The state of Alabama has long relied on agriculture, forestry and manufacturing to drive economic growth. As the state works to bring new business across those business sectors, students considering enrolling in vocational education programs should find opportunity in a range of program areas, from automotive to health care, manufacturing to fabrication.
Vocational education trends in Alabama
Vocational careers typically require less than a bachelor's degree to enter into the field, and there are a number of types of vocational education to help you get there. Some level of postsecondary education is now imperative to employment in almost any field because of the impact of technology. The benefit to career and technical education (CTE) and vocational learning is that it is short-term, lasting anywhere from several months to a year for certificates and diplomas, and up to two for many associate degree programs.
- Government: Whether it's jobs for the state or jobs for a city, like Huntsville or Birmingham, employees are needed in a variety of positions. Government jobs span administration, courts and crime, housing, social services and more. For CTE or associate-degree education, you could pursue training in accounting, business administration, computer science, criminal justice, information technology or much more.
- Education: Teachers are needed to help educate future generations of children and this begins with the very youngest. As a matter of fact, many vo-tech and community college education programs are geared toward early children education or child development. Sometimes students can find certificate options that can be used toward later completion of an associate degree. Associate degrees in elementary or secondary education also are available and are foundational to completing bachelor's degrees in education later on, too.
- Leisure and Hospitality: If you are interested in this industry, it could mean eventual employment in the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodations or food services. An associate degree in parks and recreation administration might be right up your alley, but so might completion of a hospitality program. And keep in mind there are other community college options, too, such as studying the fine arts or exploring more in the way of culinary.
As a matter of fact, the Alabama State Department of Education has enacted a PLAN 2020, which has a vision that all high school graduates will be ready for a college or a career upon graduation. Thinking about what field you might want to enter in the future can help you to take more concrete steps for planning now.
Vocational industries in Alabama
Alabama has a strong economic presence in several key industries, including automotive manufacturing, aerospace/aviation and agriculture. Additionally, there are over 350 automotive companies in Alabama, including Mercedes-Benz and Honda. According to Accelerate Alabama, Mercedes-Benz is planning on major infrastructure investment into its plants in Alabama, planning on the launch of a new vehicle model beginning in 2015. That new production should spur the creation of 400 additional jobs in the state
Perhaps surprisingly, more than 280 aviation and aerospace companies have locations in the state, with Huntsville serving as the main hub. These companies include cutting-edge players such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and more. Outside of the automotive and aerospace industries, other major employers in the state can be found across a range of business sectors, including the following companies that all employ more than 3,000 people:
- Alabama Power Company (Utilities)
- Russell Brands (Sporting and Athletic Goods Manufacturing)
- Gulf Coast Interiors (Upholstery and Furniture Repair)
- O'Neal Steel (Steel Distribution)
- Austal USA (Ship Building and Repair)
- Shaw Industries, Inc. (Carpet and Rug Manufacturing)
Alabama vocational career outlook
Frequently mentioned as a state leader for economic development, Huntsville is home to the Cummings Research Park (CRP). One of the country's largest technology and science parks, the CRP is a nexus for research and innovation, housing a blend of industry, including Fortune 500 companies, defense and space agencies and more.
Major employers include in the CRP include:
- United Technologies
- Johnson Controls
- Booz Allen Hamilton Holding
Here's a look at some of the middle-skill and vocational jobs available in Alabama, according to the most recent BLS data:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Median Wage|
|Engine and Other Machine Assemblers||1560||34770|
|Insulation Workers, Mechanical||530||35370|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||500||57050|
|Brickmasons and Blockmasons||440||37680|
|Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic||1710||34200|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||1010||54660|
|Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other||640||36630|
|Home Health Aides||4860||18870|
Financial aid in Alabama
The Lumina Foundation reports that 30 percent of adults age 25 to 64 in the state only have a high school diploma or its equivalent while an even smaller percent obtained some college education, but no degree. To take steps toward achieving a vo-tech education, you can begin by filling out FAFSA paperwork. This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, available through the U.S. Department of Education, which can lead to opportunities for work-study programs, grants and school loans. Other financial aid programs in Alabama include the:
- Alabama Student Assistance Program - This grant program is need-based and can lead to grants in the amount of $300 to $2,500 yearly. The FAFSA does need to be completed to determine eligibility.
- Alabama Student Grant Program - Eligible students can receive up to $1,200 annually when funding is available. They can be enrolled full or part-time and need to attend one of the specified schools.
- Two-Year College Academic Scholarship Program - Awards are given based on academic merit and not financial aid and do not exceed the amount of in-state tuition and books to attend a public two-year postsecondary school.
- Alabama National Guard Assistance Program - Financial awards to be used toward tuition, books and fees are available to members of the state's National Guard. Award amounts are limited to $1,000 a year, and not based on need.
Scholarships, grants and loans can be helpful to offsetting the costs of a postsecondary education in the state. According to The College Board, the 2015-16 tuition and fees in Alabama averaged:
- Public two-year schools: $4,314
- Public four-year schools: $9,751
These tuition and fees are higher in some states, like Massachusetts and Minnesota, but less in others, like Florida and Arkansas. Applying to an in-state school is nearly always a good way to save on tuition, but there are other saving alternatives, too. This includes buying books and materials used, living at home with your family, or taking the bus to school or getting a ride with a friend to save on the costs of a commute.
- Accelerate Alabama, Strategic Economic Development Plan, EDAA Winter Conference Roll Out, January 2012, http://www.madeinalabama.com/assets/2013/03/AccelerateAlabamaPlan.pdf
- Alabama, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_al.htm
- Alabama, Economy at a Glance, May 2016, http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.al.htm
- Alabama Financial Aid Programs, Alabama Career Information Network, http://alcareerinfo.org/financial/programs.html
- Alabama, Long Term Occupational Projections, 2012-2022, https://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/AboutLT
- A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, Alabama, April 2015, https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/publications/stronger_nation/2015/alabama-brief-2015.pdf
- "Consultants rank Alabama a top state for business, Area Development says," Made in Alabama, September 11, 2014, http://www.madeinalabama.com/2014/09/consultants-rank-alabama-a-top-state/
- Economic Impacts of Alabama's Agriculture, Forestry & Related Industries, Alabama A&M & Auburn Universities Extension, http://www.aces.edu/impact/ag/
- Huntsville Chamber of Commerce, Accessed October 28, 2014, http://www.huntsvillealabamausa.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=138&Itemid=271
- Learning that Works for Alabama, CTE, no date, https://www.alsde.edu/
- "Report: Alabama's economy sixth slowest in the U.S.," Birmingham Business Journal, Antrenise Cole, August 25, 2014, http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/blog/2014/08/report-alabama-s-economy-sixth-slowest-in-the-u-s.html
- "Tuition and Fees by Sector and State Over Time, The College Board, no date, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-over-time