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Vocational Programs

Updated on November 7, 2009

In most countries secondary and postsecondary schools are the major source of training. Educators are generally agreed that all secondary schools should offer a combination of vocational and general courses, so that the college-preparatory student will acquire some vocational skills and the vocational student will develop the abilities to organize and communicate ideas and to analyze and solve problems. The modern trend is toward the comprehensive, or composite, high school, where both academic and vocational subjects are taught. There are also vocational high schools of two types: multi-trade schools, which train for a variety of occupations; and unit-trade schools, which limit their instruction to one field, such as agriculture or office work. Even in vocational schools some general subjects are usually taught.

United States

In the United States vocational programs are offered principally in secondary and postsecondary schools, with some industrial arts preparatory work in junior high schools. Training is given in comprehensive schools and vocational schools. Many of the vocational schools offer a broad range of general high school subjects, such as language arts, social studies, and general science. Technical courses may include subjects required by a rapidly automating society, such as radiography, nucleonics, computer programming, and instrumentation. Multitrade schools include courses in a number of vocations. Large urban centers also have unit-trade schools, such as merchant marine schools and schools of design, printing, automotive skills, food trades, and garment trades. These schools usually serve to supply skilled workers for the outstanding industries of the particular city, such as the garment trade in New York City and the automobile industry in Detroit, Mich. In less densely populated areas there is a trend toward the area vocational or area comprehensive school, which draws its students and its financial support from neighboring school districts.

Many junior colleges and community colleges are primarily vocational, although they may offer a number of general subjects. They may train for office, technical, and semiprofessional jobs. Among other post-secondary vocational schools are technical institutes and extension divisions of universities and engineering institutes. These various institutions offer one, two, or three years of a postsecondary curriculum, including basic science, general education, such technical courses as drafting, and training in the understanding and use of materials, instruments, machinery, and tools.


Canada favors the comprehensive high school, partly because it is more efficient administratively than separate schools and partly because of a conviction that the intellectual and manual workers of the future should mingle during their school years. The tradition in England has been to have separate academic and vocational schools. However, England now has more than 50 comprehensive schools and 300 technical secondary schools, and the number of comprehensive schools is rapidly increasing.

Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union all secondary schools stress poly-technical training along with such subjects as science, mathematics, and languages, although there is likely to be more emphasis on science and technology in the general schools than in vocational schools. Some students continue their training in special schools, called technicums, where they complete their secondary education and acquire advanced technical knowledge and skills. Other students go to work after completing part of the secondary school program, and a number enter labor reserve schools that give training in specific occupational skills.


In Japan 40 percent of all secondary school students take vocational education. In rural districts the schools are often exclusively vocational, stressing farming and homemaking. These fields, along with health occupations such as nursing, account for much of the vocational education in the Arab countries, where more than half the population is engaged in agriculture, and in Liberia and Haiti. In Mexico a lack of skilled labor has led the government to encourage schools that will add to the number and proficiency of technically trained workers.

Armed Forces Programs

In the course of training for service in the highly mechanized armed forces of most countries, young men and women learn a variety of skills that can be applied later in civilian occupations. Generally, educational opportunities are offered in a number of academic and vocational fields through study in service schools or civilian educational institutions or through correspondence courses, such as those supplied by the U.S. Armed Forces Institute (USAFI). The broad range of special fields in a modern armed-forces program includes photography, drafting, cartography, data processing, food service, medical care, maintenance and repair of precision instruments, and clerical occupations. The armed forces also offers training for such occupations as those of dental assistant and X-ray technician.

Other Programs

Vocational programs are available to a number of special groups of persons who suffer from such handicaps as blindness, deafness, polio and other disabling diseases, mental illness, and mental retardation. The handicapped are taught useful skills in special classes or schools or in privately supported institutions. Often their first jobs are in so-called sheltered workshops, where they can earn wages without competing with able-bodied workers. Many handicapped persons go on from the workshops to regular jobs.

In the United States the Job Corps, a project of the Office of Economic Opportunity of the U.S. Department of Labor, teaches trades and skills to school dropouts, unemployed youths, and young persons handicapped by a poor social or economic background. The Neighborhood Youth Corps, a federal program operating on the local level, provides vocational training for young people so that they can work on such community projects as soil and water conservation, landscape gardening, and building repair. Two other federal projects, VISTA and the Peace Corps, train volunteers to help disadvantaged persons at home and abroad, usually by teaching vocational skills.

Individual states operate their own vocational programs for disadvantaged persons, including home economics for low-income groups, work-study programs for students of low academic achievement, and training in job skills for the children of migrant workers. Federal funds assist the operation of such state programs.

Penal institutions also have vocational programs, ranging from training in simple skills like broom making to highly technical courses in computer programming.


Vocational programs are administered by a great variety of public and private agencies. Depending on the individual country, public programs may come under a ministry or bureau of education, culture, health and welfare, labor, agriculture, or a special bureau of vocational education. In Canada educational programs are under the provincial ministries of education.

In the United States, school vocational programs are administered by state boards of education, with financial aid from the federal government. Federal agencies
involved in vocational programs include the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the departments of Labor, Agriculture, and State. In addition, special Presidential committees on rehabilitation, mental retardation, and employment of the handicapped guide vocational programs for these special groups.

Many voluntary groups in the United States are Interested in vocational education. The American Vocational Association works to secure good vocational legislation. A number of universities and university organizations interest themselves in vocational education. The University of California at Berkeley has a research project dealing with vocational education, and the American Association of University Women directs training in vocational guidance. Youth groups that operate vocational programs include the Future Farmers of America and the Future Homemakers of America, which together have a membership of about a million young persons. These two organizations are important in other countries besides the United States. Japan, for example, has organized the Future Farmers of Japan and the Future Homemakers of Japan. Other youth groups in the United States include the Distributive Education Clubs of America and the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America. The U.S. government sponsors the Four-H Clubs, which have a large membership, especially in agricultural areas. Among adult organizations that sponsor vocational education for youths are the American Technical Society, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau, the National Grange, and the National Farmers Union.


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      7 years ago

      Great information.


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