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What is Vocational Education?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Vocational education is any sort of formal training program that trains students for work in a particular trade. In most cases, training is somewhat short, usually only one to two years. Unlike most college programs, which focus on providing a broad and varied education, vocational schools — sometimes also called technical schools — are usually geared towards a specific job. Plumbing, dental hygiene, hairstyling, and mechanics are only some of the many trades that can be learned through vocational education.

Career-Oriented Focus

Students choose to undertake vocational training as a way to prepare for a specific career. Upon graduation, students are able to immediately begin work in areas that are often in very high demand. Students train under experts in their chosen field, and participate in a lot of hands-on work. It is often the case that more time is spent in labs or practice studios than in classrooms studying from books.

Students and Basic Requirements

Most vocational education programs want their students to have a high school diploma or equivalent, but other than this there are very few entry requirements. Applicants may choose programs in areas in which they have some expertise, but this is not essential. Most programs are designed to teach students everything they need to know about working in a particular field, and are usually able to transform people who enter with no developed skills into expert-level workers.

As an Alternative to University Education

Many people look to vocational schools as a form of higher education, often in place of college or university coursework. Vocational schools are almost always less expensive than degree programs, and job prospects are often much more certain. Though much depends on individual students and market dynamics, most people can find stable work within a few months of program completion. Many of these jobs pay well, and most offer growth potential far into the future.

The on-the-job learning common to vocational programs is very attractive to most employers. Someone with a vocational certificate or diploma can usually start work immediately with little or no training required.

As a Path to a Second Career

Not everyone who attends a vocational program is a new high school graduate looking for a way to break into the workforce. Many people see this sort of training as a way to start a new career. Those who have worked for a long time in a job they dislike may see vocational school as a way to re-train for something more exciting. Similarly, those who are unemployed may also see training as a way to re-invent their potential and get back into the job market.

Licensing and Career Counseling Services

Vocational education programs typically equip students for all aspects of work within a particular trade. This means that the schools often coach or assist with local licensing requirements, either by providing students with information or actually helping them earn their credentials. Many programs also offer job placement services, which match recent graduates with employers.

Societal Need for Training Programs

Most communities need a balance of workers with different skills in order to be productive. Mechanics, repairmen, and plumbers are often seen as essential to social order, while dental hygienists, beauticians, and medical aides are important to quality of life. In order to encourage qualified people to enter these trades, many governments help subsidize vocational education programs. Others work to promote vocational awareness in high schools, and may even offer financial incentives to students who show promise in one or more trades.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon283212 — On Aug 02, 2012

My son has been signed up for the VE program since May of 2009 and now that he is starting college for his career and called his counselor to let him know when can he set up an appointment to talk about the voucher to pay for his classes and books etc, the counselor said to him that my son cannot get the voucher, that the program could not pay for his schooling at this time because my son's history on his grades in high school were not too good and because he got a waiver on his afact. So my son and I are just wondering how does this program help people in need with A.D.H.A ?

By comfyshoes — On Jul 05, 2010

Sunny27- I agree that the dental hygienist career is a good one for someone not wanting to complete a four-year degree, but I for one could not do that type of work.

I dislike the idea of cleaning someone else’s mouth. I prefer the traditional college track. In college you learn so many different things and get to meet so many different people.

Such broad experiences offer a student the opportunity to see what their true interests are. What happens if you specialize in a field like the dental hygienist career but find that you hate the work? Where do you go from there?

By Sunny27 — On Jul 05, 2010

Good article, but I want to add that some careers stemming from vocational schools can be quite lucrative. For example, a dental hygienist is one of the fastest growing careers that only require a two year degree.

Dental hygienist earns an average of $50,000 while some earn as high as $75,000. Sometimes a practical career pays off more than a traditional four year college degree. At least with a dental hygienist position, jobs are available everywhere and the pay is great. Also the stress level is low.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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