Vocational schools growing in popularity

Vocational schools growing in popularity

Pennsylvania will have thousands of jobs to fill in the coming years, in careers like welding and plumbing.

Channel 11 took a look at how high schools and other educational programs are working to fill that need and offer students an alternative to college and the loan debt that comes with it.

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Eight hundred students attend AW Beattie Vocational Tech School in the North Hills. They split their time between the center and traditional classes in their home school districts.

With the average college bachelor's degree costing $127,000 and a technical college degree a quarter of that cost, trade schools are becoming a more popular option.


Students coming from trade schools can sometimes stop right into critically needed jobs. According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, Pennsylvania will need 7,000 more automotive workers by 2026. Add construction jobs, including plumbers, pavers and masons, and that number jumps to more than 22,000.

Those are the kinds of skills most of us think of when we think of vo-tech curriculums, but these trade schools are different than those of previous generations. They offer programs like sports medicine, advertising design, advanced robotics and cyber security, all jobs trending up on state predictions.

Openings in sports medicine will jump 9 percent in the next few years, advertising will rise 8 percent and computer jobs will jump 10-percent, the state said That's an additional 12,000 workers needed.

Here’s a list of the highest paying trade school jobs and their median salaries, as listed by edsmart.org.

  • Electronics Engineer: $96,270
  • Construction Manager: $89,300
  • Dental Hygienist: $72,910
  • Landscape Designer: $63,480
  • Boilermaker: $62,060
  • Aviation Maintenance Tech: $60,270
  • Home Inspector: $58,480
  • Architectural And Civil Drafter: $54,640
  • Electrician: $52,720
  • Plumber: $51,450
  • Commercial Driver: $49,090
  • Diesel Mechanic: $45,170
  • Heavy Equipment Operator: $45,040
  • Licensed Practical Nurse: $44,090
  • Carpenter: $43,600
  • Masonry Workers: $41,330
  • Auto Body Repairman: $40,379
  • Welder: $39,390
  • Automotive Service Tech: $38,470

Channel 11 spoke to Eric Heasley, executive director of AW Beattie.

"Kids love being here; they are engaged every day," Heasley said. "Walk around the building, everyone is doing something."

Channel 11 visited vocational schools across the area. Some students plan to get jobs right after graduation, but others see it as a steppingstone for college.  That's why school districts like Seneca Valley are getting new grants to help students understand vocational tech options from a younger age.

“Career readiness is not an event, it's a journey," Jeff Roberts of Seneca Valley said.

In fact, students can earn college credits while still in high school. Trade schools are reaching out to younger students to pique their interest as early as elementary school and let them know vocational schools are a possible alternative to the traditional college route.