Vocational, Professional & Technical School Programs

Skilled Professionals Reap Wage Increases

In “Learning about Community Colleges,” I asked the question, “Have we gone too far in charging every high-school student with earning a four-year college degree?” The options are a two-year or Associates degree from a community college or a one or two-year diploma or certificate program from a technical or vocational college.

Not long ago these educational options were summarily snubbed by the higher education system under which they serve as underpinnings. In many cases they remain the victims of tragic misconceptions: Vocational college is for grease monkeys or Future Farmers of America geeks. That was then, this is now.

For me a community college degree served me well as a stepping-stone to a four-year degree. And for many a standalone community college or technical program lands them in a well-paying job immediately. Technical and vocational programs, sometimes termed “trade,” have heaped on the options for a career. Students may choose from a candy counter of well-paying fields that deliver practical, concentrated, and highly specific training without the liberal arts frou-frou. What’s more wages are on the increase as the pool of skilled professionals retires.

The New “Blue Collar”

A surprising grassroots movement may be afoot that encourages students with vocational aptitude to pursue a “blue collar” career. Once upon a time “blue collar” and “career” would not appear alongside each other in a sentence. But this is the age of entrepreneurship. An enterprising landscaper, carpenter or automotive specialist may very well parlay his or her skills and talents into a very fruitful annual income, never mind the fact that they may actually enjoy their work.

I was changing radio stations the other day and heard a talk show on the public radio station. The guest, a high school guidance counselor, remarked on the lack of foresight in higher education to properly advise students, particularly when it comes to academics and career. His argument: we’ve overstressed the four year degree, muscled students not academically motivated, prepared or even interested, to go get a four-year degree; and many are failing. Why have we summarily, he asked, disregarded the value of a vocational/technical degree program for students more suited academically and professionally for these types of professional career options?

Wages On the Increase for Technical Professionals

All this talk about professional and technical careers may best be argued from an economics stance. While we’ve spent the last decade or so emphasizing the importance and downright necessity for a four-year college degree, the numbers of well-trained technicians and tradespersons are dropping. According to a telling report by Deloitte Consulting, the drain in well-trained skilled workers is in correlation to the increasing Baby Boomer retirement. Further declines are attributed to the misconception that manufacturing means assembly line. In fact, the report reveals a deep and wide chasm of jobs from engineering to product development that beg for trained professionals looking for good incomes and long-term careers.

Tangible and Squishy Factors

Advantages to a technical program include tangible as well as squishy factors. The “squishy factor” is the sense of well-being and satisfaction that students less academically inclined get from their efforts in an environment more attuned to their needs.

The tangible advantage is the hands-on practical experience. Some professional and technical programs offer opportunities for apprenticeships, or on the job work alongside an experienced professional. Technical and vocational programs are often certificate programs. Courses last a matter of weeks, sometimes outside the traditional parameters of semester or quarter systems. Programs are highly specific. For example, IT certificate programs may be specific to particular network types or to companies, such as Microsoft or Cisco Systems. Other programs offer more generic skills such as bartending, culinary arts, cosmetology, web design and even massage therapy.

The common denominator among all of the above programs is the potential to earn a very good salary, as well as parlay the profession to greater heights. In the instance of IT, professionals are often expected to take an exam as capstone to their certificate program. Computer network specialists and programmers earn their industry stripes by amassing certificates and acing exams. The profession is a mass of rapidly evolving know-how that is considered essential. Certificates earn professionals increasing industry respect and income.

Types of Professional Programs

I’ve already mentioned that many IT programs, cosmetology and others like real estate, are offered as certificates, but there are some schools that intentionally stretch them to fit a year-long diploma program. Courses of study in Business and Healthcare Administration typically start off as a one-year degree. Depending upon the school you may then apply for a second year of study that garners you an Associates degree.

Hands-On At the Hands of Experts

Like the community college system the advantage to a professional or technical program is the boiled-down know-how you get at the hands of very highly trained, professionally experienced instructors. Your instructor will likely be a wage-earning professional in whatever field of study you are pursuing. Their experience is transferred to you in up to the minute practical experience.

Job Placement

Well-paying jobs are the goal of any technical graduate. Right now there are shortages in very specific IT categories and healthcare that offer qualified technicians instant job opportunity. Job placement and career fairs are an integral part of a good technical college. Students close to graduation may access job postings and get advice from counselors on interviews and resume building, the nitty-gritty of a job search.

Can’t Beat the Cost

Professional programs, especially those limited to a brief number of weeks, can prove a very affordable option, in contrast to the spendy and arguably overpriced four-year degree. You might spend a couple hundred dollars for a bartending course, and up to a few thousand for a high-end Cisco Networking program. This is in sharp contrast to a degree program that could run you between a few thousand and $40,000, depending on your choice of school and degree.

Professional Does Not Preclude Motivation

Students can be well suited to a professional program or all wrong. Those most well suited will likely already find satisfaction in working with their hands. Others might consistently struggle with academics. While some naysayers may believe a technical program is the lazy students’ option, they would be wrong. Professional degree and certificate programs demand a certain aptitude and skill set. Albert Einstein very likely would have made a poor and unmotivated welder. To succeed in a trade students must be able to apply motivation and drive. There is an academic element, a demand for achievement that cannot be overlooked.

For those actually interested in self-employment the motivation and drive does not stop there. The steps to entrepreneurship may be more demanding than any college program, but the rewards may be significant.

There are many career advisors that staunchly resist promoting any type of vocational training, pushing a four-year degree at all costs. Their argument is the tenuousness of technical careers in the overall bigger picture of one’s life. This only serves to underscore the personal nature of your educational choice. No one can make it for you and it takes a good deal of personal insight, analysis and maturity to decide.

Problems Grow for Vocational Programs

According to some sources, vocational programs at the high school level are now defunct in many regions, once again due to the overwhelming rush to push a college plan. As a result though, there are growing gaps in the technical sector as we’ve mentioned. Students with a skills aptitude are missing out at the secondary level where in the past they would have gained the skills and preparation for a professional or trade program. Once upon a time every high school in America had a wood and metal shop, now even the instructors are a challenge to find.

From the sounds of it professional, skilled, trade or technical jobs all share a promising future, thanks to the four-year college overkill.


Tovia Smith, NPR, 25 Feb. 2007.

2Report: Specialized Skill Shortages to Swell It Salaries, Deborah Rothberg, eWeek.com, 3 Jan. 2007.

3As Area Schools Resurrect Vocational Programs, Janine Manny, The Daily News Online, 13 Feb. 2007.

Tovia Smith, NPR, 25 Feb. 2007.

Report: Specialized Skill Shortages to Swell It Salaries, Deborah Rothberg, eWeek.com, 3 Jan. 2007.

As Area Schools Resurrect Vocational Programs, Janine Manny, The Daily News Online, 13 Feb. 2007.