Vocational Training: Definition and Different Types

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

There are several different career paths you can take in life. Vocational training can be a desirable option for individuals entering a highly technical or hands-on field, as well as for those who wish to develop new skills. In this article, we define vocational training, explore some of the different types of vocational training available, list skills acquired through vocational training and provide information about jobs you can get with vocational training.

What is vocational training?

Vocational training refers to instructional programs or courses that focus on the skills required for a particular job function or trade. In vocational training, education prepares students for specific careers, disregarding traditional, unrelated academic subjects. Sometimes called Vocational Education and Training or Career and Technical Education, vocational training provides hand-on, job-specific instruction, and can lead to certification, a diploma or even an associate's degree. Students typically require vocational training to prepare for trades including, but not limited to:

  • Automotive repair

  • Plumbing

  • Culinary arts

  • Graphic design

  • Fashion design

  • Welding

Related: Learning Styles for Career Development

Different types of vocational training

Vocational training can be accomplished through many channels, and at varying points in someone's career. Here are some different resources for receiving vocational training:

  • High School CTE programs

  • Tech prep education

  • Postsecondary vocational school

  • Apprenticeship programs

  • On-the-job training

  • Continuous development

  • Military training

  • Distance learning programs

High school CTE programs

CTE programs are designed for high school students hoping to gain work experience in a variety of trades, as well as continue their academic studies. This type of vocational training is often offered as part of a high school curriculum, but students can also attend separate vocational training centers. These vocational training programs allow students to explore different career choices and prepare for industry-specific work or advanced education. In most vocational training programs at this level, students continue to pursue their high school diploma while completing their training.

Tech Prep education

Tech Prep programs serve as an intermediary between secondary and post-secondary vocational training to prepare students for high tech careers. Through collaboration between the two institutions, Tech Prep programs combine at least two years of secondary and two years of postsecondary education. The program usually results in either a certificate or an associate's degree in a particular field of study. Areas of focus include:

  • Engineering

  • Technology

  • Applied science

  • Health

  • Applied economics

Postsecondary vocational school

Sometimes referred to as trade schools, postsecondary vocational schools are another viable option for individuals considering attending a community or four-year college. They offer degree programs as well as vocational certificates and are usually designed to cater to working adults by offering night and weekend course options. Attending a postsecondary vocational school is typically required in trades such as:

  • Cosmetology

  • Massage therapy

  • Carpentry

  • Culinary arts

  • Auto mechanics

Many trade schools focus on a specific career or industry. Types of vocational schools include:

  • Mechanical and automotive schools

  • Business schools

  • Culinary schools

  • Art and design schools

  • Cosmetology schools

  • Education programs

  • Health care schools

  • Legal and criminal justice schools

  • Real estate schools

  • Technology schools

  • Travel and tourism schools

Apprenticeship programs

Apprenticeship programs are trade-specific and can last as long as four or five years. In these types of programs, the apprentice, or student, works under the supervision of a professional in their trade and they are compensated for the work. This type of vocational training is most common in highly skilled, hands-on professions.

Apprenticeships typically combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Because some apprenticeships include classroom courses, they can result in a certification or degree. A major benefit of this type of training is the fact that it is an educational program in which the student is paid. Due to this, placement in apprenticeship programs is usually competitive.

Related: What Are the Different Types of Workplace Training?

On-the-job training

Most on-the-job training is either done through an employer or a third-party training provider sourced by the employer. It's common for companies to provide employees with job-specific training as well as training in general employment skills, such as human resources training, training on how to work well in a team or computer skills training. These skills can prove valuable in an employee's current position, as well as in any future employment opportunities.

When learning a skill through on-the-job training, new employees are often paired with someone who is more experienced. Classroom instruction may also be utilized for on-the-job training, but it's typically only seen when a company develops its on-the-job training program into an apprenticeship program.

Related: What is On-the-Job Training?

Standalone courses

Professionals hoping to develop their skills and improve their marketability will often take standalone courses. These courses are available to non-degree-seeking students. Reasons for people to take this route for continuing their education and professional development include:

  • Fulfilling requirements for membership into professional organizations

  • Updating knowledge of current skills

  • Expanding skill sets

  • Learning a supplementary trade

Distance learning programs

Another great option for learning or expanding a set of skills is by enrolling in a distance education program. Many distance learning programs allow students to work through materials and lesson plans at their own pace, making it perfect for working professionals. However, some distance learning programs will require students to be logged in at specific times or follow a course schedule. Before signing up for a distance learning program, be sure to research the institution thoroughly, making sure that they are legitimate as well as accredited.

Distance learning programs offer training and education in several different professions and fields, including:

  • Bookkeeping

  • Carpentry

  • Home remodeling and repair

  • Computer programming

  • Web site design

  • Dressmaking

  • Pet grooming

  • Photography

  • Daycare management

  • Motorcycle or small engine repair

  • Court reporting

Military training

The military offers a few vocational programs for enlisted individuals to prepare them for advancement in their military careers or transitioning into civilian careers after enlistment. These programs offer vocational and technical licensing and certification and are often referred to as Vo-Tech programs. This type of training's primary focus is to aid enlistees in making a smooth transition to an occupation outside of the military.

Military personnel have access to several Vo-Tech programs, depending on the branch of the military that they are enlisted in. Different Vo-Tech programs include:


The United Services Military Apprenticeship Program, or USMAP, documents the training and skills learned while enlisted in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, to gain national certification for enlistees from the U.S. Department of Labor. The program combines the on-the-job training that military personnel receive with technical instruction, much like a traditional apprenticeship program. USMAP programs can last anywhere from one to four years, or 2,000 to 8,000 hours of on-the-job training. The program can help military personnel advance their military career or provide valuable training for finding work after enlistment.


The Credentialing Opportunities On-Line program, or COOL, helps members of the Army meet certification and licensing requirements for their occupational specialty in the military. The program is designed to help soldiers find the resources they need to successfully transition to a civilian career in their specialty.


The Community College of the Air Force, or CCAF, offers fields of study that are directly related to Air Force specialties. The options for study tend to be highly technical. Individuals that are currently enlisted in the Air Force can attend free of charge and will earn an associate's degree upon completion. Students can take part in the program online or via mail correspondence.

Skills you can learn through vocational training

Depending on your area of study, there are many skills that you could earn through vocational training. Some of these include:

  • Carpentry

  • Masonry

  • Automotive repair

  • Cosmetology

  • Cooking

  • Design

Jobs you can land with vocational training

Here are some jobs you will be qualified for through vocational training:

1. HVAC technician

National average salary: $23.47 per hour

Primary duties: Heating, venting and air conditioning, or HVAC technicians install, repair and maintain heating, cooling and ventilating units. Aside from a high school diploma, HVAC technicians are usually required to complete two years of specialized education. This time typically includes an apprenticeship that provides valuable on-the-job training.

2. Plumber

National average salary: $25.27 per hour

Primary duties: Plumbers are responsible for installing, repairing, testing and maintaining plumbing systems. Plumbers must have a high school diploma and, depending on location, they can be required to obtain licensing. Training typically comes in the form of an apprenticeship.

3. Electrician

National average salary: $25.82 per hour

Primary duties: Electricians are required to have a high school diploma as well as complete an electrical apprenticeship. Due to the complexity of electrical systems and the dangers associated with working with them, apprenticeships to become an electrician can last up to four years. Licensure is almost always required as well. Electricians repair, maintain and install wiring, read blueprints and test for electrical issues.

4. Respiratory therapist

National average salary: $32.96 per hour

Primary duties: Respiratory therapists are required to earn at least an associate's degree and the appropriate licensing. Their duties include performing treatments, developing treatment plans and administering diagnostic testing.

5. Dental hygienist

National average salary: $38.29 per hour

Primary duties: To become a dental hygienist, you must at least earn an associate's degree. Their job responsibilities include taking patient X-rays, educating them about dental hygiene and cleaning teeth.

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