What’s the difference between a Certificate IV and Diploma?

Whether you’re new to the workforce or looking to expand your career options, a qualification is sure-fire resume boost for the job market.

Those new to a field will generally start training through certificate or diploma programs, however – what’s the difference between the two? Which qualification will best suit you and your employment goals?

Below, we explore the key differences between certificates (particularly a Certificate IV) and a diploma course, and what to expect for each. 

What is a Certificate qualification?

Certificate qualifications are typical entry points into a new industry or career path. Available in four levels (Certificate I to IV), these programs equip you with the fundamentals of a specific field; growing more advanced or in-depth in content as the levels increase. Higher-level certificates, such as a III or IV, additionally take longer to complete than those at a I or II level.

If you’re just starting out in your industry (with no prior knowledge or experience whatsoever) a Certificate I or II is recommend to kick off your study pathway. These programs equip you with the very basic, introductory skills of your chosen role – giving you a feel of the industry and what to expect.

Once completed, students are then recommended to pursue a Certificate III. Here, their newly learned skills are further applied to varying workplace contexts, focusing on more job and task-specific abilities. These programs also best suited for independent, self-managed employees who wish to further build on their expertise.

What does a Certificate IV entail?

Ranking above all other certificates, a Certificate IV is designed to help students hone their skills for specific specialties and advanced roles. Course programs under this level focus on specific cognitive, technical, and communication skills for a specific industry sector; equipping students with the ability to guide work activities, solve critical problems, and perform a wide range of complex, specialist tasks.

A Certificate IV in Information Technology – Networking (ICT40120), for example, allows students to dive into the technical role of a networking specialist – exploring areas such as cybersecurity, incident handling, and network maintenance. They get to learn valuable skills in risk management, server management and installation, security testing, and plenty more; while also equipping themselves with a few ICT essentials (collaborative practices, introductory coding skills, emerging technologies, etc.).

These qualifications also typically have longer course durations, with some spanning across a 12-month timeframe.

What is a Diploma qualification?

A Diploma qualification succeeds a Certificate IV, and dives further into the technical skills required for an individual’s role. They help provide a more thorough understanding of an industry and its associated standards, practices, and responsibilities. As with higher-level certificates, diplomas will have you apply both your acquired knowledge and practical skills in a variety of contexts – helping equip you for “real-life” roles in the workforce.

For example, a Diploma of Information Technology (ICT50118) covers a wide range of technical areas in ICT, diving into the specific practices of each to prepare one for real-world problems and situations. These include training in system maintenance, networking, and web development.

Comprised of more in-depth, thorough content – course programs at this level typically take about two or three years to complete, helping expand one’s career options into more advanced or management-level positions. Those who complete a Diploma of Information Technology, for instance, can go on to pursue roles such as an ICT systems manager or ICT project manager.

Which qualification is right for me?

So, should you pursue a certificate or diploma?

This ultimately depends on both your career goals and educational needs; as new industry entrants may benefit from the basic training certificates provide, while those with a little more field experience may choose to master their skills through a diploma.

It also helps to consider course duration and your ideal method of study. As mentioned, higher-level certificates and diplomas typically take longer to complete – so be sure to assess your current commitments and the available time you have in your schedule. If the hours for a qualification seem a bit much, it may be best to start with a shorter, less demanding course.

Additionally, consider your preferred study method – would you rather attend the course in person, or complete it online? Does the qualification you’re after offer flexible options?

Those pressed for time may find it best to pursue an online qualification, as this allows you to train according to your personal needs and schedule. Students can learn their material at a time and place that suits them best. On top of that, studies have shown that e-Learning takes up 40-60% less employee time than in-classroom training.

Tips for study success

Decided on your ideal qualification? Below are a few tips to help you pass with flying colours.

Firstly, be sure to commit the appropriate hours of study per week. Depending on your course, you may need to spend a weekly 10-15 hours on your study material – or a simple 4-5 hours of training for shorter programs. Whatever the requirement may be, prioritise and schedule your time appropriately to ensure you get the most out of your course.

Those studying online can also benefit from setting up a dedicated study space, free from all distractions – these including family, roommates, the living room TV, or intrusive background noise. Choose a comfortable, quiet place (preferably putting you in your best working mood), whether that be at home or at a nearby library or café.

Finally, never hesitate to ask for help, whether from your designated trainer or other students in your course. If they’re available, you could even schedule videoconferencing sessions with your instructor, giving you both the opportunity to discuss the course material at length. Participate in group forums if your course provides them, as this not only helps you gain new insights from your peers – but could also potentially expand your current professional network.

Skills training needn’t be a lone journey – let others help you on your career path to success.

Seeking qualifications in ICT?

At the Australian Institute of ICT (AIICT), individuals seeking an entry path to the IT sector (or opportunities for specialist training) can pursue their chosen roles through our selection of online diplomas and certificates.

Join the ever-growing, in-demand field cybersecurity through our Certified Cyber Security Professional course, hone your web design talents through our Diploma of Website Development (ICT50615), or sharpen your networking skills through our Certificate IV in Information Technology – Networking (ICT40120).

Best of all, each qualification is completed online, helping you stay flexible while training.

Browse through our full list of courses today, or for further advice.