By Silas Hood, Nov. 8, 2022

After graduating from high school, the narrative that students must enroll into traditional college has long since been pushed as the norm from students’ teachers, counselors and parents.

While a college degree undoubtedly presents many opportunities for those who pursue it, the stigma around not doing so has eclipsed the other valuable possibilities available to people.

With higher education becoming a necessity to enter today’s job markets, traditional college should be seen as not the only academic path  for ambitious students. This idea must be reformed for the sake of individuals unsure about their career paths, and to meet the overall workforce demands of today.

Vocational school, better known as trade school, provides an alternative to the four-year college program by offering career-focused training set out to teach and develop a specific skillset. This form of higher education is typically a one to two year duration, sometimes shorter, granting certification into niche, well-paying careers.

While many industries available to college graduates are becoming oversaturated as more people follow the traditional form of higher education, companies are finding a lack of vocationally oriented workers. As the a shortage of skilled trade workers in today’s job market grows, so does the demand for these positions by employers.

Many of these professions offer competitive salaries to those of a college education and exceed those of unbarred positions. Take for example a dental office: the unbarred receptionist will make on average $16 per hour, the trade certified assistants and technicians will make on average $20-23 per hour, and the graduate hygienist will make on average $39 per hour.

Sharon Wu | The Poly Post

Trade skills also offer entrepreneurial work. Whereas many college graduates utilize their degree to enter barriered positions in companies, skilled tradespeople learn and work through paid apprenticeship and may retain their employment, open their own businesses offering the same work or work as a contractor for another company maintaining their proprietorship.

Because of their short duration, trade schools are typically a third the price of a public four-year education, averaging $30 thousand in total. This earlier fulfillment also grants a faster transition into paid career work, allowing earlier earnings on top of paid apprenticeships.

It is important to consider, however, that financial aid varies by each trade school, where some may accept Federal Student Aid while others only consider varied organizations for scholarships, grants and loans, so the process for financial aid can be less straightforward than a traditional bachelor’s degree. Trade schools likewise do not offer a wider array of knowledge like college does, though that is also the point: to hyperfocus on a specific career within skilled trades allows students to enter a growing job market with their certifications.

This specificity is a double-edged sword.There is no application of trade school skills beyond what it was meant for, and therefore, there is limited flexibility in the career path. With this in mind, job satisfaction within skilled trades is very high with 83% of people reportedly feeling satisfied in their careers by finding tangible value and meaning with their work.

For people who enjoy working specific, hands-on jobs, this form of education provides a way into competitive careers that meet the growing demands of the modern-day job market. While it may not be for everyone, trade school is of great importance and value to both people and the larger society. The stigma of traditional college being the only successful continuation of education must be reformed.

Feature image by Sharon Wu

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