When you’re pondering a new job, it’s usually a sign of a new adventure. Perhaps you just walked the stage and collected your high school diploma, or maybe you’re a seasoned professional on the path to a new career. Whatever the case may be, it’s time to think about what’s next.
Whether you take a gap year to rest or jump right into life’s next chapter, your path will likely lead to more education. After all, education opens the doors to better jobs (with higher earnings) and a happy, meaningful life.
For some people, traditional college is the natural next step in their academic journey. But if college isn’t for you, don’t sweat it — you can find a fulfilling, successful career by enrolling in vocational training.
So, what’s vocational training, and is it right for you? Let’s dive into the benefits of trade schools and the jobs they lead to.
What’s vocational training?
Vocational training (also called trade school) is a program or course designed to prepare you for a specific vocation, a job or career related to helping others. These programs typically eschew unrelated academic subjects (like the general education courses from a traditional college) and focus on hands-on learning related to the student’s desired career.
People who enroll in vocational training can learn valuable and marketable skills in fields like:
- Graphic design
- Automotive repair
In today’s diverse landscape of vocational programs, trade schools stand ready to cater to a vast array of interests and aspirations. No matter your passion or background, you’re all but guaranteed to find an institution that offers a program that excites you.
Trade school students run the age gamut from recent high school graduates to older folks looking to change careers. That’s the beauty of vocational training: it’s designed to accommodate people from various walks of life, including young professionals eager to embark on their career path and experienced workers seeking to enhance their skill sets.
Why vocational training matters
Vocational training programs are essential for anyone looking to work in a trade profession. Whether you want to be a makeup artist, welder, or chef, you need a proper educational background to ensure you have the skills to work safely and effectively.
Plus, not everyone wants to go to college. And if it’s not the right path for you, you’re not alone — more than 60% of Americans over the age of 25 don’t hold a bachelor’s degree.
Trade schools offer a way for people to learn specific vocational skills without sitting in a classroom, which is particularly valuable for higher-risk trades in healthcare and manual labor. Training provides time and space to learn vital skills — like giving injections or handling a welding torch — and a safe environment to practice them.
Vocational training also empowers students to build a network within their desired industry, leading to apprenticeships, internships, externships, and jobs after graduation. The teachers, fellow students, and other professionals you meet during your time in school just might help you land the position of your dreams.
And perhaps most importantly, trade school is often a far more affordable option than four-year college degrees. According to education and career resource BestColleges, many programs are as little as one-quarter of the cost of a bachelor’s degree, making them far more affordable options and resulting in significantly less student debt.
Benefits of vocational training
Researchers have long documented the earnings gap between people with high school diplomas and those with college degrees, but those surveys often exclude trade school graduates from their studies.
Depending on the job, some trade school students can earn just as much — or more — than their peers with bachelor’s degrees. For example, a construction manager (average salary: $108,210) earns a similar amount as a computer programmer (average salary: $102,790) without traditional postsecondary school.
Here are a few other benefits of vocational training:
Vocational training versus on-the-job training
After you finish a vocational training program, your new employer might ask you to participate in on-the-job training. So, what’s the difference between vocational training and on-the-job training? Simply put, vocational training prepares you for a specific job, while on-the-job training prepares you for a particular company.
The skills you learn in vocational training can apply to any company in your industry. Whether you start working for an established business or take on gig work to supplement your income, you’ll use what you learned at school to succeed at your job. You may choose to continue to hone your abilities after training ends through additional courses or off-the-job training.
On-the-job training focuses on what you need to know to work with your new company. This might include the organization’s policies and procedures, unique software, or proprietary processes.
12 vocational training examples
Vocational training might sound enticing, but what does it actually look like? The answer depends on the job you want to pursue.
Let’s examine the training you need to start a career in these common vocations:
1. Medical coder: Medical coders turn diagnoses, procedures, and prescriptions into the medical codes healthcare facilities use to keep records.
This is an important role in the healthcare industry, so people working as coders typically earn an average salary of $51,090. To become a medical coder, you must complete a 6-month vocational training program and pass the exam to earn your medical billing certification.
2. Phlebotomist: These healthcare professionals draw blood for tests, transfusions, donations, and more. Phlebotomists earn an average salary of $40,580. Becoming a phlebotomist takes around three months, though some programs can last up to a year. At school, you’ll gain hands-on experience while learning medical terminology and physiology before earning your credential through a national certification body.
3. Plumber: Thanks to the issues that crop up with our water heaters, sinks, and more, plumbers are always in demand. They earn an average salary of $65,190, and many learn at a vocational-technical school before going into an apprenticeship. It takes about five years to become a journeyman plumber, meaning you’ve successfully completed an official apprenticeship qualification (which can earn you a higher salary).
4. Electrician: Electricians work on installing and repairing electrical elements in homes, large buildings, and public infrastructure. They earn $65,280 per year on average, and vocational training typically takes about four years. This typically includes 96 hours of classroom training and over 8,000 hours of on-the-job training.
5. Carpenter: These tradespeople use a combination of tools and techniques to cut, shape, and assemble wood to create functional and aesthetically pleasing builds, from furniture to houses. To become one, you can expect to spend 1–2 years at school before entering a four-year paid apprenticeship. When you’re ready to branch out on your own, you can look forward to an average salary of $58,210.
Installation and maintenance
6. HVAC technician: HVAC technicians install and repair heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and cooling systems — an industry in high demand due to rising global temperatures. An HVAC technician earns an average of $57,460 per year, and training to become one lasts at least two years. You may choose to spend more time in apprenticeships or internships after completing your vocational education.
7. Home inspector: Home inspection is one of the most lucrative vocational careers, with professionals earning an average of $70,130 a year. It’s also a career that requires minimal vocational training.
Many online courses prepare you to take the home inspector licensing exam with just 60 hours of lessons. However, a number of home inspectors undergo an apprenticeship or a supervisory period after getting their license before they’re ready to inspect homes independently.
8. Paralegal: Paralegals assist lawyers in researching cases, drafting legal documents, and preparing clients for hearings. To become a paralegal, you need to earn an associate degree in paralegal studies, which takes around two years. After completing your education, you can expect to earn around $62,840 each year (the national average).
9. Chef: Folks who enjoy cooking and want to make a career of it typically need to spend one or two years in a culinary certification program. While the role doesn’t have strict regulatory requirements that require education or an apprenticeship (like an electrician needs), a formal education can make for a more competitive applicant.
Many community colleges offer these programs, which allow aspiring chefs to gain hands-on training experience. The profession has an average salary of $60,210.
10. Graphic design: Graphic designers are an essential part of modern business, as they help create content for advertising — both physical and digital. Graphic designers earn an average salary of $64,500, and employers typically look for professionals with an associate degree (or an impressive portfolio).
11. Animation: Do you want to see your art on the big screen? It pays well, too — the average salary for animators working in the U.S. is $111,130 per year. Like graphic designers, aspiring animators can combine vocational training with a stellar portfolio to break into the industry.
Trade school programs typically narrow in on specific techniques necessary to do a particular job in animation, rather than taking a general approach to the subject, allowing you to focus on your niche.
12. Cosmetology: Becoming a cosmetologist requires 1,000 to 2,300 hours of coursework and training, which most students complete over the course of 9-15 months. In cosmetology school, you’ll learn about the science of hair coloring, hairstyling and makeup techniques, customer service skills, and more.
Once you complete your technical training, you must pass a licensing exam before you can start working on clients professionally. The average cosmetologist earns around $38,910 per year.
Find the right career for you
Whether you’re a recent high school grad or an established worker looking to make a career change, you deserve to find a job that makes you excited to head to work each day. And that doesn’t have to mean enrolling in a four-year college program.
Vocational schools offer an array of excellent education programs for people already who know the career they want to pursue and don’t wish to attend college. These programs teach you the skills you need to enter the job market faster than traditional higher education, allowing you to start your career as soon as possible.
If you’re hesitating to apply to college or exploring a possible career change, ask yourself if vocational training is the right option to kickstart your next chapter.