Have a Teen Looking at a Vocational or Trade School? Here’s What You Need to Know

First of all, kudos to you and your young adult for both recognizing the dire need this country is currently having for a skilled labor force, and how a four-year college degree simply isn’t the only path to financial stability and success.

A new Bureau of Labor Statistics report states that one third of all new jobs through 2022 will be in one of three skilled labor forces: healthcare, construction, and personal care. Additionally, it’s estimated there are approximately 33 million jobs in American right now earning $55,000 or higher, none of which require a four-year degree.

What parents and teens need to know about attending a vocational or trade school
Lisa F. Young/ Shutterstock

Students who decide to skip college and enter a vocational or trade school, or a Registered Apprenticeship program, are typically done with schooling in two years or less, and most will have a significant head start on earning potential over their peers sitting in college lecture halls. But what do you need to know about a vocational or trade school, and what certificate and licensing is required for the job your teen seeks? Here are a few tips as they begin to explore the smart alternative to college:

Five Top Questions About a Vocational or Trade School

1. What’s the difference between a trade/vocational school certificate, a certification, and professional licensing?

A certificate is a type of degree that is earned after a specific course of study.  It is issued by the school, not the state. For example, you may earn a certificate for completing coursework to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), but may still need to complete an application for licensing  to work as a CNA. Certifications require a set of assessments and documentation of experience,  and subsequently are used to show that workers have attained competency in an occupation. An easier way to remember the difference is this way –  school issue certificates, states and other government bodies issue licenses, and professional or industry organization issue certifications.

2. How do I know what type of licensing or certifications I need?

The easiest way to do this is to locate your state’s licensing website. You can do this early by Googling your state, and then the terms “professional licensing board.” This will bring up information on what occupations require a license in your state, as well as what certificate you will have needed to earn to apply for the license, and even the application for license itself.

Your state should also have a “Business and Professional Regulation” website with more information.

3. How do I find a vocational or trade school?

The best place to start when looking for trade or vocational schools or programs is your local community college. Most have some type- if not many- trade and certificate programs, or, at least, can help you find one within the public schooling spectrum. The Federal Trade Commission publishes a very informative website on choosing a trade school, as well as information on private for-profit trade schools, how to apply for federal financial aid, accreditations of schools, and their career placement record.

4. What about financial aid?

Most trade schools offer some form of financial aid, but it’s important to find out who the lender is. Is it the school? A private lender? Or federal financial aid backed by the government? The latter will probably have the best repayment terms, so do your homework and find the best and most cost effective way to not only pay for tuition now, but to pay it back.

5. What about an apprenticeship program?

To get working immediately, many skilled trades offer a “Registered Apprenticeship” program. This is on the job learning, and in many skilled trades is a requirement before licensing.  You will be earning while you are learning, and there are currently over 150,000 businesses that have adopted Registered Apprenticeship, including UPS, Ford Motor Company, the United States Military, Werner Enterprises, CVS/Caremark Pharmacy – and many others. For a list of Registered Apprenticeship programs and their sponsors, please visit the Registered Apprenticeship Program Sponsors Database, and for more information on Registered Apprenticeships, visit the U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship website.

The only path to the American Dream is not found exclusively on a college campus. Kate Blosveren Kreamer, deputy executive director of Advance CTE, an association of state officials who work in career and technical education agrees, and states,

There’s that perception of the bachelor’s degree being the American dream, the best bang for your buck. The challenge is that in many cases it’s become the fallback. People are going to college without a plan, without a career in mind, because the mindset in high school is just, “Go to college.”

She couldn’t’ be more right. Going to college to just go to college is making one huge mistake. Teens should take the time to weigh all their post high school options. They just may find a campus is the last place they need to be.


I Just Have One Question, Where are All the Plumbers? 

The Best 10 Tech Grad Gifts Your Kid Will Love

Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. She is on Facebook at 4BoysMother and on twitter at @melissarunsaway.

About Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. Find her on Facebook 
and on twitter at @melissarunsaway

Read more posts by Melissa

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.