Online Vocational Degrees

For those looking to start or change careers, online vocational schools can provide relatively-fast training to help graduates enter the workforce quickly or advance in a given field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), skilled trades can require a wide range of specific talents and know-how, from customer-service skills to technical or mechanical expertise. Students can find courses, certificates, or degrees in a variety of vocational fields online. These training programs could lead to opportunities working as an electrician, plumber, cosmetologist, mechanic, or other trade professional.

Online Career Training

There are many options available to individuals interested in online career training. Some programs can be completed entirely online, while others require students to attend labs, exams, or hands-on training sessions at a campus location. The programs themselves can run the gamut from vocational certificate to associate degree or even, in some cases, a bachelor's. Because many of these trades are heavily regulated, graduates of online vocational programs may not always be able to start work right away. Some career paths require apprenticeships that can last four years or more. Other trades require that workers be certified by the state or third-parties and pass recertification tests every few years.

Types of Online Vocational Programs

Online vocational schools offer many degrees and certifications that can be helpful to pursuing a skilled trade. These include both entirely online training programs, and hybrid or blended ones, which combine online and on-site learning. Students interested in some career fields may only be able to find individual courses or topics online. Additionally, many vocational occupations require further on-the-job training or licensure. Here are a few examples of trades students can train for online:

  • Automotive Repair - According to the BLS, completing a vocational training program in automotive service technology or repair is considered the best preparation for entry-level positions in the field. An associate degree program might last as long as two years for full-time students. These programs are sometimes sponsored by car manufacturers and dealerships. Often class time is split between instruction and hands-on learning in an auto shop.
  • Cosmetology - These programs generally entail nine months of full-time study. Graduates often earn an associate degree and are trained to pass a state-specific certification test. Many cosmetology programs require students to physically interact with real people, educators and clientele alike, which may make strictly-online education difficult. As a result, some programs offer hybrid learning options that combine on-campus and online instruction.
  • Plumbing - Plumbers typically have to complete four- to five-year apprenticeships before they're official, reports the BLS. Most states require plumbers to be licensed, and often, part of that requirement is at least two years of on-the-job training. Plumbing training courses help prepare students to take the licensure test, as well as give prospective apprentices a leg up on the competition for these positions.
  • Electrician - As with plumbers, becoming an electrician requires an apprenticeship, which usually takes four years. Prospective electricians may be able to augment their hands-on training with online courses, where they might study electrical code requirements, safety practices, or how to read a blueprint. According to the BLS, most states require electricians to be officially licensed.

Related Careers

There are many career options available to graduates of on-site, hybrid or online vocational degree programs. While additional requirements or certifications may vary, a few career paths that graduates of vocational training programs might consider include:

  • Barber or Hairdresser - Cutting hair and interacting with clients might be the two main duties in this profession, but it certainly doesn't stop there. Training for this career typically lasts nine months to a year, according to the BLS, and requires passing a state licensure exam.
  • HVACR Installer - Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) installers and mechanics often start their training with full-time instruction before heading out into the field for their three- to five-year apprenticeship. Once employed, these professionals work on all kinds of climate control and air quality systems.
  • Avionics Technician - These technicians make repairs and do scheduled maintenance on airplanes and helicopters. Coursework usually lasts 18 to 24 months at an FAA-Approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School, reports the BLS.

Skilled Trade Industry Trends

Skilled and vocational trades fall under many different industries, from beauty to home repair to automotive care and more. Some vocational schools may even help train students to enter the health care field as a technician or medical assistant. Here are a few occupations that the BLS projects will see increased employment over the next decade:

  • Electricians - 23 percent growth nationwide from 2010 to 2020
  • HVACR Installers - 34 percent growth nationwide from 2010 to 2020
  • Plumbers - 26 percent growth nationwide from 2010 to 2020

"Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/aircraft-and-avionics-equipment-mechanics-and-technicians.htm
"Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics," Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/automotive-service-technicians-and-mechanics.htm
"Barbers, Hairdressers, and Cosmetologists," Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/barbers-hairdressers-and-cosmetologists.htm
"Electricians," Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/electricians.htm
"Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers," Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm
"Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters," Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/plumbers-pipefitters-and-steamfitters.htm

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