The High Value of Trade School: 5 Proven Advantages
Educational options in Canada are now more diverse than ever. Yet the value of trade school and vocational training is often overlooked by the people who can benefit most from it. In fact, a lot of students still think that you have to go to university if you want a good career. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is this: Vocational schools (also known as career colleges, trade schools, and technical schools) frequently provide greater value than traditional colleges and universities in a number of important ways. And many of them have the track record to prove it. They cater to students who want a no-nonsense approach to career training—one that truly respects their time, ambitions, and individual circumstances.
So, what is a trade school, exactly? It's a type of post-secondary institution that specializes in providing fast—and often hands-on—training in occupational fields that have a demand for qualified workers. Most trade schools in Canada are private, but they're still approved and regulated by the provinces in which they operate. Their main objective is to help busy students attain the skills necessary to start working in their chosen vocations. Over 175,000 students are enrolled in Canadian private career colleges during any given year.*
Who Goes to Trade School vs. Traditional College or University?
Students from nearly every kind of background choose to enroll in trade school or vocational college. But many of them share one thing in common: They don't necessarily fit the profile of the typical university student. Instead, they might be:
- A little older (frequently in their mid-twenties or higher), although not always
- Seeking to spend as little time in school as possible
- Looking for extra flexibility and convenience so that they can work, care for their family, or maintain other important responsibilities while training
- In need of retraining to gain new employment or change careers
- Hoping to advance in their existing careers by acquiring new skills
- Exploring career program options that aren't available at other schools
- In pursuit of practical skills and qualifications that will be recognized in Canada if they've recently immigrated here
- Former university students who realize they need more marketable skills to complement their academic credentials in order to have a better shot at gaining good employment
Do Vocational College Graduates Earn Good Incomes?
Yes, many of them do. In fact, that's part of the value of vocational school. It can greatly improve your earning potential beyond what having only a high school education can. For example, from 1991 to 2010, Canadian men with college certificates or diplomas earned, on average, almost 30 percent more than those of the same gender who had just a high school credential. And women earned over 40 percent more.**
The 5 Big Advantages of Career Colleges and Trade Schools
Clearly, university is not the only good option. That said, it's sometimes a requirement, especially for people who want to become doctors, lawyers, scientists, or other highly educated professionals. But if you're not one of those people—and you just want a stable, well-paying career you enjoy—then vocational training is likely more than good enough. And beyond the obvious financial benefits you can experience by choosing a career college education, additional advantages often exist, including:
1. No Frills—Just Direct Training for Employable Skills
One of the biggest differences between vocational school and university comes down to focus. Trade schools and career colleges in Canada emphasize teaching job skills. As a result, their programs are much more streamlined, cutting out almost everything else that isn't very relevant to the careers that students are being trained for. Their educational approach is all about helping adults attain practical, market-ready abilities in fields with worker shortages or consistently strong demand.
In contrast, universities tend to offer a learning experience that is much broader. University students typically take many general courses and electives that ultimately have no direct relationship to the careers they end up with. And they sometimes graduate without the kinds of useful skills that many employers seek.
For instance, in one research study, less than 40 percent of Canada's arts and humanities graduates said that going to university helped them "much or very much" in being able to recognize or solve problems. And merely 45 percent of physical science graduates said that university played a significant role in developing their written communication abilities. In fact, only 44 percent of all university students said that their education helped them get specific job skills or employment-related knowledge.***
That's why some university graduates decide to go back to school—this time to vocational college. So, why not just start there to begin with? After all, career colleges offer skills-oriented programs in growing areas like healthcare, technology, the skilled trades, and media arts. And the demand for people with that kind of specialized training only seems to be increasing.
The result is that the confidence levels—and actual employment outcomes—of vocational school graduates tend to be very good. In fact, according to one survey, nearly 80 percent of career college graduates in Canada said they had jobs within six to nine months after completing their programs. And eight out of 10 of those that had employment were working in positions that were "very related or somewhat related" to their vocational education.****
2. A More Personal and Adult-Oriented Learning Experience
Students at trade schools and vocational colleges often report feeling truly cared about. They like the regular, individualized attention they can get at a small career college versus the more impersonal and anonymous nature of a large university. Simply put, at vocational schools, students aren't lost in the crowd. Instead, they often receive a lot of encouragement and extra support from their instructors, school staff, and fellow classmates.
Plus, career colleges tend to have a more adult culture than traditional community colleges or universities, which are usually more youth-oriented and full of distractions. That means a busy adult like you can go to a small class and really focus on what he or she is there to learn.
And the teachers themselves are focused just on you and your peers. Unlike many university professors, career college instructors don't have to try balancing their time between conducting research, writing, and teaching. Rather, they are able to dedicate their time to helping you advance your skills while sharing their own real-life insights from working in the vocation they're teaching. And, unlike university professors, they don't usually have to delegate any of their teaching or grading responsibilities to assistants or graduate students.
3. Less Time in School
Another one of the biggest things to consider when looking at private vocational school vs. university or community college is the overall time factor. A career college diploma or certificate can usually be earned in only about seven to 18 months, and sometimes even less. But at a community college, you're likely to face spending at least two years in school for a similar, yet less streamlined, type of training. And at a university, you have to spend at least four years to earn a degree.
So, if your intent is to get into your chosen career quickly while minimizing disruptions to the rest of your life, then career college might just make the most sense. That's particularly the case if you need a more flexible class schedule or the option of taking courses online. And, despite their short program lengths, many Canadian career colleges offer the valuable opportunity to test your skills through a real-life practicum before pursuing employment in your field.
4. Little or No Waiting to Get Started
Private vocational colleges usually operate on a continuous enrollment model. That is, students can often begin their programs immediately or very shortly after applying. That's much different than the way traditional community colleges and universities tend to function. With those options, you may have to wait several months before starting. So trade school can get you going sooner, which means you'll probably get to start earning money in your new career sooner than would otherwise be possible.
5. More Choice and Fewer Barriers
Not everyone wants or needs to attend a public college or university. Plus, the reality is that it can be difficult or time-consuming to get accepted to those types of schools in the first place. And who needs that kind of struggle?
Thankfully, Canada's private career colleges usually have far easier entry requirements, and there are a lot more of them—over six times more. Just look at the number of post-secondary schools this country has in each major category:
- 97 universities†
- 135 community colleges‡
- At least 500 private career colleges*
Clearly, vocational training offers the greatest number of choices. And it's easy to find programs being offered in your area. For instance, the convenient search tool on this page enables you to quickly discover nearby career colleges and trade schools based on your current postal code. Try it out!
* National Association of Career Colleges, website last visited on June 4, 2018.
** Statistics Canada, website last visited on June 4, 2018.
*** Conference Board of Canada, Skills—Where Are We Today? The State of Skills and PSE in Canada, document accessed on April 20, 2015.
**** R.A. Malatest & Associates Ltd., Survey of Canadian Career College Students, Phase III: Graduate Survey, document accessed on April 20, 2015.
† Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, website last visited on April 16, 2015.
‡ Colleges and Institutes Canada, website last visited on April 16, 2015.