is not appropriate (see the Careers New Zealand page on Workplace and industry training contacts)
  • a private careers advisor. You can find them in the Yellow Pages or by searching for “career coach” on the Internet but, unlike some of the other options, their services won’t be free.

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Where can I find a computing course?

Computing courses are run by a number of organisations in areas all around New Zealand. Many tertiary education providers run free computing courses. If you’re aged 50 or more, you might consider contacting your local SeniorNet. They run a range of computer skills courses from beginner level (e.g. how to use a computer) through to more advanced levels (e.g. Use of Internet protocol for telephone communications).

To find a course in your area, you can search online. Your local CAB can also help you find a course in your area.

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Can I get help to pay for my course fees and expenses?

Education can be expensive, leaving students in considerable debt at the end of their studies. It is very important to make sure that you are doing the right course for you, so that your time, effort and money aren’t wasted. 

Some education providers have fee-free schemes, for example the Southern Institute of Technology.

You can also check what kinds of scholarships, grants or awards may be available to help fund your education. See this Careers NZ page for ideas on where to find information about these.

You can get interest-free student loans for course fees, but you have to start paying these back at some point in the future once you begin earning more than the threshold.

You can also get help with the costs of course materials in the form of course-related costs of $1000. And there is also a student living allowance which gives you a weekly income if you are eligible for it. The loan can cover your course fees and course-related costs. You may be eligible for a Student Allowance which helps towards your living costs. Studylink is the government organisation that administers these student benefits.

More information about student loans and allowances is on our Student Income page.

Some types of trade training comes with financial assistance (see What options do I have for trade training?), and there is also financial assistance with Youth Guarantee.
The Careers NZ website has general information about the costs of tertiary education and ways for you to manage them.