Trade Schools by the Numbers

To gain a broad understanding of skilled trades training, let’s take a look at some of the statistics that define skilled trade training programs.

The Economy as a Whole

While a Bachelor’s degree is certainly an asset, in today’s economy one is hardly necessary. A 2012 study found that 70% of the American workforce did not have one. This fits with the American employment profile. The greatest portion of jobs—42%—are considered “middle-skill”, and these typically require an Associate’s degree or some college. However, only about 8% of the American workforce has an Associate’s degree, which starts to hint at the skills gap that skilled trades industries face every day: in most skilled trade industries, there are far more jobs than workers.

Public High Schools

According to a 2008 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 3.7% of public high schools are career/technical high schools. A quick dive into the numbers shows that students at technical high schools have a different experience than other high schoolers. Technical high schools are more likely than others to provide structural continuity through block scheduling and having the same teacher over two years. They are also much more likely to have special admissions requirements than a standard public HS.

While many high schools provide a general education, 61% of technical high schools have a “career academy”– a school within a school that sets students on a specified career path. There programs offer students two central choices: go to college or start a career right away. From the conversations we’ve had with instructors, about 90% do one or the other.

Associate’s Degree Programs

According to 2007 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2,687 technical/career schools offer an associates degree in the United States. Of these, just under half are public schools, including community colleges, and 80% of those are two year programs. There are 529 private for-profit programs, and all of them are two-years. The private not-for-profit schools have a different profile. There are 895 and just under half are four-year programs. Most of the rest are less than two years—which is unheard of among public schools. These numbers paint a broad picture. Community colleges follow set patterns based on the September-May school year, and two years is the norm. Private for-profit schools follow this same pattern.

Private non-profits are where you get variety—most 4-year programs and programs under two years are private non-profit. These are the schools where educators are trying new models and new ideas. Technical Employment Training (TET), for example, is only six months for most students, and boasts an 82% hiring rate. They achieve this by tailoring the program to employer needs and carefully placing students in tracks where they are most likely to succeed.

“We give them two certifications,” explains Bill Clark of TET, “one in quality control and math, so they understand some basic concepts of what they’re doing. The second certification is in a specific skill set based on what they’re good at and what kind of learner they are. Then we put them to work in that skill set.”

By honing in on a student’s natural proclivities, TET trains students for the workforce in the equivalent of one school year.

Tuition and income

Manufacturing and agriculture are the most popular trade training sectors. An Associate’s degree averages $2,700 a year in tuition. Agriculture degrees are a bit less: $1,900/$9,300 a year for an Associate’s degree while manufacturing degrees are the most affordable with an Associate’s degree costs $8,000 a year, on average, once basic expenses are totaled.

And how do these jobs pay? A starting manufacturing engineer makes over $62k, according to Entry-level mechanic technicians and farm equipment mechanics start significantly lower: about $40k. These are national figures, and can vary significantly based on company and location.

The costs of a skilled trades education vary significantly by field, but are generally lower than a traditional Bachelor’s degree and all direct students toward solidly middle-class wages in reliable fields.