What Is Vocational Education? (With Definition and Types)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 31 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Vocational education can be a lucrative opportunity for students looking to learn new skills and secure a job faster. These programmes are incredibly diverse and can help you become an expert in a specialised field, like welding or graphic designing. Learning about these educational opportunities can prepare you to find and pursue a vocational job that aligns with your career goals and endeavours. In this article, we answer the question, "What is vocational education?" and review why it is important, explore the differences between vocational and traditional education and examine different types of vocational programmes.

What is vocational education?

Vocational education is any type of training, usually in the form of courses and hands-on instructional lessons, that teaches students the specialised skills required to perform a specific job. These types of programmes usually forgo traditional academic-based lessons in favour of hands-on learning. Students learn the fundamentals and capabilities of a specific occupation under the supervision of an active and highly experienced professional.

Read more: Vocational Training: Definition, Types and Examples

Why is vocational education important?

Vocational education is important because it provides a student with marketable skills in a relatively short amount of time. Some vocational programmes last only a few months, and during that time, not only is a student learning from their courses, but they are also working on actual jobs with a skilled mentor figure. This allows them to develop beneficial professional connections and have the chance to gain employment much more quickly than a standard university student. Vocational education is also important because trade skills are incredibly valuable, and people are likely always going to need the expertise of a tradesperson.

Differences between vocational education and university education

There are several differences between vocational education and traditional university education, including:

Programme focus

Vocational educational programmes focus on teaching students trade skills that they can immediately apply to a specific job. These could include technical skills for jobs like plumbers, electricians, cosmetologists and firefighters. In contrast, university educational programmes typically focus more on teaching students theories and concepts. With less focus on immediately applicable skills, these students gain more academic knowledge and a much broader range of information, with varying levels of relevancy to their course of study.

Time to complete

Vocational education programmes disregard most of the theory and philosophy based coursework. With fewer courses to take, these students can gain their desired qualifications in a much shorter amount of time. Students can complete many of these programmes in just a few months. In comparison, traditional university students usually need between two to four years to obtain their qualifications. Depending on their specific career goals, this number can reach upwards of eight to 10 years.

Costs

Because vocational programmes have a short duration and fewer courses to complete, they are usually more cost effective than traditional educational programmes. If you are someone who has a limited budget, then vocational education may be right for you. Universities can be expensive, even schools that are non-privatised. This expense can determine what level of education you receive and what job opportunities you can access.

Types of job opportunities

Vocational education programmes prepare students primarily for blue-collar and physical labour based jobs. As you gain more expertise in these jobs, you may be able to move up in the rankings and obtain more lucrative managerial roles. Contemporary university education prepares students mostly for white-collar, office jobs. These jobs usually involve more mental work or internet-based technologies. The job opportunities that these students can access are usually broader and less defined. The industry or occupation that a university graduate enters may not directly correlate with the qualification they earned.

What are pre-vocational studies?

Pre-vocational studies refer to entry-level programmes of study that are usually available to full-time students. They are designed to prepare students for more advanced vocational programmes. For instance, these studies may prepare students by teaching them how to develop the necessary behaviours, attitudes and competencies to succeed in vocational occupations.

Different types of vocational education

Vocational education can be accomplished through many channels, and at varying points in someone's career. Here are some different resources for receiving vocational training:

High school CTE programmes

CTE programmes are for high school students hoping to gain work experience in a variety of trades, as well as continue their academic studies. This type of vocational training is usually a part of a high school curriculum, but students can also attend separate vocational training centres. These vocational training programmes allow students to explore different career choices and prepare for industry-specific work or advanced education. In most vocational training programmes at this level, students continue to pursue their high school diploma while completing their training.

Tech Prep education

Tech Prep programmes serve as an intermediary between secondary and post-secondary vocational training to prepare students for high-tech careers. Through collaboration between the two institutions, Tech Prep programs combine at least two years of secondary and two years of postsecondary education. The programme usually results in either a certificate or an associate's degree in a particular field of study.

Postsecondary vocational school

Sometimes referred to as trade schools, postsecondary vocational schools are another viable option for individuals considering pursuing a four-year college degree. They offer degree programmes and vocational certificates. This option usually caters to working adults by offering night and weekend course options.

Apprenticeship programmes

Apprenticeship programmes are trade-specific and can last as long as four or five years. In these types of programmes, the apprentice or student works under the supervision of a professional in their trade and they gain compensation for the work. This type of vocational training is most common in highly-skilled, hands-on professions.

Apprenticeships typically combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Because some apprenticeships include classroom courses, they can result in a certification or degree. A major benefit of this type of training is the fact that it is an educational programme in which the student also receives payment for their work.

Related: Ultimate Guide To Explore Many Different Types of Jobs

On-the-job training

Most on-the-job training is either done through an employer or a third-party training provider sourced by the employer. It is common for companies to provide employees with job-specific training as well as training in general employment skills, such as human resources training, training on how to work well in a team or computer skills training. These skills can prove valuable in an employee's current position, as well as in any future employment opportunities.

When learning a skill through on-the-job training, new employees can expect to pair with an experienced professional. Classroom instruction has its uses for on-the-job training, but it is typically only seen when a company develops practical training into an apprenticeship programme.

Standalone courses

Professionals hoping to develop their skills and improve their marketability can usually take standalone courses. These courses are available to non-degree-seeking students. Reasons for people to take this route for continuing their education and professional development can vary based on their specific needs.

Distance learning programmes

Another great option for learning or expanding a set of skills is by enrolling in a distance education programme. Many distance learning courses allow students to work through materials and lesson plans at their own pace, making it perfect for working professionals. However, some programmes may require students to be logged in at specific times or follow a course schedule. Before signing up for a distance learning programme, be sure to research the institution thoroughly, making sure that they are legitimate as well as accredited.

Jobs you can get with a vocational education

Here are four examples of jobs you can pursue with this type of education:

1. Automotive mechanic

National average salary: ₹15,966 per month

Primary duties: Automotive mechanics fix and repair vehicles that have minor issues or complex mechanical malfunctions. They help customers identify the cause of an issue, like a leaking gas tank or a blown-out headlight. Aside from making repairs, they might also make recommendations to customers about additional repairs to improve their vehicle's operation.

Related: Blue-Collar Jobs vs. White-Collar Jobs: What's the Difference?

2. Electrician

National average salary: ₹14,022 per month

Primary duties: Electricians use specialised equipment to fix and maintain the electrical equipment in a wide range of buildings, like corporate offices and residential homes. They also work on power lines and other electric-based systems to ensure they are working as intended. Electricians have to follow strict safety protocols to avoid injuring themselves, their colleagues or civilians.

3. First aid instructor

National average salary: ₹16,910 per month

Primary duties: A first aid instructor educates young individuals and adults on how to provide emergency first aid to someone in a time of crisis. They teach students how to perform basic techniques like CPR. A student may also learn how to react appropriately to an emergency situation and provide care for superficial injuries.

Related: 20 Part-Time Jobs That Pay Well

4. Web designer

National average salary: ₹17,961 per month

Primary duties: Web designers use their creativity and expertise in computer software to design and build websites that meet their clients' needs. They develop the overall look of the website and how it functions. A good website is easy for customers to navigate.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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