Illinois has long been a driving force in innovation and modern change. It is the home of the first skyscraper (built in 1885 in Chicago), the first open heart surgery, and the world's first all-color television station. And the positive changes keep coming.
The state has a cost of living that is slightly below the national average, especially in the areas of groceries and housing. It also ranks better than the national average in terms of education. Illinois is home to numerous renowned colleges and universities, private schools, and a multitude of other educational institutions. The state is served by 12 four-year public institutions and a whopping 48 public two-year institutions; keep in mind that these numbers do not include private college, vocational and technical schools, or online schools that have coverage here.
Vocational Trends at Illinois Trade Schools
Illinois technical schools are poised to help students move directly into the workforce upon graduation. Those who earn an associate degree might stay in school for two years, sometimes less, especially if they opt to take some courses online. The following are some of the most popular associate degrees pursued by students in Illinois, according to the National Center for Education Statistics:
- Business Management: This degree is common because it can be applied across many different industries and careers. Many students who opt for the business route may end up earning a bachelor's degree, and sometimes choose a more specific discipline within the overall business sector.
- Health Sciences: Health care has been a popular vocational sector in many states because there has been a lot of recent growth in the field, and there are a number of entry-level positions that only require one to two years of education to start. Many health care professionals at this level attend nursing school or choose a very specialized role such as radiology technician, and attend school to learn that specific skill within health care. And in this industry it's also common for those with associate degrees to continue their education as they move up in their career.
- Consumer Services: This discipline involves many different service-providing jobs in retail, customer service, food service and more. Many entry-level jobs in this field may not require very much postsecondary education, so those who are seeking a two-year degree in consumer services may be doing so to get ahead in their career. It's also a good idea if you're thinking of moving into upper-level management.
- Manufacturing, Construction, Repair and Transportation: These specialized trades are very common in the vocational world, and often involve much more hands-on training than classroom training. Labor-intensive jobs in these industries may not require a higher degree, but many will require some type of certification or proof of skilled training. And as mentioned above, earning a degree in one of these fields could help you move up quicker in your career.
- Protective Services: These jobs include police and firefighters. Also labor-intensive, protective services often require attending school specifically at a police school or firefighter training school. Sometimes there are different requirements for protective service workers in different states, so check with your local departments to find out more about entering this industry in Illinois specifically.
In addition, many students in this state choose to pursue the general studies or liberal arts associate degree. Most students turn to this field as a stepping stone to the bachelor's degree at a four-year institution.
According to the Leaders & Laggards Report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, those who opt for a two-year degree might see much better pay over the long haul, as well as better job security. Those who earned the associate degree made 27% more per year than a high school graduate without a degree, and saw an unemployment rate about four points lower. Students who graduate from Illinois vocational schools are poised to begin making that better money immediately, as they usually graduate with the skills necessary to move right into the workforce and start making headway on their new career.
Careers for Illinois Vocational School Grads
Some industries are perfectly suited for graduates of Illinois technical schools, and the demand for workers is expected to grow. Some of the top industry performers include health care and social assistance, employment services and computer systems design. Here's a look at some of the popular vocational careers available in the skilled-trade sector, with recent salary and job availability data for each:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
|Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics||25080||43600|
|Brickmasons and Blockmasons||3360||71860|
|Construction and Building Inspectors||2400||66200|
|Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers||7330||51590|
|Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters||16620||72200|
|Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers||15530||38280|
In keeping with the very high rate of graduates in health sciences and the demand for new workers in the industry, several of the jobs expected to see the highest growth in the state are in health care. Other jobs that are hot include mechanical insulation workers, machine tool programmers, helpers of brickmasons and stone setters, riggers, medical equipment repairers, welders, and other positions that are necessary to keep heavy industry, construction and manufacturing moving. Illinois technical schools are ready to help graduates make the most of these promising opportunities and more.
Expert Advice on Vocational Education in Illinois
To gain further insights into the expectations of the labor market in the Midwest, we spoke to John Dewar, engineering recruiter for the Messina Group, about the important points surrounding vocational education and employment in the Illinois area and beyond.
John Dewar is a Senior Recruiter at the Messina Group. He earned a degree in Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (Human Resources) from the Valparaiso University.
RWM: How do employers view vocational education, as opposed to a four-year degree?
Dewar: Depends on the school -- respected educators offer vocational/technical programs that are highly sought after. Students should research a school's reputation with major employers before considering.
RWM: What should students look for in a vocational program?
Dewar: As above, it's all about the reputation of the school. Look for institutions with strong career centers and publicly advertised recommendations from major employers within the areas of study that they cover.
RWM: Which industries in Illinois are suited for graduates of technical schools?
Dewar: Hands-on electronics and hands-on manufacturing are very well suited. Good schools offer affordable programs, with curricula specifically intended to provide the nearest equivalent to on the job training as is possible.
RWM: What degrees or certifications are in high demand in Illinois?Dewar:
- BSEET [Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Technology]
- Associates in Manufacturing Engineering Technology
- Industrial Technologist type programs
RWM: Do you have any advice for new students?
Dewar: Be diligent in researching quality schools/programs - use the career centers to their fullest and be flexible!
Financial Aid for Vocational Students in Illinois
Seeking out financial aid could be a smart move, no matter where you're considering attending college. Most people tend to start out looking at national scholarships and awards. For example, the FAFSA -- Free Application for Federal Student Aid -- is often the first thing that students apply for, as it can be used as an application for many other state-specific scholarships and awards.
Those who plan to attend school in Illinois and are also residents may consider applying for state-specific financial aid. In most cases you must be admitted to a school in the state, but all awards are different. Here are a few examples to start with, but we recommend continuing your research on your state's education website.
- Nursing Education Scholarship Program: This is for students who are earning a nursing certification, or an associate degree from a nursing school in the state. Bachelor's and master's degree students may also qualify. One other stipulation is that you must become employed six months after graduation.
- Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois: This award is typically meant for minority students who come from schools that struggle in terms of staffing and providing for their students. However, it is primarily merit-based. Part of the agreement is that you must teach for five years at an elementary or secondary school in the state.
- Monetary Award Program (MAP): This state-run award is a grant, which means it does not need to be repaid. Among other requirements, you must be attending an Illinois school, and must be able to indicate financial need. The award may only be used for tuition and related fees.
Many people also consider loans as forms of financial aid. In some cases, taking out a loan and paying it back can be good for your credit. But be sure to do research about your loan and its interest rates, and try to never miss a payment.
- 10 Chicago Firsts: Famous Inventions, Wolfstad.com, January 24, 2009, http://www.wolfstad.com/2009/01/10-chicago-firsts-famous-inventions/
- Career/Technical Education (CTE) Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ctes/tables/index.asp?LEVEL=COLLEGE
- Cost of Living in Illinois, Sperling's Best Places, http://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/state/illinois
- Illinois, Leaders and Laggards, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/reportcard/illinois/
- Illinois Long Term Occupational Projections, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
- Illinois Quick Facts, U.S. Census Bureau, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/17000.html
- "Illinois Senate Passes Bill to Raise Minimum Wage to $11," Progress Illinois, February 5, 2015, http://progressillinois.com/news/content/2015/02/05/illinois-senate-passes-bill-raise-hourly-minimum-wage-11
- Interview with John Dewar of Messina Group, August 19, 2015
- Occupational Wages, Illinois Department of Employment Security, Wage Data: 2014 Annual, http://www.ides.illinois.gov/LMI/Occupational%20Employment%20Statistics%20OES%20Wage%20Inform/statewide2014.PDF
- State of Illinois Industry Employment Projections (Long-Term), 2012 to 2022, Illinois Department of Employment Security, http://www.ides.illinois.gov/LMI/Employment%20Projections%20EDR/IL1222LTInd.pdf