By Sarah Stevenson
Trade schools are more than simply an alternative to academic education—they're a must for anyone planning to enter a skilled trade such as carpentry or automotive repair. A recent trend in many industries has been to move lower-level jobs overseas; as a result, technical, industrial and manufacturing jobs at home increasingly demand workers with postsecondary training. That's where vocational and trade schools come in. Whether you're a recent high school graduate or a seasoned workforce veteran, an online vocational school can give you the practical training you need to enter in a skilled trade.
What to Expect
At an online technical school, online vocational school or trade-focused college degree program, you won't ignore critical academic fundamentals. But you can expect your schooling to center on career-oriented training—how to repair a six-cylinder engine, for instance, if you want to be an auto mechanic. Specialized diploma, certificate or associate's degree programs may take anywhere from six months to two years, meaning you'll be ready to enter the employment market in a relatively short time compared to most college degrees.
If you're already a part of the job market, online school can offer lots of benefits. With distance education, you can complete the required academic portions of your education on your own time, rather than attending class at a specific time every day. Some programs may even enable you to delve into your chosen trade using online curriculum, or offer online courses in useful business skills.
However, hands-on instruction is critical for anyone entering a skilled trade, so if you're considering online vocational school, be sure that the program includes practical training. After all, you'll need to know how to use the latest equipment, tools and technology in order to compete in the job market.
What Can I Study at an Online Vocational School?
Trade schools enable you to acquire skills with a specific career focus. Some of the most common areas of training include:
- Automotive technology, manufacturing or repair
- Aviation or aircraft service technology
- Appliance repair
- HVAC technology
If your goal is to attend an online vocational school, be sure to check whether they offer the specific program you're interested in, and research whether their online and in-person coursework fits your schedule. Ask yourself important questions like whether the cost fits your budget, whether the school offers financial aid and what kind of job placement assistance the school offers.
Another important consideration for online school is whether the institution is accredited. An accredited vocational or trade school meets quality standards established by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, such as the Council on Occupational Education, the Distance Education and Training Council or one of several regional accrediting commissions. All of these agencies have been approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Attending an accredited online vocational school is not only a good indicator of educational quality, it also means you'll be avoiding a costly diploma scam.
Here are median salaries for five popular vocational fields:
|Trade/Vocational Field||Median Annual Salary*|
|Automotive Service Technology||$37,120|
|Aircraft Mechanics and Avionics Technology||$56,980|
|Home Appliance Repair||$44,630|
Sources: U.S. Department of Education; Federal Trade Commission; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics; Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians; Carpenters; Electricians; Home Appliance Repairers.
*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.