From Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is home to almost 13 million people. It is also a haven of educational opportunity, with 35 public four-year institutions, 24 public two-year institutions, and a multitude of private colleges, technical schools, vocational schools and online universities.
The U.S. skills gap continues to be a major issue for engineering, technology and vocational fields.
Students in Pennsylvania can look forward to an average cost of living, and a lower cost of housing, compared to the rest of the US. According to the U.S. Census, almost 70 percent of Pennsylvania residents own their homes, which is much higher than the national average of almost 65 percent. For many, that journey to owning a home and much more begins with a certificate or degree from vocational schools in Pennsylvania.
Vocational education trends in Pennsylvania
In addition to the numerous public and private institutions in the state that offer associate degrees, there are several technical and vocational schools that provide students with an opportunity to earn a degree, diploma or certificate in two years or less. The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics reported 33 public institutions that cater to students who want to study for less than two years, four private nonprofit career schools, and 59 private, for-profit schools.
The following associate degrees were the most common at Pennsylvania vocational, technical or community colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics:
- Health sciences: Health care is typically the most popular degree among students in most states, due to its high demand and decent wages compared to other vocational trades. While many health care jobs require higher degrees, nurses and aides can get started in their careers with either a certificate or an associate degree from an accredited nursing school. Nursing programs in Pennsylvania can be found at community colleges, nursing schools and online schools, and often have a wide range of programs depending on what field you want to focus on within the larger branch of health care.
- Business management: A business degree is usually the second-most popular choice among students. This versatile degree can be applied to almost any industry, and especially careers related to finance, management, marketing and sales. While a bachelor's degree in business is usually recommended by the BLS, an associate degree in business is a great way to boost your resume or gain the credentials to move up in your career. Some small business owners may consider an associate degree from Pennsylvania business schools to help them run their business.
- Liberal or general studies: If you're interested in writing, editing, art, film or other liberal arts subjects, a liberal arts associate degree may be a good option. This was the third-most popular associate degree of choice in Pennsylvania in 2010. Like business management, this type of degree is very broad, and covers a wide range of specialties. Likewise, this degree may yield more opportunities as a bachelor's degree, but students in Pennsylvania may save money and enter the workforce more quickly with an associate degree in liberal arts.
- Manufacturing, construction, repair and transportation: Skilled trades are typically in-demand in many states because the existing workforce is beginning to retire, and there are less and less new apprentices taking their place, according to BLS data. In Pennsylvania, skilled trades like construction and manufacturing may require on-the-job training, certifications, or even associate degrees in order to enter the workforce. And similar to many vocational trades, construction and repair jobs typically require a long term of on-the-job education to truly master the trade. Continuing education may also be required to keep up-to-date with the latest technology being used in these trades.
These degrees can prepare students to move into the eight major industries in Pennsylvania, as defined by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development: energy, technology, advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, aviation, film, tourism and life sciences. Graduates of vocational schools in Pennsylvania can look forward to many entry-level jobs that require only a certificate or associate degree to begin.
Careers for graduates of Pennsylvania trade schools
Those who choose to earn their education through technical schools in Pennsylvania can expect a wide variety of job opportunities. These might be found in the eight booming industries in the state, or in industries that have been providing steady work for residents for decades. According to Projections Central, the following positions in the state will be in highest demand from 2012 to 2022 -- and each requires an associate degree or less.
- Physical therapist aides: 38.8% growth, high school diploma or certificate
- Diagnostic medical sonographers: 36.3% growth, associate degree
- Skincare specialists: 35.6% growth, high school diploma or certificate
- Home health aides: 34.1% growth, high school diploma or certificate
- Personal care aides: 32.5% growth, high school diploma or certificate
- Helpers of brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters: 32.3% growth, high school diploma or certificate
- Occupational therapy aides: 31% growth, high school diploma or certificate
- Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic: 30.8% growth, high school diploma or certificate
- Pile driver operator: 29.6% growth, high school diploma or certificate
- Physical therapist assistant: 27.7% growth, associate degree
Note that many of these high-demand careers might be available to those with only a high school diploma; so why should students pursue higher education? Those who obtain a certificate or associate degree prove to potential employers that they are serious about advancement in the chosen position and are willing to put forth the time and effort to learn as much as they can before embarking on their career. That kind of "go get it" attitude could be attractive to employers who have to make tough decisions among competitive applicants.
Expert advice on vocational education in Pennsylvania with Emily Davis
Sometimes speaking to an expert is the best way to get the top-notch information students need to choose their degree path. Emily Davis, the branch manager for Adecco Engineering and Technology, has unique insight into the advantage of attending vocational schools in Pennsylvania.
How do employers view vocational education vs. a four-year degree?
Both 4-year degrees and vocational/technical training are valuable education tracks that allow graduates to successfully compete in a competitive job market. Employers know there is already a shortage in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills - and with 2.4 million unfilled careers in the space predicted by 2018 -- it is only going to get worse. They need employees who are ready to hit the ground running right away and that can give students from vocational/technical schools more of an edge as they have more of an expertise in a particular skill or trade with experience.
What should students look for in a vocational program?
When choosing a vocational or technical school program, students should ask about the graduate placement rate in the specific job and career they are pursuing. They should also ask about any career guidance or post-graduate job placement assistance the school offers.
The U.S. skills gap continues to be a major issue for engineering, technology and vocational fields. There are many positions with specialized or niche skill sets available, but not enough skilled workers to fill them. Students can use this to their advantage by choosing vocational or technical school programs that offer the specific skills and experience needed for the career they want.
What are the growing vocational industries in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania, like all states, is being impacted by the rapid expansion of the Internet of Things and the integration of engineering and technology. This means candidates with vocational degrees in computer science are highly sought after and, therefore, likely to land lucrative jobs. Furthermore, a computer science background can be applied in a number of Pennsylvania's key industries, including:
- Health care
Additionally, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, jobs in health care, transportation, sales and admin support consistently appear in the highest number of online ads, indicating a need for skilled professionals in those industries. When the need for workers is great, candidates with specific skills training become even more valued, since they can quickly and seamlessly jump into their position with minimal training and preparation.
Which degrees or certifications are popular in Pennsylvnia?
Manufacturing, trade, transportation, and utilities continue to be significant industries for Pennsylvania's economy. With manufacturing being a significant industry for Pennsylvania, for example, the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) design job outlook for students is strong.
According to the BLS, CAD design and drafting jobs are on the rise. Additionally, according to Adecco, drafting jobs, in general, are projected to grow 13 percent by 2022 with top industries for drafting positions including professional, scientific and technical services manufacturing. Many technical programs offer specialized training in CAD design, a skill that is growing and will continue to grow in demand from employers.
Emily Davis is the branch manager for Adecco Engineering and Technology. She earned her Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Financial Aid in Pennsylvania
Federal and state financial aid can be a huge help to students who cannot afford college. Most students must apply for the FAFSA -- Free Application for Federal Student Aid -- before they can apply for many other state-funded awards. The FAFSA is the most common application for financial aid, and often acts as an application for other smaller awards.
Visit the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency for more information on state-specific awards that you may qualify for. Here are a few examples of what to expect from financial aid in Pennsylvania:
- Pennsylvania State Grant Program - This is one of the main awards for Pennsylvania residents, and because it is a grant it does not need to be repaid. You must be graduated from high school and enrolled in a postsecondary program in Pennsylvania to qualify.
- GEAR UP Scholarship Program - GEAR UP stands for "Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs," and is often awarded to senior students only.
- Pennsylvania Chafee Education and Training Grant Program - This state scholarship is federally funded, and is specifically for students in the foster care system. You must be a Pennsylvania resident and meet a number of other requirements to apply.
- Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP) - This may be a great choice for students interested in vocational schools in Pennsylvania. It's a need-based award for students looking into the following skilled trades: Energy; Advanced Materials and Diversified Manufacturing; and Agriculture and Food Production.
- 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 Pennsylvania, Sperling's Best Places, http://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/state/pennsylvania
- Key Industries, PA Department of Community and Economic Development, http://newpa.com/key-industries/
- Interview with Emily Davis, branch manager of Adecco Engineering and Technology, August 18, 2015
- Pennsylvania, Leaders & Laggards, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/reportcard/pennsylvania/
- Pennsylvania Long Term Occupational Projections, Projections Central, https://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
- Pennsylvania Quick Facts, U.S. Census Bureau, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/42000.html