Vocational vs. traditional education: What’s the difference?
Vocational education programs are also sometimes known as occupational or technical education, career training, trade schools and apprenticeship programs. Vocational or career education programs prepare and train their students in specialized skills for specific career fields using hands-on training.
Traditional education programs tend to focus on broader learning opportunities designed to educate students in theory, decision making and conceptualization. Many times, further education such as a masters or a doctorate is required to enter certain fields. With traditional education, further training is often necessary by the employer to develop specialized skills to do a particular job.
There are many great careers available that do not require a four-year degree especially for those with highly specialized skills. Almost everyone would agree that there is a need for heating repair technicians, auto mechanics, trained medical personnel, hair stylists, computer repair technicians and pharmacy technicians, but few stop to think about how those workers are trained. Many people consider these careers great jobs as well. These careers are a few examples of the types of careers that are taught in a vocational type of environment. A hairstylist, for example, can’t go into business without licensing and after some type of vocational training that usually is not taught at a traditional college.
Most public high schools in the United States focus on an academic or traditional program of learning with the goal for the students to go on to a four-year college. However, many students may not go on to a traditional college for a variety of reasons. They may not have an interest in the type of education or the career fields available. Family and financial issues may prevent them from going to college. Further, there are students who just aren’t going to be successful in a traditional college and may benefit from a more hands-on approach. The education community is taking notice of these new trends, and many high schools have added a variety of vocational or technical class choices for their students. There are now even full high schools that are designated as vocational high schools in many communities that offer more intensive training to give students what they need to get an entry-level job right after high school. Many even offer college credit for students using articulation agreements made with local tech programs. Even students who do want to go on to a four-year college can benefit from having some vocational training so they can have a trade to work in a good job while going to school. With only 37 percent of first year in college students enrolled in Bachelors programs completing in four years, and only 63 percent completing in six years, there is a strong need for alternative forms of education (nces.gov).
Postsecondary vocational programs, such as those found at Career College of Northern Nevada, take this training to a much higher level. Training can be obtained for a variety of skilled trades in various programs. Students can train in many areas, such as medical assisting, nursing, pharmacy technicians, criminal justice, paralegal, graphic design, automotive, interior and fashion design, culinary, electronic engineering, and the list goes on. Training is done by instructors, most of whom either have worked in or still work in the fields in which they teach. They provide real-world applications for their students who learn by doing rather than just reading about it. Students are able to work in specially designed labs, workshops, and training facilities, learning and practicing the skills needed to do the job for which they are being trained. Classrooms are generally smaller than the traditional college setting, allowing the student to have more one-on-one time with instructors. Most vocational programs are short term so the student can quickly get the skills they need to get working as soon as possible. The internship components that accompany many of these types of programs further develop the student’s skills by providing even more real training by allowing students to work directly in the workplace with real employers, using their equipment to help customers, clients and patients. Job placement assistance services are offered at the end of most postsecondary vocational education programs.
These types of vocational programs are growing rapidly in popularity, especially in recent years. The growth has been fueled both by the recent downturn in the economy and by businesses with increasing needs for skilled workers. As unemployed and underemployed workers seek alternatives to long traditional college programs, many are looking to vocational colleges and career training programs to fill their needs. Jobs are becoming increasingly specialized, and a worker trained in the traditional classroom setting, while well educated, may not have the skills necessary to come into the job right away and get to work without months of training. Employers in recent markets need to save money, and they can do that by hiring workers that have already been trained to do the specific job that is required.
There are a great variety of vocational education programs available in the U.S. The variety of programs taught and requirements for admission can vary greatly from each college. The best way to learn more about programs and career colleges in your area is to comparison shop. The best way to do this is to personally visit the campus’ admissions office and ask for a tour to see the labs and equipment being used, get information about the career fields they teach, find out about entrance requirements, ask about job placement statistics and talk with current and former students of the school in which you want to enroll.
Vocational education programs are not better or worse than traditional education; they are just an alternative to it. Careers and people are very diverse, so training and education programs should be as well. Vocational education offers an alternative to traditional education for those that want to learn a different way for a specialized career or for those already with bachelor’s degrees who want to add a skill to their resume along with their traditional education. A graduate from the traditional college who has also added a specialized degree from a vocational school would have the best chances of success in many fields.
Danett Michelini is senior admissions representative for Career College of Northern Nevada. She can be reached at 856-2266.
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