A trade school (also known as a technical school) is a postsecondary educational institution designed to train students for a specific job in a skilled trade career. Most importantly, a trade school offers hands-on training to prepare students for actual work in their chosen field. Trade school programs are entirely concentrated on relevant job training.
For example, someone who is interested in becoming a welder may have never welded before. Where can someone learn how to weld? A trade school would provide a lab where students can practice in a setting that prepares them for the job.
Trade School Definition
A trade school offers highly focused training programs specifically designed to prepare students for a job in the skilled trades. Trade schools focus on developing students’ technical abilities in skilled and mechanical trades. Mechanical trades work generally involves building, maintaining, operating, or fixing some sort of mechanical system.
Think of a blacksmith, a welder, a construction worker, a car mechanic, or an HVAC technician. These are all skilled trades professionals. “Skilled” means that special skills need to be developed to do the job—not anyone can do it. A trade school gives students the knowledge needed to start a career in a field that requires technical expertise and hands-on experience, like welding or HVAC.
Types of Trade Schools: What Can You Learn and How do They Work?
All trade schools offer highly tailored training programs geared towards a specific field. One trade school may offer different types of training programs, for example both welding training and HVAC training. Both programs may exist at a single technical school, though each program is unique. In this case, the classrooms and training facilities for both programs may exist on one campus, but each program has its own qualified teachers and related instruction.
Some trade schools are highly specialized and offer different variations of training in only one field. An automotive technical school, for instance, is focused on car mechanics, and might offer different programs with different specializations.
Benefits of Trade School
For someone looking to enter the skilled mechanical trades, a technical school offers the practical training needed for a specific career. This means that every lesson and assignment prepare students to meet the basic qualifications for an entry-level job. Students learn in a dedicated environment with peers on the same track as them, instructed by experienced professionals in the field.
Technical school class schedules are often flexible to accommodate other life obligations, such as family responsibilities or another job. Career services are on hand to help with any questions or concerns. Trade schools want their students to succeed and are designed for people who want to complete their studies quickly to start working as soon as possible.
In short, a trade school helps someone with no experience gain the initial experience they need to be competitive in the job market and may also provide opportunities for career advancement.
How Long Does Trade School Take?
Trade schools are highly focused on equipping students with the relevant skills they need to land the job they want. Unlike a four-year academic college, trade schools don’t require any classes or credits that aren’t entirely related to the job at hand. Because the technical training is much more focused than other types of colleges, the lengths of the programs are usually much shorter, meaning less wasted time and a faster route towards the first paycheck.
Each program is unique, but a skilled trades training program can take anywhere from a few months to a year. Some more specialized types of training programs can last anywhere from one to two years. The length of schooling to gain entry-level technical skills is usually under one year.
Trade schools are considered postsecondary education, which means a high school diploma or GED is necessary. For those without a high school diploma, it may take a little extra time to study for and pass the GED exam first, but many trade schools offer GED assistance or even free GED preparation.
How Much Does Trade School Cost?
Different types of trade schools and training programs will have different costs that are unique to that program, location, and specialty. For example, a mechanical trades program at MTI, like the Journeyman Welder Program or the HVAC/R–MAR Technician Program that can be completed in less than a year may cost (on average) between $13,000–$14,000. This is a bit less than the national average for private trade schools in 2016-2017, which was $15,135 for tuition alone.
Trade school programs generally cost much less than a four-year college degree. For instance, the average cost of tuition for a public four-year university was $9,970 in 2017-2018—for just one year. Altogether, a four-year degree may cost at least $40,000 just for tuition, not including books, supplies, and housing. A private four-year university costs even more: $34,740 in tuition alone per year.
Most trade schools offer some sort of scholarship opportunities, grants, or loans to help offset the initial cost of training. The cost of enrolling in a trade school should also be considered alongside the benefits of future earnings, including expected salary upon completion, expected job growth in the field, expected number of years working, and future potential earnings with advanced specialization.