Once treated as the red-headed stepchildren of the academic world, vocational and technical training are gaining new gravitas. While student loan debt and secondary education costs soar, salary expectations for new graduates are declining. At the same time, the value of vocational programs and trade schools is improving on all fronts.
Today, students are taking a more measured approach to college spending and what the job outlook after college holds for them. As a result, many students opt out of costly academic programs that offer no guarantee of jobs after graduation (or only moderate wages at best) in favor of vocational and technical training in in-demand and well-paying blue and white-collar industries. Here's what you need to know about vocational and technical training and what they may mean for you.
Understanding Vocational and Technical Education
Unlike academic education, vocational and technical training prepares students for direct entry into the labor market. Many of these programs offer students practical experience and thorough education in skills that are both in demand and well-paying. Many vocational and technical programs of study offer students the opportunity to enjoy exceptional wages without the debt load that students graduating from a four-year university will have to carry.
A trade school is a school that focuses on practical or hands-on learning. While there is undoubtedly some degree of classroom education in these institutions, the bulk of learning is experiential, with students acquiring new skills they can put to work for themselves immediately upon graduation. Standard programs found at vocational and technical schools include:
- HVAC repair and installation
- Automotive Repair
- Aviation maintenance
- Building and construction management
- Dental Assistant
- Dental Hygiene
- Diesel technology
- Electronics and computer technology
- Legal and paralegal studies
- Machine tool technology
- Manufacturing and operations
- Medical imaging
- Medical laboratory technology
- Medical Assistant
- Paramedic science
- Radiation therapy
- Respiratory therapy
- Surgical technology
- Truck Driving
The list goes on and on, with many programs offering students the opportunity to earn significant incomes in months or as little as two years.
The Role of Vocational and Technical Education
Academia seeks to turn out "well-rounded" students with formal arts, sciences, languages, and culture education. That is not the goal of vocational and technical schools. Instead, they seek to turn out students prepared to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation. Many of these schools offer students assistance in obtaining employment through community partnerships. Because these schools operate close to home for many students, they can work with businesses in the community to create opportunities for students to earn immediately upon completing these programs. It's a win for students who wish to enter the workforce quickly with outstanding earning potential.
Investing in Vocational and Technical Education
Investing in vocational and technical education is more accessible thanks to community opportunities and state-sponsored grants. That is in addition to opportunities for federal assistance in the form of loans and grants for students seeking to pursue vocational or technical education. Whether straight out of high school or after years in the workforce, investing in vocational or technical education can significantly increase your earning potential while providing you with a career path ripe with opportunities for employment and advancement.
Benefits of Vocational and Technical Education
Vocational and technical institutions differ from traditional colleges and universities in more ways than just the costs of attendance. Some argue that vocational and technical institutions provide a far better investment in education because they offer a superior return on investment (ROI) in time and money. Many students can complete vocational certificates and associate degree programs in one year. In contrast, others may need two years of concentrated study. As a result, these students can enter the workforce and earn real wages much earlier than those who attend four-year universities.
Then there is the cost of education, which at most vocational and technical schools is half or less what universities and colleges charge per semester. For cash-strapped students interested in obtaining rapid earning potential, it is nearly impossible to beat the value that vocational and technical educational opportunities represent.
Considerations when Choosing a Program
Of course, if you truly want to maximize your return on investment, it is essential to choose a program that speaks not only to your interest but also provides long-term possibilities. That means you want to explore any particular career's current and expected job markets. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers an Occupational Outlook Handbook that allows you to explore different fields to learn critical details, including the following:
- Current job openings and demand.
- Median salaries within the industry.
- Projected growth within the industry.
In other words, you can learn about current demand, current salaries, and expected future job growth (or demand).
Comparing Degree Programs
Learning about the career paths you'd like to follow when attending vocational and technical schools is one thing. It's another matter altogether when comparing degree programs. You may find multiple educational paths even within a single industry or occupation. Keep in mind that many factors can impact the right choice for you at this moment in time. For some students, if there are certificate programs that can put them to work within eight months or one year compared to a two-year associate degree path, the one that gets them earning money faster is the better option.
For other students, though, there may be only one chance for education, at least right now. Those students may find the associate degree path places them in better positions for higher earnings upon graduation and more upward mobility within their chosen careers. When comparing degree programs, you will have to explore your options to discover the best path to your goals and find the one that meets your budgetary requirements, time constraints, and educational or professional needs best.
Students seeking fast employability, job stability, job security, and a steady supply of career opportunities are finding, in growing numbers, that vocational and technical education offers superior opportunities for the future. More importantly, the lower cost of attendance, coupled with faster graduation opportunities, makes vocational and technical education an increasingly wise investment.