Trade School Resources Online
By Michael Ross
This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2525, 2007-06-22, as the cover article, in both their print edition (on pages 14 and 16) and their website. It was reprinted in Job Giant (a publication of San Diego Reader), volume 13, issue 8, 2009-05-14, on pages 8-9, as Seek and Yee Shall Find: Many Trade School Resources Available Online.
Someone considering learning a new professional trade might not think of turning to the Internet for help in pursuing such a program. After all, most vocational fields are more hands-on, and less computer-oriented than the knowledge-centric fields that are populated largely with experienced Internet users. But the Internet can be of tremendous help, in several ways. In fact, before pursuing any new employment field, one should first explore the many online resources that are available.
Vocational education generally trains for a specific type of job — usually a form of skilled labor — and does so with much greater efficiency, with the intention of preparing the trainee with only the skills needed to effectively execute the job, and thus get them into the workforce as soon as possible. This sort of focused training usually climaxes with the awarding of a certificate of completion. For some types of vocational training, a major goal may also be to prepare the student to pass a particular exam — oftentimes one required by state labor laws.
In contrast, "higher education" refers to graduate and postgraduate coursework, leading to a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree. These programs take years instead of months to complete, and are designed to give the students a much broader education, in a range of technical and non-technical areas. The primary goal might not be employment immediately after earning the degree, but instead further academic work — as taken to the extreme by Ph.D. candidates who never graduate into the harsh world of commercial employment.
Yet for every such "eternal student" who might sneer at someone working at a regular job, there are far more people who have wisely chosen to gain vocational training in a field with high demand for their skills. There are many advantages to such skill sets, such as the increased ability to gain products and services from others through barter. There is greater flexibility in hours and location. Skilled tradespeople can more easily start their own businesses, unlike their degreed critics who are usually limited to working for commercial firms, as subordinates.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
The first step is to decide upon a particular trade field that matches your personal interests, any prior training you may have had, and your financial parameters — not only your resources to pay for the training, but also the level of income that you need and are willing to work for. Naturally, trades that are in greater demand and that require more specialized training and licensing, typically command higher pay rates.
Having chosen one or more fields of interest, you can research what trade schools in your location can provide you with the training that you want, at costs that you can afford. There are several websites devoted to helping trade school candidates find the appropriate institutions and programs.
TradeSchools.com is an online directory of trade schools in several countries. The site's homepage comprises an extensive listing of hundreds of US schools, organized by state. This would be most valuable to someone who may be uncertain as to their trade field, and quite certain that they would not want to move in order to attend school. There are also lists for some specific fields, such as cuisine and health care. The site also has international listings in Australia, Canada, Greece, and Italy.
Find Trade Schools has listings organized by field rather than geographical location. This would be more valuable to someone who is willing to travel to find the optimal school for their chosen field. Their dozens of categories are organized into nine groups: technology, design, media, culinary, mechanical and automotive, construction, medical and dental, legal, and others. They also have links to listings of business schools and colleges, online degree programs, and even an online high school program.
Trade Schools Guide may be the most extensive one of the bunch, with literally hundreds of categories, from accounting to x-ray technician. It helpfully has all of them organized both by location and field. For instance, in the computer sector, they have information on trade schools covering animation, computer repair, help desk, networking, system administration, and video game design.
Going the Distance
There is no question that learning a new trade from a vocational school can be an extremely efficient way to switch over to a more satisfying profession, or to avoid the minimum wage trap after graduating from high school. But not everyone has a schedule or the mobility to attend one of the many schools listed on the aforementioned websites. For these prospective students, the answer may be distance learning — either over the Internet or through the mail.
Attending an online or correspondence vocational program typically allows one to better schedule one's learning efforts around existing commitments, such as a current job. It also saves time, by eliminating the commute between one's home and a brick-and-mortar school. For people who are completely homebound, for whatever reason, distance learning may be the only alternative.
Yet there are some potential downsides to this method of pursuing vocational training. Motivation, or the lack thereof, is usually much more of a problem for any home study. The distracting domestic comforts can often prove stronger than the commitment to study.
Additionally, correspondence schools are much fewer in number, and cannot boast the same levels of accreditation as the more traditional and established schools. As with any potential academic program, the candidate student should first verify that the distance learning program they are interested in is fully accredited, and will truly prepare them for any required licensing exams.
Trade Schools Guide, mentioned earlier, offers a category for finding online and correspondence trade schools, with contact information so you can verify their accreditation.
Other Helpful Resources
There are websites that provide sound general advice for anyone interested in vocational studies. For instance, the FTC offers many pointers in their article "Choosing a Career or Vocational School". The Office of Vocational and Adult Education has a website and a toll-free phone number (800-872-5327) through which the prospective student can obtain information and publications.
In the nongovernmental realm, SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit organization that is designed to help teachers and students who are getting ready for trade, technical, and skilled service careers.
These professional fields might not be classified by academics as "knowledge-based", but it certainly behooves the future tradesperson to gain as much knowledge as possible about available vocational programs, and they can do much of that online.
Copyright © 2007 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.