Vocational education is a different learning option from the path of college or universities. It offers a path that imparts the skills and knowledge needed to work in a given occupation. It is coordinated with the requirements of the labor market and is an integral part of the education system.

What is vocational training, and how does it differ from college?

Here are detailed answers to these questions.


Vocational training vs. academic training

While college education often provides theoretical or broad knowledge that could be applied to a variety of professions within a certain field, vocational training teaches students the precise skills and knowledge needed to carry out a specific craft, technical skill or trade, such as plumbing or cooking.

College education often includes courses on a variety of subjects that may not directly relate to a student’s major and that a graduate may not use in their career. Vocational school, on the other hand, skips this type of broad academic study and instead provides direct knowledge and instruction for a specific field or position.

Work-ready training

The vocational type of education is designed to make students “work ready” upon graduation. It provides practical education, so students develop specific industry skills that allow them to jump right into your profession and get started. Key features of vocational education and training are classroom training combined with hands-on training, providing students with a complete understanding of concepts in their field and how to carry out the duties of their trade.

Certain positions and fields

Vocational education is designed for more technical fields and for trades or crafts, which are positions that involve hands-on, manual work such as working with plumbing pipes, making a cake or repairing a car. These careers are seen differently from college- and university-trained careers because they are thought of as non-academic. Nonetheless, vocational training also educate on managerial skills or job functions, such as computer programming or prepare for a supervisory role in a hotel or restaurant.

What is practical education?

It teaches skills and knowledge for the everyday skills and duties you carry out in your particular field. It is skill based learning rather than learning that focuses on ideas and theories.

Vocational programs exist for a variety of careers. Students could choose this type of educational pathway for technical training to learn computer skills. Students can learn the skills needed for many creative fields this way, such as dressmaking, photography, culinary arts, fashion design, interior design or cosmetology. Vocational school also provides training for many hands-on trades that are necessary to the functioning of society, such as masonry, carpentry, heating and air conditioning, automotive repair, plumbing or electrical work. It can also provide the means for learning certain professional fields such as bookkeeping, medical assisting or court reporting.

Vocational training settings

The vocational training system includes a variety of settings for students to carry out their education. It may vary by the type of trade students plan to get into, but vocational training can take place through one or a combination of these:

  • Vocational or trade schools
  • Technical secondary schools
  • Community colleges
  • High school vocational programs
  • On-the-job training
  • Apprenticeships
  • Standalone courses

While it is not yet common, some colleges and universities are beginning to incorporate vocational programs into their educational offerings in addition to their traditional academic options.

Students might complete their vocational training with a certification or a diploma. In some cases, they may receive an associate’s degree. Some schools offer a range of professional areas, while some are specific to certain subjects, such as culinary schools or technology schools.

Continuing education

Vocational training also helps people move forward in their careers. These programs are often shorter and more flexible than college or university programs. This makes it easier for people to go back to school or take continuing education to help them move to the next step. Through further education with vocational training, you could have the opportunity to:

  • Advance to a higher level position in the same company or field.
  • Gain the skills and knowledge needed to change careers.
  • Ask for higher pay to fit a credential or specialty skill.

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Key features of vocational education and training

Vocational training has some key features that set it apart from academic education. When you look at formal education vs practical experience, you see that formal college or university training includes a lot of classroom education filled with knowledge that is often vague or theoretical. It may cover a lot of subjects, including ones that are not fully relevant to the major. Vocational training is different because it focuses on practical experience instead through hands-on training.

In addition, there are specific features that set vocational training apart. Key components are:

1. It makes a student job-ready

Vocational training provides skill based learning and focuses on how to teach practical skills. This means that upon completion of the program a student has gained the necessary knowledge and hands-on skills needed to perform specific tasks of an occupation. This is the importance of practical knowledge as compared to theoretical.

2. It is based on competency

Instead of receiving a passing or failing grade as is done in college, student performance is based on competence that is defined by meeting certain criteria. The training provided focuses on preparing a student to meet these criteria. By the end of the vocational program, a student must demonstrate satisfactory performance on each of these criteria to be considered competent in their chosen profession. For example, a culinary arts student would need to show competence in certain cooking methods and skills to show they could work in this field upon completion of the program.

Each vocational training program features units of competency. These focus on skills and knowledge a person needs to have for this occupation. The program includes a certain set of units of competency that the student needs to master. This varies by the trade, craft or technical program. Nonetheless, there are often customized training options to fit different positions or skills within a chosen field.

There is benefit to the skill based learning offered through vocational programs. It allows students to quickly learn the precise skills and knowledge for a specific profession. 

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Learning Manager at EHL Advisory Services

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