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 trends and opportunities 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 National Center for Education Statistics in 2010 reported 33 public institutions that cater to students who want to study for less than two years, four private non-profit career schools, and 59 private, for-profit schools.
In 2010, the following certificates were the most popular among graduating students in Pennsylvania, according to the NCES:
- Health sciences: 13,684
- Manufacturing, construction, repair and transportation: 6,919
- Consumer services: 4,746
- Computer and information sciences: 849
- Education: 809
The following associate degrees were the most commonly awarded at Pennsylvania vocational, technical or community colleges in 2010:
- Health sciences: 7,283
- Business management: 3,605
- Liberal or general studies: 3,273
- Manufacturing, construction, repair and transportation: 2,302
- Engineering, architecture or science technology: 2,117
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
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 or technical school 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 top 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 in high demand?
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.
- 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