Monday, October 18, 2010

Vocational Schools v.s. Traditional Schools

The originally story I wrote for Executive Forum Business Magazine. Note that this is slightly different from the edited version which appears in the actual magazine. Andy usually tinkers with my stuff a bit before publishing it, after all.

Nothing to do with psychology or writing how-to's, but it got a lot of praise nonetheless.

Vocational and Traditional Schools— Differences in Employment

The general consensus is that to get anywhere in life, in this day and era, you need a good education. Thus, students are pressured to do their best and excel in academics early on in order to get accepted into nice big schools and get the best education possible. Not just in high school; students are pressured in middle school, even elementary school, to do well. You need a good college education in order to get a good job, so they say, so you'd better shape up as early as possible.

Not to say that there's anything wrong with wanting to do a good job in school, but sometimes this pressure can be counterproductive. The fact is, as many children with IEPs (individual education plans) will testify, traditional schooling is “not for everyone.” Some parents will stress over this, declaring, “My child is competent, but she's a more hands on sort of child.” Maybe the student just isn't good at research papers, paper exams and book reports. Does this mean that a student's employment future looks grim?

This is where vocational schools— also known as “trade schools”— come in.

To put it simply, it breaks down to this: traditional schooling is academics, socialization with a bit (or more, depending on the individual) of physical education mixed in. Read, learn, practice. Rinse and repeat for four years, then apply for college and do this again for however long is necessary. Students complete their exams, gather some fond memories and proceed to attend public or private college until they reach their mid- or late twenties. This is essentially the same thing, only longer, harsher and less forgiving. After obtaining a certain degree, they find a reliable place of employment— ideally. For many, this pans out well enough.

Vocational schools are different. Some elements are shortened and compacted, although the same basic level of education is still completed. In vocational high school, students attend class and have their usual breaks, also spending a portion of the day receiving training and working with “hands-on” equipment. Vocational college, a step above, is also different from regular college— because this is education at a college level, there is less rigidity. However, whether it be high school or college level, vocational education is still more interactive and focused on helping students acquire specific, practical skills. One might even go as far as to consider vocational college level a college experience full of hands-on “labs.”

Vocational institutions, in general, have gained a certain level of notoriety in recent years— in the last ten years, the number of students earning awards from “for-profit” vocational schools has increased by about fifty percent. Similar numbers have emerged among students attending community colleges, where students earn a lesser degree more quickly, using credits many students acquired while pursuing their vocational education in high school.

This process of getting into a vocational program in high school is a bit complicated. At Chicopee Comprehensive High School, for example, the screening process begins not long after the kids leave elementary school. The children are screened in middle school, and if referred by the school's guidance counselor (this step is unavoidable) they are given a career assessment and are allocated to the program which best suits them. Of these, three of the more popular programs are in the culinary and electric fields, and health care program fields. The process of getting into vocational college has its differences, as well. Students must take matters into their own hands, but references are still a significant part of the process.

Having said that, in order to remain in the program, students must fulfill the same academic prerequisites as their traditional school peers. If they fail basic academic or “shop” classes, they are ejected from the program. Although many vocational schools consider their programs “alternative educations,” that does not mean they are necessarily easier. Of course, there is a limited number of seats in the program, to begin with.

What are the benefits of enrolling in a vocational education program? As previously stated, not all students do well in a strictly “traditional” education plan. Vocational school does not exempt students from having a complete education, but rather allows them to approach academics from a different angle. Not only that, vocational education at the high school level usually does not require additional tuition, and the prices of community and vocational colleges are a fraction of what traditional four-year schools cost. These schools also specialize in specific skill-training, not general lecture education. Statistics show that many technical jobs that involve high-level computer skills consciously seek out students who have attended vocational school in their field, as they believe these students will have more practical knowledge and experience. In fields such as this, students may actually have a higher rate of success in finding employment.

Drawbacks in attending vocational schools as opposed to traditional schools, on the other hand, are few and far between. Most difficulties that occur when it comes to sending children to vocational schools center around the individual. If a student (high school or college) doesn't have any desire to make an effort in traditional classes or at vocational school, the program simply isn't going to work. Students who view vocational school as a way to put in less effort will not benefit from the program, and many of these individuals make the program difficult for other students. The structure of the day is different when a student opts for vocational training instead of regular schooling, but this does not mean their day is any less productive.

What comes after an individual's vocational education ends? Ideally, each student graduates from high school, where the student's vocational program began, and from the vocational college they attended and continued their vocational schooling— had they chosen to do so. Many continue to hold the part-time position which they secure while proceeding through their vocational education. However, it is also true that a vast majority move on to two- and four-year colleges after their high school training ends, using credits they obtained while attending vocational high school programs. To put it simply, no student who enters the vocational program ever stops learning. The transfer is simply one from a more practical, “hands-on” education to one which will help them function in society with an even better set of tools. These vocational programs, which are ultimately a “plan B” for students, do not go unappreciated. They contribute a significant amount to society, and account for a significant amount of the hard-working, competent workforce of today.


  1. Vocational school is the better high school.

  2. i agree, vocational is better.

  3. This is a great article, i do plan on going to vocational school. i learn with my hands not my eyes.

  4. Vocational school sounds very interesting. This article definitely helped me to understand the difference between vocational and traditional schooling. I don't know if I would go into vocational schooling personally, because I'm used to traditional schooling. I definitely think that it would be interesting to consider when my children start growing more.