Vocational education differs from “traditional” education in that it prepares students for a specific occupation, usually a trade.  Rather than the curriculum being academically based, it focuses on manual and practical applications.  Students who attend vocational training have typically chosen their future occupation and, upon graduation, intend to commence work immediately in that occupation.

Designations awarded upon graduation from a vocational program can be certificates, diplomas, associate’s degrees or, under special terms, bachelor’s degrees.  While the first three awards are the most common, a few programs do offer bachelor’s degrees.  Vocational programs are usually available at community colleges or private educational organizations that specialize in one particular trade (i.e. mechanics).

Certificate and diploma vocational programs are generally completed within one year, while associate’s degrees are accomplished in between 1 and 3 years.  The associate’s degree program includes liberal arts courses, such as mathematics, English, social sciences, in addition to the vocational hands-on training.

Students desiring to upgrade their vocational education to a Bachelor’s degree must meet rigorous guidelines.  A minimum of an associate’s degree, successful completion of a National Occupational Competency Examination in their specialization and a significant number of years (or hours) of work experience in their field are required for admission.

An attractive feature to vocational training is that students who are already employed in the trades can work towards completing an apprenticeship through combining the vocational education portion with practical work experience.  Generally, trades apprentices are required to attend conventional training for a specified number of hours (i.e. 180 hours) annually to qualify for the final certification examination.

Vocational education is becoming more specialized as the business world becomes more complex.  A prospective employer regards a student with a vocational designation more highly than applicants without formal training when making hiring decisions.

There are vocational programs available in practically every field at vocational schools in the United States.  A list of vocational schools may be obtained from local state departments of education.