Vocational Schools and Apprenticeships

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Author: Julianne Dueber
Editor: William Dudley
Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
Series: Teen Decisions
Document Type: Viewpoint essay
Length: 1,334 words
Content Level: (Level 3)
Lexile Measure: 1030L

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The Ultimate High School Survival Guide, New York: Peterson's/Thomson Learning, 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Julianne Dueber. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.

Two education alternatives for teens who decide not to attend college are vocational schools and apprenticeships. Technical and vocational schools provide instruction focusing on a single job or career field. Apprenticeships are programs in which a person becomes an actual employee of a business and receives both pay and on-the-job training. Julianne Dueber lists some advantages and disadvantages of these alternative pathways as well as advice on obtaining more information about specific programs. A former high school teacher, Dueber is the author of The Ultimate High School Survival Guide, from which this excerpt was taken.

Four-year college is not the best choice for everyone. Many students attend two-year community colleges or technical schools or obtain on-the-job training through an apprenticeship or internship. No matter which direction you take, you'll need to check out entrance requirements. Keep career interests and your abilities in mind....

Technical and vocational schools that offer vocational training are sometimes called trade schools. They offer a wide variety of training and education that lead to jobs in a single career field. I checked in my local phone book to get an idea of the types of schools out there for you. Here's a few ideas of careers you can be trained for: dental and medical assistant, pet groomer, administrative assistant, medical records technician, computer programmer, computer-aided draftsman, welder, travel agent, office administrator, computer network administrator, health information specialist, bartender, veterinary assistant, furniture reupholsterer, auto mechanic, occupational therapy assistant, massage therapist, and a ton of others. Check your own yellow pages to find other professions that you can obtain training for....

Advantages of Vocational Training

  • Your time in school will most likely range anywhere from one week to two years. This short term training will allow you to enter the work force quickly.
  • You will train for employment in a specific job. You should be able to gain employment when you complete the training because your skills will match the job requirements.
  • Your education most likely will not cost you as much as it would to go to a four-year college.
  • Your teacher will have personal experience in the field he or she is teaching. He can give you helpful hints for obtaining a job.
  • You will use the knowledge you gain in classes to solve practical problems in laboratories and workshops at your job site.
  • During your vocational training, you'll get lifelong skills, such as good work habits, self-confidence, teamwork, and practical problem solving. Training will be hands-on. That is, you'll begin by learning the specific skills necessary for the job.

Possible Disadvantages of Vocational Training

  • You may train for a field for which there are not many jobs available. You should research careers to see where the jobs are. A helpful resource is the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The hottest fields will be in the health and home health care, computer programming and systems, occupational and physical therapy, and paralegal fields.
  • Some vocational schools are better than others. You must check out each school carefully. Talk to past graduates. Find out what percentage of graduates get jobs. Know who you're dealing with. Call the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against the school. Talk to past graduates. Check to see if they have state licensing and accreditation. Are the courses up-to-date and taught by teachers with the latest skills? Do the facilities have state-of-the-art technology? Does the school have a job placement office? Will you get hands-on training?
  • You won't get as well-rounded an education as you'd get at a traditional college. You'll be studying only one area. This focus does not have to be a negative, however. You can study additional information on your own by reading books, newspapers, and magazines. Many graduates of vocational schools are avid readers with a lot of knowledge on many topics. Don't buy into stereotypes if you know what field interests you. Go for it! ...


According to the Occupational Outlook Quarterly, "Apprenticeship is a relationship between an employer and an employee during which the worker, or apprentice, learns a trade. The apprenticeship covers all aspects of the trade and includes both on-the-job training and related instruction in the classroom. Apprenticeships usually last about 4 years but range from 1 to 6 years. During this time, apprentices work under experienced workers known as journey workers—the status they will attain after successfully completing their apprenticeships."

Apprentices are actual employees of a company, which pays them roughly half of what the experienced worker gets. The apprentices get an increase in pay after satisfactorily completing each portion of the apprentice training.

Typical apprenticeships train you for careers as a carpenter, welder, iron worker, electrician, stone mason, and tile setter, among others. Also, there are a number of different things you can do after you've trained for one of these careers. For example, a carpenter doesn't just hammer nails all day. He's the member of a team that builds homes, commercial buildings, roads, and bridges. He also remodels homes and office buildings, installs drywall and cabinets, and completes exterior and interior finishes. Some carpenters specialize in one phase of the trade, such as installing concrete forms, installing acoustical materials, or driving pile. Millwrights handle, clean, erect, install, and dismantle machinery, equipment, and other heavy materials. Cabinet-makers build specialized, fine cabinets, furniture, and other articles for customers.

Typical Requirements for Apprenticeships

  1. You must have a good high school attendance record and a good attitude.
  2. You must be drug-free.
  3. You must have a good work ethic.
  4. You must have reliable transportation and access to a telephone.
  5. You should have good math and communication skills.
  6. You should like physical work, much of it outdoors.

The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Apprenticeships and Training mandates that you spend at least 144 hours per year in the classroom. To be an apprentice, you usually must be 18 years old, unless you get special permission from your parents. Then you may enter an apprentice program at 17. In a number of programs, you don't need a GED or high school diploma.

Advantages of Apprenticeships

  • You won't be stuck behind a desk day after day. You'll go from job to job, meeting new people and seeing new places.
  • You get paid as soon as you start your apprenticeship.
  • Many apprenticeship programs are affiliated with community and four-year colleges. Some community colleges will give you credits for anywhere from 34 to 45 hours toward an associate's degree depending on your experiences. Then, you only need to earn 19 to 30 more credit hours at the community college to get the degree.
  • When you advance to journeyperson, your salary almost doubles. Wages are based on your level of training and years of experience.

Possible Disadvantages of Apprenticeships

  • You will have some periods where you cannot work, due to the weather. Sounds like a good time to take a vacation, doesn't it?
  • Your education will be limited to knowledge of one trade. But this is not always true. Many tradesmen read about things other than their trade. You have the power to educate yourself however you see fit.
  • The tradesman sometimes wishes he had gone to college. Well, there is nothing stopping him or her from going to night or weekend classes. In fact, apprentices are ideal candidates for distance learning classes via the Internet....

Sources of Information

Talk to the trade unions in your city or town for more information. Your state will most likely have an office that oversees apprenticeships. You may also contact the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20212; telephone: 202-219-5943.

Do some research to find more information. Ask your school counselor for helpful phone numbers and sources of information.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ3010306227