Why We Desperately Need To Bring Back Technical, Vocational and Career Training Education

vocational school, sometimes also called a trade schoolcareer center, or vocational college, is a type of educational institution, which, depending on country, may refer to secondary or post-secondary education designed to provide vocational education, or technical skills required to perform the tasks of a particular and specific job. In the case of secondary education, these schools differ from academic high schools which usually prepare students who aim to pursue tertiary education, rather than enter directly into the workforce. With regard to post-secondary education, vocational schools are traditionally distinguished from four-year colleges by their focus on job-specific training to students who are typically bound for one of the skilled trades, rather than providing academic training for students pursuing careers in a professional discipline. While many schools have largely adhered to this convention, the purely vocational focus of other trade schools began to shift in the 1990s “toward a broader preparation that develops the academic” as well as technical skills of their students. [1]

Technical, Vocational and CTE schools

Not everyone goes to college. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that about 68% of high school students attend college. That means over 30% graduate with neither academic nor job skills.  But even the 68% aren’t doing so well. Almost 40% of students who begin four-year college programs don’t complete them, which translates into a whole lot of wasted time, wasted money, and burdensome student loan debt. Of those who do finish college, one-third or more will end up in jobs they could have had without a four-year degree. The BLS found that 37% of currently employed college grads are doing work for which only a high school degree is required. [2]
So is a vocational or career and technical education (CTE) program right for you?  If you have an interest in a particular field, wants to jump-start a career, would thrive in a hands-on learning environment, or aren’t planning on college, a vocational or CTE school could be just the ticket.
 From welding of metal plates, troubleshooting a process loop, wiring a motor starter, hammering a rafter board, soldering a circuit board, replacing a fuse, learning deep tissue massage, simmering a soup, replacing an A/C compressor, deciphering a set of doctors notes, reading a plot plan, applying a tourniquet… are all things being learning in vo-tech training courses around the country. It’s just another day at the local vocational schools, where students are just as likely to be on their feet, getting their hands dirty as sitting, listening to a lecture.  Not all learning is hands-on but the benefit of reinforcing the lesson is invaluable to many students and career changers.
While traditional four year colleges focus primarily on academia, technical and vocational training has a certain niche that is perfect for many student finishing high school and looking to continue their education while “getting their hands dirty”.  Tech training offers a blend of academics and hands-on training to prepare graduates for careers in fields as varied as nursing, process technologies, marketing, auto repair, electronics, fashion design, architecture, drafting, computer science, agricultural science, industrial maintenance, aircraft mechanics, hospitality management, carpentry, plumbing, manufacturing, protective services, and library science, to name but a few.

Not all students are cut out for the rigors of stadium style learning and limited access to instructors and professors.  The sheer number of students in a typical college course can reach the hundreds and personal learning is extremely rare.  Adversely in vo-tech training, the student to instructor ratio is usually around 25:1 in most cases.

The additional courses needed to reach an academic degree vary between the two as well.  While art appreciation or foreign language studies may be a requirement for an art history major, an instrumentation technician wouldn’t find value in those course.  A technical training curriculum is directed toward the end goal of the students career field without additional unnecessary courses.  Elective options that are relate able to the technical training are usually offered.  Typically, students take a full slate of technical courses along with hands on training and are required to pass state approved tests to graduate.

Vocational schools: then and now  –  Dating back to our colonial days, vocational high schools have their basis in the apprenticeship style of learning a trade. They really became a force in the early 1900s as the U.S. grew into an industrial power with a crying need for skilled workers. Until about 30 years ago, vocational schools stressed trade skills over academics, with the majority of students going straight to work after high school [3], but as of 2004, almost 80 percent of CTE graduates have been continuing on to pursue college or other post-secondary education. [4]

Many training locations are incorporated into internships or on the job training opportunities.  Plumbers hook up toilets and hot water in a fully framed “house,” accounting students balance books in a computer lab, culinary students train in a professional kitchen, while cosmetology students cut and color hair in a fully equipped salon. Industrial areas such as Louisiana and Texas may have apprenticeships and while schools in rural areas like Idaho and Nebraska may have agricultural work sites.

No matter how they’re set up, vocational programs typically have extracurricular student clubs called Career and Technical Student Organizations or Professional Development Organizations that students may join. These academic and social outlets allow students to use the skills they’re learning in various ways, such as entering competitions, attending conferences, and socializing with students with similar interests.  Beyond adding these experiences to your job resume; gaining skills like giving impromptu speeches, grant proposals writing skills or networking experiences are beneficial to those students that participate in these extra curricular activities. It’s a wonderful way for you to meet people and see how they might apply their vocational skills after graduation.

Another added benefit of technical training versus traditional four year colleges are the financial savings.  Why spend (or borrow) thousands of dollars for a two- or four-year college education when students can learn a trade, graduate, and start earning top dollar years before their college-going classmates? [3]  It is true that earnings studies show college graduates earn more over a lifetime than high school graduates. However, these studies have some weaknesses. For example, over 53% of recent college graduates are unemployed or under-employed. And income for college graduates varies widely by major – philosophy graduates don’t nearly earn what business studies graduates do. Finally, earnings studies compare college graduates to all high school graduates. But the subset of high school students who graduate with vocational training – those who go into well-paying, skilled jobs – the picture for non-college graduates looks much rosier. [2]

Recently, President Trump signed an executive order to boost apprenticeship programs in the United States. These are training programs, offered in a variety of formats, usually by businesses, to convey skills to individuals for specific vocations. It’s a great idea, but like all great ideas, the key is in execution.

Currently, 505,000 people have apprenticeships through 2,100 programs registered with the government. President Trump has committed to a lofty goal of creating 5 million apprenticeships over the next five years. [3]

Trump’s plan establishes a wide berth for firms, or unions, or trade associations to decide on their own what they need to do. Those who are actually doing the work and doing the hiring need to decide themselves who and what they need.

Current data from the labor market screams out that we can do a better job building a work force fitting what businesses need. The Labor Department reported 6.04 million job openings in April and 5.05 million hires. So a million jobs are still floating out there looking to be filled. At the same time, there were 6.9 million unemployed.

There are 1.7 million who are unemployed in the long term, 27 weeks or more. We have a growing population, disproportionately prime-age men, who have just dropped out of the labor force.  The black unemployment rate has been double the national average for the last half-century and that is roughly where it is today. Black youth ages 16-19 have an unemployment rate of 27.3 percent.

Trump is proposing the federal government putting up $200 million to help firms makes these apprenticeships happen. [3]

The U.S. economy has changed. The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing, creating a wealth of challenging, well-paying, highly skilled jobs for those with the skills to do them. The demise of vocational education at the high school level has bred a skills shortage in manufacturing today, and with it a wealth of career opportunities for both under-employed college grads and high school students looking for direct pathways to interesting, lucrative careers. Many of the jobs in manufacturing are attainable through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges. They don’t require expensive, four-year degrees for which many students are not suited. [2]



Helvi Sandvik, CEO at NANA Development Corp., is fond of saying the best antidote to a social problem is a job. She hits the nail on the head: A good job solves a lot of problems. [5]

Lakisha Watson-Moore says this about SKILLS: Here are some very brutal facts. Companies will try to pay you as low as possible while getting as much productivity as they can from you. Companies pay according to skill and replacement level. The lower the skill level & the easier you are to replace, the lower the wage.  My solution is high skill votech training for jobs that can’t be automated or sent overseas. Capitalism isn’t going to end anytime soon (thankfully). Learn how to survive in it. Instead of focusing on increasing the minimum wage which will lead to automation, how about people increasing their job skills. Empower and invest in people.  Adapt or die! [6]


[1] Wikipedia – Vocational Training

[2] Forbes

[3] Townhall

[4] NCES

[5] ADN.com

[6] Facebook – Lakisha Watson-Moore

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