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What to Expect from a Trade School Education

What is a technical education?

A technical trade is any vocation that includes skilled labor with a directly employable technical skill. Circuit board making, computerized machining, electrical engineering or automotive repair service are examples of technical trades. These trades are considered "skilled trades" and traditionally require more than on-the-job training to perform the job. In fact, these jobs often go unfilled as a result of applicants lacking the necessary skill sets. Technical colleges and schools can shore up the missing skills, providing the necessary science and mathematics education typically required for modern technical jobs.

Optimizing your natural trade skills

A trade profession may be ideal for people who enjoy working with their hands or producing something in a fast-paced environment. Tech schools generally provide a blend of hands-on training and classroom learning. If you are unsure whether this profession is right for you, the hands-on portion of tech school should help you make up your mind.

However, if you would prefer not to wait until the middle of technical college program to decide if the program is a good fit for you, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there are certain skills and qualities that have been found to be beneficial to trade professionals across multiple professional focuses. If you possess some or most of the following qualities, you may wish to look further into pursuing a career in a technical trade:

  • Manual dexterity
  • Mechanical skills
  • Awareness of spatial relationships
  • Physical strength
  • Unafraid of heights or confined spaces
  • Stamina
  • Communication skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Craft skills
  • Troubleshooting skills
  • Balance

Trade professionals should be comfortable working with their hands and carrying heavy equipment, as many professions require both. Some of the various tools that one can expect to encounter as a trade professional include the following:

  • Cranes. Used when machining tools are too heavy to be moved by hand; auto mechanics especially need cranes to remove or replace vehicle engines
  • Cutting torch. Similar to a welding torch but used to cut metal when drills or sheers would otherwise not work
  • Precision measuring devices. Display micro-measurements up to hundredths of a millimeter
  • Computers. Often include proprietary software for running computerized numerical control machines but can include simple PCs
  • Machining tools. Machines designed for shaping or machining metals or other materials such as wood or ceramics

Because many trade professionals work in loud or risk-filled environments as well, these workers should be comfortable working under such conditions while also performing their tasks.

Focused learning for specific subject areas

Trade skills typically require specific training and education to perform and are generally not able to be outsourced. Mechanics, plumbers, electricians and welders can't work through an Internet connection from a remote location. They need to be on location to fix your car when it breaks down, where it breaks down. Trade professionals can remain in demand for as long as the products they produce are used.

Can you remember the last time you thought about your boiler and what it does? It may be shocking to know that the BLS projects that boilermakers may experience an employment growth of up to 21 percent from 2010 to 2020 (BLS.gov/ooh, 2013), as old boilers need to be replaced or repaired and new boilers need to be constructed to meet EPA standards.

And yet, as remarked upon earlier, the Manpower Group's 2012 talent shortage survey found that 33 percent of employers reported that jobs remained unfilled due to a lack of applicants and technical competencies (hard skills). While it is possible to learn how to be a machinist, for example, without attending a vocational program, you may not have all the necessary skills and credentials for employment.

While on-the-job training may teach you how make a weld, a welding vocational program may include additional facets of welding, such as metallurgy (the science of metals and alloys), which aren't taught on the job. You can continue to develop your skills by continuing your education beyond the on-the-job training you've already learned or by learning a trade through a vocation program at a tech school to begin with.

In-depth study of areas employers needed now

At the end of every month when the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes the nation's jobs report, there has been a relatively constant (for the past year) and overlooked number: 3 million. It represents the amount of open-yet-unfilled jobs in the nation every month since 2011, which even The New York Times has taken note of in their opinion pages. These unfilled trade jobs are in such demand that some trade students have been hired prior to finishing their training programs, and some professions, such as computerized numerical control (CNC) machining, have recorded a 100 percent job placement rate for one of its recent graduating classes.

Technical trade professions include the following:

  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • HVAC installers
  • Millwrights
  • Appliance/computer repairers
  • Welders
  • Machinists
  • Mechanics

According to data from the BLS in October 2012 (BLS.gov/iag, 2013), nationwide, trade workers made an average hourly wage of $20.59, almost 25 percent more than the May 2011 median hourly wage for all other occupations nationally.

In addition, the following professions are all projected to experience a national employment growth of more than 14 percent from 2010 to 2020 (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012):

  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Auto mechanics
  • Boilermakers
  • HVAC installers and maintenance workers

Some trade professions are projected to have a national employment outlook twice that of the national average during the same period -- 2010 to 2020 -- such as HVAC installers and maintenance workers (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012) and plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012).

Many of the in-demand and unfilled trade jobs are also STEM jobs, which require specific education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. According to U.S. News & World Report's State of STEM and Jobs, many STEM jobs do not require a bachelor's degree, such as auto mechanics, machinists, circuit board makers and electricians -- meaning they are, in fact, vocational trades. As such, STEM scholarships may be available for some students that could potentially pay for some or all of a technical college’s tuition.

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