The Ultimate Trade School Definition: 3 Amazing Attributes

Trade School DefinitionForget that outdated trade school definition you might have seen. You know, the one that focuses almost exclusively on institutions that only provide training for skilled mechanical trades? That one is way too narrow for today's reality. These days, any truly relevant definition of the term is a lot more inclusive.

So, what is a trade school? The old way to define it goes something like this: a school that focuses on teaching practical concepts and hands-on techniques for blue-collar occupations requiring manual skills. But this description fails to account for the broader and more contemporary ways that people now use the term. That's why it's generally more accurate to answer the question this way:

A trade school is any educational institution offering programs that are specifically geared toward helping students attain employment-ready skills and knowledge for particular occupations. Interchangeable terms include examples like vocational school, career college, and technical institute.

Think about it: A trade is basically any skilled job or occupation that's pursued, primarily, for the purpose of generating income. So it only makes sense to widen the way we define trade schools. After all, the variety of occupations that can qualify under that definition is truly extensive. And today's post-secondary students are more inclined to pursue a career-focused education rather than a more general academic one in the liberal arts or sciences.

In fact, one American research study showed that, out of 19.4 million undergraduate students, about 12 million of them (62 percent) were pursuing career-based credentials. Those who were seeking traditional academic credentials or had undeclared majors were in the minority.*

Clearly, most students want their time in school to lead directly to paid employment in fields with good opportunities. And that's exactly what career and technical education is designed to help make happen. Need more convincing? Check out these three eye-opening characteristics of today's trade schools:

1. Programs for More Vocations Than You Might Expect

With each decade that passes, it seems that more and more occupations require higher levels of skill. And formal training has become the default way to attain the skills that employers need. As a result, post-secondary schools have continued to increase the number of career-oriented programs they offer.

Gone are the days when going to a trade school meant only being able to choose from programs related to careers in areas like construction, manufacturing, automotive service, or cosmetology. As great as those industries still are, you now have a much wider abundance of training options to choose from.

For example, the same study cited earlier found that more than 5,000 educational institutions in the U.S. offered technical or career-based programs below the bachelor's-degree level. The variety of occupational areas they covered is astonishing (and they continue to get more diverse). Look at the numbers:*

2. Better Employment Outcomes

Trade School DefinitionResearch has shown that post-secondary students who earn degrees in vocational fields of study are more likely to be employed full-time six years after beginning their education. In fact, one study showed that 85 percent of former students who earned a technical or career-based associate's degree had full-time jobs compared to only 73.3 percent of those who earned a more general academic one. And the percentage was also higher for students who attained a career-focused bachelor's degree (88.3 percent vs. 82.6 percent).*

3. More Consideration for the Real-World Needs of Students

Another defining characteristic of many trade schools is the attention paid to the reality of students' everyday lives and diverse backgrounds. For example, unlike a lot of traditional academic institutions, career-driven schools tend to incorporate features like:

  • Courses offered in the evening, on weekends, or even online
  • Campuses that are more accessible and closer to where students live or work
  • Easier admission processes
  • Smaller class sizes
  • Shorter, more streamlined programs
  • Personalized, hands-on instruction in well-equipped training facilities that simulate real-world work settings
  • Instructors who have professional experience in the fields they teach
  • Externships with actual employers
  • Job search assistance

Simply put, trade schools can often be defined by how they approach training busy adults who want to enter fast-growing industries in the quickest and most pragmatic way possible. After all, between 2010 and 2020, about 55 million job openings could become available in the U.S. And a large percentage of them will require some kind of career or technical education (aka trade school training).**

Find Out What You Can Start Pursuing

Now that you've learned the present-day trade school definition, take this opportunity to discover the career-directed programs that are available in your area. All it takes is your current zip code to quickly find a selection of enticing options!

* U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, website last visited on January 27, 2017.

** Association for Career & Technical Education, 2014-15 Edition, website last visited on July 9, 2015.