The Benefits of Vocational Training in High School
Published on September 13, 2017 by ThinkTank Learning
In the United States, the traditional path is to finish high school first and worry about a career later. Even high school students who are set on a specific career often don’t get any hands-on experience in high school, especially if they’re bound for college.
There’s a growing realization, though, that giving students the chance to try out their chosen careers early on can better prepare them for the future. For some students, this might mean attending a technical school and working toward a certification, but for many it simply means taking advantage of their high schools’ vocational programs to supplement their academic education.
U.S. News recently ran an article encouraging parents and students to ask about what their high schools offer in the way of vocational programs. The article features Patty Thomas, who is the director of career and technical education for Alcoa, Tennessee’s school district.
Thomas points out that everyone can benefit from gaining hands-on career experience during high school. “At absolute minimum, every young person ought to begin exploring careers,” she says.
According to Thomas, this exploration doesn’t have to mean making technical certification the goal of high school. Students can learn about possible careers without sacrificing a traditional academic high school experience: “They may not exit high school with an industry credential that will get them a job, but if they come out of high school without a clue, college is a very expensive career development experience.”
Growing Interest in Vocational Training in the United States
Thomas’s comments on career training in high school reflect an increasingly popular attitude in the United States that more widespread technical training could have several advantages for students.
Traditionally, the United States has lagged far behind European countries when it comes to interest in vocational training. Many countries in Europe offer two alternative paths through secondary school: vocational schools, for those who are preparing to enter the workforce, and college preparatory schools, for those planning to continue on to college.
In the United States, on the other hand, vocational training has had a stigma associated with it. Historically, academic and vocational schools haven’t been seen as two equally valid options for students to choose between. Rather, academic high schools have been considered the “default” path for students, and vocational schools have been given a reputation as an undesirable alternative. As Patricia Hsieh, president of San Diego Miramar College, told Inside Higher Ed in an interview for an article about the stigma vocational schools face: “It is considered a second choice, second-class. We really need to change how people see vocational and technical education.”
That change may be starting to happen, though. More and more, educators and policymakers in the United States are starting to recognize that encouraging all students to stick on a purely academic path may not be in anyone’s best interest. For example, in 2015, Forbes ran an article on Why We Desperately Need to Bring Back Vocational Training in Schools. Meanwhile, an article in The Atlantic asked: Could Vocational Education Be the Answer to Failing High Schools?
Mark Phillips, a professor emeritus of secondary education at San Francisco State University, describes how working with Norway’s Ministry of Education changed his perspective on vocational training. He says that it was “eye opening to be in a country where vocational education had high prestige, was well funded, and included students who could have gone to medical school if that had been their preference.”
The potential of technical training is starting to be recognized in the United States. Interest in vocational education is one issue that politicians on both sides of the aisle may share some ground on. During his time in office, Barack Obama was an advocate of career education and increased funding for vocational training programs. More recently, Donald Trump has proposed bringing apprenticeship programs to high schools across the United States.
In other words, vocational education is an area where we might see a push in the future. Already, though, students may have more options for career training than they realize.
Options for Career Training in High School
While vocational schools are one possibility for students wanting to gain technical training, students in more traditional academic high school programs may also have options for career training worth looking into.
For example, some career programs have partnerships with local companies that can include opportunities like job shadowing. Internships are another way to test the waters of a specific career early on.
Looking for an internship that benefit your career?
In the U.S. News article, James Stone, director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, says that parents and students should pay attention to partnerships when evaluating the quality of vocational programs. Better programs tend to involve collaborations with colleges and local businesses.
Ultimately, says Stone, students don’t have to choose between rigorous academics and early career experience. When it comes to vocational training and readiness for college, “I would argue those kids would be better prepared because they will have learned how to solve problems.” In other words, supplementing academics with vocational experience may be a win-win.
Deciding Whether a Vocational Program Is Right for You
So with all these benefits of career training in high school, does that mean you should go out of your way to sign up for a vocational program? In the end, it depends.
For one thing, it depends on what kind of vocational programs are available at your high school. If you opt for career training, you want to make sure it’s through a quality program that meets your needs.
Importantly, it also depends on your own career goals. At ThinkTank Learning, we always suggest that high school freshmen meet with their guidance counselors to discuss their future goals and career interests. That conversation can give you a better sense of what opportunities are available at your high school and whether they’re a good fit for you.
And of course, we can help you further evaluate your options. We’ll assist you in putting your academic portfolio in perspective and figuring out a plan that leads to your dream school. For more information, get in touch with us for a free consultation!
By Niels V.
Vocational & Trade Schools: A Growing Trend
Advantages to Learning a Trade
With high school graduation fast approaching, you are likely considering what the next step along your educational journey should be. Should you enroll in a 2 year community college or head straight to a 4 year college or university? One option you may want to consider is enrolling in a vocational or trade school.
Vocational and trade school educations are popular vehicles for students who want to fast-track into well paying highly skilled careers. Vocational training is also perfect for adult students looking to advance in their current career or even change careers altogether.
Trade schools have a long history in the United States of giving students the training to succeed in an ever changing workplace. If you are considering a vocational school you should know just what they offer, and whether or not they are right for you.
Vocational School: Practical vs. Academic
Vocational schools, often referred to as trade schools, are post-secondary educational institutions that provide training and instruction in highly skilled jobs and professions. Vocational schools teach job specific skills designed to enable a student's advancement in any of a number of high skill, high paying professions. Vocational and trade schools place an emphasis on the practical, as opposed to the academic, education. Course studies at a vocational school are specific to certain trades, running the gamut from auto repair to hair dressing; construction to IT.
Many vocational schools now offer degree-transfer programs, allowing a student to transfer some of their credits to a four year college or university. These degree-transfer programs allow students to leverage a vocational education as useful stepping-stone to a baccalaureate degree.
How to Choose a Vocational Trade School
There are more than 300 Vocational Schools in the United States, and choosing the right one for you will rely on a number of important factors:
- Placement Rate: How many graduates are actually placed in their career field? A high percentage will tell you that the school works hard to prepare its graduates for the work force, but you should investigate their success rate.
- Student Completion Rate/Graduation Rate: How many students successfully complete their course of studies. This is often called the "retention rate" and is an indicator of institutional commitment to student education.
- Facilities: Are the facilities up-to-date? Vocational and trade schools often have some of the latest technology and equipment. Avoid those with outdated labs, and training equipment. Remember, when you enter the work force you'll often be required to jump right in and work on state-of-the-art equipment and the vocational school you choose should be able to prepare you for the modern workplace.
- Services: Does the school offer any extra services? Is there a career guidance office? Will they assist you in finding employment once you've graduated? Can they help you find internships/co-ops while you're a student?
- Tuition/Fees: How much will it cost to attend the program? Are there any hidden fees? Is financial assistance available to you?
Remember,students who choose a vocational track may also qualify for Federal and private student loans to help them finance their trade school education.
Vocational Trade School Degrees
If you're considering a vocational school you'll find a range of degrees from which to choose. Most vocational schools award associate degrees, diplomas and or certificates. Many highly skilled trades will require certification before you can take up work in your field, licensed electrician, plumber or builder for instance. Vocational schools will prepare you to take the required tests necessary to obtain those certifications that will allow you to begin working at your new career.
Vocational Education Career Options: Use the Career Office
Vocational and trade schools offer a wide variety of programs from which to choose. The career center on campus will be able to assist you in determining which program suits your needs and your ambitions. Several career tests are available, and your career/guidance counselor will use them to guide you to various fields that match your skills.
Although programs may differ at each vocational school, the programs listed below are some of the most common and most successful:
- Computer-aided Drafting (CAD) and Design: learn to prepare technical and digital drawings and plans for builders and contractors.
- Criminal Justice: training for careers in law enforcement and corrections.
- Culinary: food preparation for hotels, restaurants and business.
- HVAC: installation, maintenance, and repair of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
- Information Technology: web design, network security and computer programming.