Stop the Trade School Stigma: Vocational Training is a Strong Option for Our Students

College isn’t the only path to a successful career.

Trade School Student

When students and families think about post-high school education, trade schools are not often considered a viable option. Why? Well, there’s a stigma attached to them. Many understand trade school as an option for students who don’t do well (i.e. get good grades) in school. And many people think attending trade school won’t lead to a successful career. Traditionally, vocational training has been seen as a route for students who were not capable of attending a four-year college. Often there’s also a negative opinion about the careers they lead to.

In reality, trade schools are a practical, affordable, career-focused option for many graduating high schoolers. Educators have a responsibility to eliminate the stigma and educate students about the options provided by trade schools, instead of only offering information about the college path. Here’s how.

Know the reality of trade school careers.

The United States has 30 million jobs that pay $55,000 per year and do not require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Georgetown Center. Experienced, well-trained supervisors and electricians often earn well into the six figures. People with trade school training are slightly more likely to be employed than those with academic credentials and significantly more likely to be working in their field of study, reports the U.S. Department of Education. This positive career outlook comes at a fraction of the cost that others pay for a college education. On average, a four-year college degree costs $127,000, while a trade school degree averages $33,000, a savings of $94,000.

Job prospects for those with trade school training are high, as there are not enough workers to fill available positions. And many tradespeople are nearing the age of retirement. This will open even more positions for newly trained tradespeople.

Trade school careers are a smart choice for students who want to work with their hands and learn through experience. Trade schools offer both online and in-person classes, allowing access for students who need a flexible schedule. The career opportunities offered through trade school are vast, including: construction, carpentry, commercial diving, health care, electronics, forestry, plumbing, wind engineering, auto-body repair, and cosmetology.  

Consider your school culture.

Quote about Trade Schools: Schools must create a culture where multiple paths to future career options are openly discussed and accepted.

Create a school culture where multiple paths to future careers are openly discussed and accepted. High schools often put a lot of emphasis on AP and honors classes. This practice, however, may unintentionally signal that students must enroll in these classes in order to be successful after graduation. Similarly, when students meet with guidance counselors, the focus is typically on completing college-entrance exams and essays. Counselors generally mention trade school only when they assume a student won’t be successful at a traditional college.

Trade positions require math and science knowledge, along with creativity, just like careers offered through traditional four-year colleges. Students need to know of the job possibilities offered through trade school and how they can utilize their intelligence and learning style to be successful and enjoy their chosen career.  

Present honest information about trade school–career prospects to all students. Encourage teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to choose their words carefully when discussing post-high school options with students. Ultimately, trade schools become a fallback option when college is presented as the optimal choice. Ask your staff to delve deeply into students’ long-term career interests before recommending postsecondary options.

Rethink college nights and career events.

Trade Schools Quote: It is important for students and their parents to understand that trades schools are a viable option that can lead to a secure future.

It’s essential to create opportunities for students to learn about career options offered through vocational training. It’s also important for students and parents to understand that trade schools can lead to future financial security. To educate them, consider your current college information night. Rather than focusing solely on college information, include all routes of post-high school education in the presentations. During these sessions, provide information about local trade schools as well as nationally known trade schools, focusing on a variety of careers. Highlight the advantages of these schools, such as lower costs, a quicker route to a career, and a high rate of job placement and security. 

Coordinate field trips to trade schools and visits from professionals.

Students should also have exposure to the trade school environment as well as professionals working in fields that hire trade school graduates. Most local trade schools welcome school field trips as a way to expose students to the type of education that takes place in this environment. It’s important that all students have the opportunity to experience these field trips. Your school can also invite professionals who are currently working in a trade to come in and speak to students. This allows students to ask questions and gain a better understanding of the life and career of a person in the trade field.

It’s time to remove the stigma once and for all. Attending college is not the only route to success. Trade school is not a second-rate alternative for kids who just can’t cut it. Trade schools, and the vocations they train students for, require intelligence and skill. They help students hone their abilities, leading them to secure and satisfying careers. We should encourage students to consider postsecondary options and pursue the paths that work best for their future plans, including attending trade school.

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Posted by Colleen Wildenhaus

I am a veteran elementary teacher, mother of two, beach lover, and avid reader. I love the smell of new school supplies and fresh chocolate chip cookies. My goal is to see each child as an individual and help them succeed no matter their life circumstances.

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