Vocational training can teach you a lot of highly specific and valuable skills for a trade, which could lead to a very long and lucrative career. So what is vocational education, and what kinds of trade school jobs will become available to you after you receive it? How do you know if trade school is the right option for you?
Let's dive in.
What does vocational education mean?
Vocational education refers to training for a specific occupation through theoretical teaching and practical experience. This might be in agriculture, trade or industry. That said, while vocational training was one only used for fields like welding and automotive services, today it can be for everything from retail to tourism management and more. In other words, what differentiates vocational training from other forms of traditional academics is largely that the training is only for the exact trade for which a student plans to pursue.
Many high schools (as part of their commercial and technical divisions) and many special institutions of collegiate standing offer vocational training, such as colleges of agriculture, technical institutes and schools of engineering. If you receive vocational training in high school as a junior or senior, either on-site or in conjunction with a career training center or school, you can enter the job market immediately following graduation from your program. For those who choose to go to a community college with a vocational career training program, you can come out in two years with an associate's degree, and it may or may not include a certificate program. And those who choose trade school can specialize in a single area, such as in healthcare or the culinary arts.
When you graduate from vocational training, you'll likely receive a certificate, a diploma or an associate's degree, as there are programs for all. That said, you can also take standalone courses for vocational training. Standalone courses might be anything from solar energy technology to bakery and confectionery to electroplating to poultry farming to stenography.
Likewise, apprenticeships are widely available for different trade jobs, which are different from actual trade schools . Apprenticeships are for those looking to learn by doing, and apprenticeships grant workers the security of guaranteed employment for a set length of time with the company that trained them.
What are examples of vocational skills?
There are tons of skills you'll learn via vocational training, and they depend on the type of vocational education you pursue. You may learn skills such as the following:
- You may learn to work with your hands (technical skills).
- You'll pick up critical thinking and critical observation skills from working hands on.
- You'll pick up communication skills from having real-world experience.
- Depending on the trade, you may learn computing, coding, design and other UX skills.
- You may learn or hone in on specific skills such as typing or writing.
- Depending on the trade, you may work on specific industry skills such as machining.
- Depending on the trade, you may work on artistic skills, such as an eye for detail or even specific culinary skills.
- You'll learn teamwork from actually putting what you learn into practice together.
- You'll learn problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills, again, from putting what you learn into practice.
Do you get paid for vocational training?
Vocational training may or may not pay you. This depends on factors such as whether you've pursued vocational training on your own or if the company for which you already work decides to send you for more vocational training. If you pursue trade school on your own, you'll have to pay tuition fees still — though they're typically less costly than tuition fees at a traditional four-year college or university.
If you decide to take an apprenticeship, however, you will be paid. That said, the pay is up to the company that's employing/training you.
What are the benefits of vocational training?
There are tons of both pros and cons to vocational training.
“I wanted to do things I was actually going to do. I didn’t want to take a math class if I wasn’t going to be using math,” Melissa Smith, who went on to became the administrative professional she’s always wanted to be, told Fairygodboss. “It was very much hands-on work. Trade school is pretty much a nine-to-five, and I felt very prepared to enter the workforce. I knew what it was like to be at the office all day long. I knew what it was like to sit in front of a desk, be on the computer, to wear heels. We had to dress as if we were going into the office every day.”
In fact, over the years, even the mainstream media, from The Wall Street Journal to PBS, have hailed trade schools as forerunners of a new economy and touted them for reforming the postsecondary education system that’s becoming ever more unaffordable. For example, the cost of a four-year college degree increased by 213 percent at public schools and 129 percent at private schools between 1988 and 2018, according to College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing 2017” report. Meanwhile, wages mostly remained the same, and unemployment rates among college graduates have risen from 4.3 percent in 2000 to 5.6 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, there is $1.5 trillion in student debt outstanding as of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve. And four in 10 adults under the age of 30 years old have student-loan debt, according to the Pew Research Center. So trade school seems like an ideal alternative, doesn't it?
The pros of vocational training are not limited to but include the following:
- You'll have less of a financial commitment than a traditional four-year college or university since trade schools are usually much cheaper alternatives.
- You'll have a highly specific education tailored to the career you're pursuing.
- You'll gain real-world experience in school, which you can put on your resume when applying for jobs upon completion.
- You'll have a more direct entry into the workforce.
- You'll have less of a time commitment than a traditional four-year college or university since trade schools usually take less time (often just a year or two).
- Trade school is ideal for those who prefer hands-on learning.
- You'll usually have flexibility with class times and options.
- There's arguably more potential for distance or online learning with trade schools than traditional four-year institutions, which is ideal for those who are unable to attend campuses.
- Many technology jobs require additional specialized training that bachelor’s programs are often too general to address, so students often have to seek out additional vocational-education programs after the completion of a degree anyway.
Some of the cons that accompany vocational training include the following:
- While vocational training can lead right to a career path or serve as a stepping stone to continued education, course work credits that are earned generally cannot be transferred to traditional four-year colleges and universities for those planning to pursue further education. (Still, many four-year colleges and universities do offer "bridge programs" to transfer agreements allowing students to continue their education in their chosen career. Ex: veterinary technician to biology degree to veterinary school).
- Not all educational credentials are transferable, but admissions representatives at trade schools and universities can provide details on opportunities for continuing education. Some educational institutes even grant credit for "life experience" related to a line of vocational work.
- In many industries, those with four-year degrees will have a competitive advantage in the job market.
- Jobs in the markets that a vocational education serves are many times lower-paying than careers that require a four-year college or university degree. In fact, a bachelor's degree accounts for an average of $16,900 in additional income per year compared to a high school diploma ($30,000 versus $46,900), according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. (Over the course of 30 years in the workforce, this equates to more than a $500,000 difference in earnings.)
- There's a higher risk of automation for trade jobs.
- You will miss out on a broader, more general education and classes that you may not otherwise know you'd enjoy by specializing from the start.
- Since many vocational careers are hands-on, you'll need the physical ability to do them.
- There's usually higher competition for vocational trade jobs as they wane with technological advancements (and, hence, automation). That said, according to a report from ADP and Moody’s Analytics, employers are having difficulty finding quality workers, so many trade jobs are in high demand.
What jobs are available after vocational training?
There will be tons of jobs available to you following your vocational training, depending upon the type of training that you receive. Here some options:
- Web Designer
- Prep Cook
- Line Cook
- Computer-Aided Drafting
- Bakery and Confectionery
- Laboratory Technician
- Hair Styling
- Nursing Aid
- Truck Driving
- Court Reporter
- Surgical Prep Technician
- Sous Chef
- Pastry Chef
- Solar Energy Technology
- Diesel Mechanic
- Emergency Medical Technician
- Network Administration
- Dental Hygienist
- Civil Engineering Tech
- Pharmacy Technician
- Veterinary Technician
- CPR and First Aid Instructor
These are just a few of the many jobs you can pursue following your vocational training. Whatever you decide to do, you'll have the skills from hands-on, real-world experience to do it well.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.