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California Vocational and Technical Schools

California is a huge state with lots to offer its college students. From the beaches to the mountains California has a diverse culture and climate, as well as a wide variety of state schools, UC schools and private colleges to choose from. And with so many large cities, there are lots of jobs available too. The numbers in California mirror the national projections for job growth, with the state projected to have 6.3 million job openings by 2022, according to State of California Employment Development Department.

Health care is projected to be the best industry if you are thinking about vocational education.

Everyone from big industries to small business owners are changing the way they hire new positions. Many companies claim that four-year degrees are no longer the norm. Vocational schools in California offer credentials that are less than a four-year degree, such as certifications, technical training or associate degrees.

Trends in vocational education in California 

Of the 6.3 million job openings in California, 76 percent require less than a bachelor's degree for employment. This may be good news if you're considering a career in health care, manufacturing or business. Many of those jobs rely on online career and technical education (CTE) for employment training. This means your education focuses on industry-specific classes for a more direct entry into the field. You can get CTE training in California at a number of different places, including community colleges, career and technical schools, industry training centers, and more.

A review of 2013 graduation data for students in California revealed the most popular vocational areas of study included:

  • Health Care: Nursing programs in California are typically the most popular vocational route to entering the health care industry, meaning you can get a job without a master's or doctoral degree. Many nursing programs offer 2-year or 1-year programs that end in an Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN) or a certification. This could be a great way to enter the field if you cannot afford school or if you want to enter the workforce quickly. Many California vocational schools offer bridge programs to allow you to continue your education and work on your bachelor's degree as you gain experience in the field.
  • Business: Earning a business degree in California could be a good way to complement your skill-set if you work in a specialized trade or vocational industry. Though most business degrees are four-year programs, many California trade schools could offer associate degrees in business or management. This is a great way to boost your career to the next level or open new doors. Business degrees can prepare you for many careers, including 
  • Protective Services and Law: California, like many other states, is going through a shortage of protective services and law enforcement workers, so there is a big demand. As more and more people leave or retire, not enough new workers are coming in to replace them. Most law enforcement and protective services, such as the fire department, go through a rigorous training and certification process specific to the state. Visit your local police academy to find out more about options in your area.
  • Mechanic and Repair Technologies: Mechanics and technicians typically earn postsecondary education at a school or program specific to the type of machines they want to work on -- automotive, small engine, watercraft, aircraft, etc. Mechanic schools in California may offer courses in math, electronics, automotive repair, and customer service. Some business courses could also be useful in this trade. Students may also want to research big manufacturers and dealers to find one that might sponsor your associate degree. 

Unlike the bachelor's degree, vocational programs are designed to be completed in as little as a few months to two years of study. In California, the associate degree was the most common educational option in 2013, followed by programs lasting one or less years (e.g. certificate and diplomas).

Employment for graduates of California trade schools

In turn, the state of California divides employment opportunities into two categories: The fastest growing jobs (the most new job openings) and the largest growing (the most new and replacement job openings). Based on a review of these two categories, health care is projected to be the best industry if you are thinking about vocational education.

Health care occupations allow for quick entry into the workplace, requiring two or fewer years of study to graduate. If you are considering associate-level programs, medical careers dominate the list. If you need a shorter preparatory program of study, consider becoming a licensed practical nurse, surgical technologist, or nursing assistant; all three can be completed in approximately one year of full-time study.

Careers with an Associate Degree



Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians



Dental Hygienists



Veterinary Technologists and Technicians



Respiratory Therapists



Careers with a Postsecondary Non-Degree Award



Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses



Surgical Technologists



Nursing Assistants



If you're looking for the occupations with the largest number of projected job openings, health care is the industry to consider. The following jobs should see nearly 210,000 new openings in the state of California between 2012 and 2022:

  • Registered nurses
  • Dental hygienists
  • Nursing assistants
  • Medical assistants
  • Licensed vocational nurses

Expert advice on vocational education in California with Sean Lynch

We wanted to know more about the role of vocational and trade schools in today's industries. Most authoritative sources, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, claim that earning a degree can improve your chances at getting a job. But is a vocational degree enough? We sat down with Sean Lynch, Public Affairs Manager for the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), to get his opinion on vocational education in California.

How do employers view vocational education?

Employers are definitely getting more involved with CTE in greater numbers as they recognize the opportunity that these programs represent for their industry. A great example of this is in IT, which is predicted to be the fastest growing career cluster by 2018. This field requires professionals who can demonstrate to their employer that they have the skills they will need on-the-job - things like industry recognized certifications and credentials. And since employers are the ones that understand their needs for those qualifications, we're seeing them come to the table in a great way to partner with educational institutions and communicate how they can do what's best for students.

Do vocational degrees help graduates get jobs?

Absolutely, CTE degrees and credentials help graduates get into valued careers in growing fields. I think it's important for students to begin with the end in mind - to think about what career they hope to obtain, and then identify what the best path to get there is. For many of those careers, it's going to mean some form of postsecondary education - for example, by 2020 82 percent of health care careers are only going to be available to individuals who have obtained some form of postsecondary education, and a healthy portion of those are best suited to those with associate degrees or postsecondary certificates.

How does the state of California view CTE?

California is doing some really interesting things related to CTE -- many institutions are implementing the Linked Learning model, which contextualizes academic and technical curricula with a real-world profession to engage students. According to the U.S. Department of Education's data from 2012-13 (the most recent numbers available), there are 1,911,694 CTE students in California, and we're excited to see how those students are preparing themselves for their future.

About the Expert

Sean Lynch is the Legislative and Public Affairs Manager for the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and German from St. John's University.

Financial Aid in California

If you are seeking out financial aid in California, your first step should be to apply for FAFSA -- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. They typically recommend applying for this at the beginning of January, or as soon as possible after the new year. Additionally, there are many, many grants, loans, awards and scholarships available for students who need financial aid. Here are some popular California financial aid programs:

  • Cal Grant Programs - There are a number of Cal Grants that have different eligibility requirements. Students must have good grades in order to apply for these grants.
  • California Chafee Grant Program - This is a specific grant for foster kids who are eligible. This provides aid for college or technical training for California residents who've been in the foster care system.
  • Assumption Program of Loans for Education (APLE) - This competitive program is specifically for those who want to become teachers. The program encourages good students, interns, and currently credentialed teachers to fill specified K-12 teaching positions in designated California public schools.

There are many more specialized scholarships for students interested in specific vocational fields such as nursing, law enforcement, child care, and more. 


  1. State of California Employment Development Department, California Employment Projections Between 2012 and 2022, http://www.calmis.ca.gov/file/occproj/cal$occnarr.pdf
  2. National Center for Education Statistics, http://www.nces.com/ipeds
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/
  4. Interview with Sean Lynch, ACTE, 3/26/2015
  5. California Student Aid Commission, Financial Aid, http://www.csac.ca.gov/doc.asp?id=33
Vocational Schools in California
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