A bachelor's degree is often touted as the ticket to career success, but vocational education and trade school is increasingly becoming the right choice for many job seekers.

Is a Vocational Career Path Right for You?

Article Sources


  1. "Career Colleges and Technical Schools - Questions to Ask Before Enrolling," U.S. Department of Education, Accessed June 24, 2014, http://www2.ed.gov/students/prep/college/consumerinfo/questions.html
  2. "Choosing a Vocational School," Federal Trade Commission, August 2012, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0241-choosing-vocational-school
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
  4. "ManpowerGroup Annual Survey Reveals U.S. Talent Shortage Persists," ManpowerGroup, 2014, http://www.manpowergroup.us/campaigns/talent-shortage-2014/
  5. "Skilled Trades: The Best and Worst Recruiting Environments for a Hard-to-Find Group of Workers," ESMI, Joshua Wright, September 27, 2013, http://www.economicmodeling.com/2013/09/27/skilled-trades-the-best-and-worst-recruiting-environments-for-a-hard-to-find-group-of-workers/
  6. "Vocational High Schools: Career Path or Kiss of Death?" U.S News and World Report, Allie Bidwell, May 2, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/05/02/the-return-of-vocational-high-schools-more-options-or-the-kiss-of-death

If you want to find jobs with the least amount of competition, you may not find them in an office or high-tech company. Instead, you should head to the local building site, auto repair shop or medical office.

Demand for skilled trade workers

According to staffing firm ManpowerGroup, jobs requiring skilled trade workers are the ones employers have the hardest time filling. In fact, skilled trade workers have topped the ManpowerGroup U.S. Talent Shortage Survey for five years running.

Employers report they have difficulty finding qualified job candidates in skilled trades for a variety of reasons. Among them, respondents cited the following concerns.

  • Lack of hard skills (technical competencies): 47 percent
  • Lack of available applicants: 36 percent
  • Lack of experience: 25 percent

What's more, demand for skilled trade workers is likely to grow in coming years as the current workforce ages. Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., a data analysis firm, estimates more than one in five skilled trade workers is older than age 55. In addition, 29 percent more are between the ages of 45 and 54. As these workers retire, the shortage of skilled job applicants may continue to grow.

Basics of a vocational education

Skilled trade workers have jobs involving a high level of practical skill. Machinists, mechanics and electricians are all examples of traditional vocational jobs. However, today's vocational schools also offer courses in everything from hair design to dental assisting to medical office administration.

Some schools districts offer vocational high schools which allow students to graduate with not only their diploma but also a professional certificate and maybe even a job offer.

However, if you've already graduated from high school, there are still plenty of other opportunities to learn the skills needed to fill positions for skilled trade workers. You can find vocational programs through any of these sources.

  • Community colleges
  • Career colleges
  • Career and technical institutes
  • Trade or vocational schools
  • Universities

Depending on the area of study, vocational programs may be completed in as little as two months or take as long as three years. Some careers may also have apprenticeship requirements that need to be filled prior to independent employment.

Finding the right skilled trade job for you

Before enrolling in a vocational program, it is important to carefully consider your schooling and career options. Although skilled trade workers are in demand, not all occupations in this category are growing at the same rate.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports the following skilled trade occupations are among those expected to add the greatest number of jobs from 2012-2022.

You can learn more about the job growth and income prospects of these and other vocational occupations by searching the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook for careers that interest you. In addition, career and technical colleges can provide details on available programs and what employment options may be available after graduation.

Vocational career path: a job now with the option for more education later

One attractive benefit of a vocational career path is its ability to help you enter the workforce quickly. Unlike a bachelor's degree, which can take some students up to six years to complete, a vocational diploma or certificate may have you ready for employment in two years or less.

Regardless of whether you see vocational education as a means to finding your dream job or as a step on your career path to a different occupation, you want to be wise about your choice of schools. Before enrolling, ask these questions.

  • Is the school accredited?
  • Are there licensing or certification requirements for my chosen field? How does the school help me achieve those credentials?
  • If the program is offered online, are there opportunities for hands-on experience if needed?
  • What is the program completion rate for the school?
  • What career placement services are offered to students?

The decision to pursue a vocational career path can be a smart choice both financially and academically. Plus, it may put you in position to fill in-demand jobs in skilled trades.

Article Sources
Vocational & Technical Schools by State

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