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A vocational school, also called a trade school, is a higher-level learning institution that specializes in providing students with the vocational education and technical skills they need in order to perform the tasks of a particular job. Vocational schools are traditionally distinguished from two-year junior colleges and four-year universities by their goal to impart job-specific training and education to students who are typically bound for blue-collar jobs in the workforce, rather than the aim to provide academic education for students pursuing careers in white-collar disciplines. While many schools have largely adhered to this convention, the purely vocational focus of other trade schools has since begun to shift "toward a broader preparation that develops the academic" as well as technical skills of their students, following the advent of the 1990s. 
Vocational schools were called "technical colleges" in Australia, and there were more than 20 schools specializing in vocational educational training (VET). Only four technical colleges remain, and these are now referred to as "trade colleges". At these colleges, students complete a modified year 12 certificate and commence a school-based apprenticeship in a trade of their choice. There are two trade colleges in Queensland; Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Australian Industry Trade College and one in Adelaide, St Patrick's Technical College, and another in Perth, Australian Trades College.
In Queensland, students can also undertake VET at private and public high schools instead of studying for their overall position (OP), which is a tertiary entrance score. However these students usually undertake more limited vocational education of one day per week whereas in the trade colleges the training is longer.
Vocational schools are sometimes called "colleges" in Canada. However, a college may also refer to an institution that offers part of a university degree, or credits that may be transferred to a university.
In Ontario, secondary schools were separated into three streams: technical schools, commercial or business schools, and collegiates (the academic schools). Those schools still exist; however, the curriculum has changed that no matter which type of school one attends, they can still attend any post-secondary institution and still study a variety of subjects (either academic or practical).
In Ontario, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities have divided postsecondary education into universities, community colleges and private career colleges.
In the Province of Quebec, there are some vocational programs offered at institutions called CEGEPs (collège d'enseignement général et professionnel), but these too may function as an introduction to university. Generally, students complete two years at a CEGEP directly out of high school, and then complete three years at a university (rather than the usual four), to earn an undergraduate degree. Alternatively, some CEGEPs offer vocational training, but it is more likely that vocational training will be found at institutions separate from the academic institutions, though they may still be called colleges.
Central and Eastern Europe
PTUs are usually a preparatory vocational education and are equivalent to the general education of the third degree in the former Soviet education, providing a lower level of vocational education (apprenticeship). It could be compared to a trade high school. In the 1920-30s, such PTUs were called schools of factory and plant apprenticeship, and later 1940s - vocational schools. Sometime after 1959, the name PTU was established, however, with the reorganization of the Soviet educational system these vocational schools renamed into lyceums. There were several types of PTUs such as middle city PTU and rural PTU.
Technical college (technicum) is becoming an obsolete term for a college in different parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Technicums provided a middle level of vocational education. Aside of technicums and PTU there also were vocational schools (Russian: Профессиональные училища) that also provided a middle level of vocational education. In 1920-30s Ukraine, technicums were a (technical) vocational institutes, however, during the 1930-32s Soviet educational reform they were degraded in their accreditation.
Institutes were considered a higher level of education, however, unlike universities they were more oriented to a particular trade. With the reorganization of the Soviet education system, most institutes have been renamed as technical universities.
The Finnish system is divided between vocational and academic paths. Currently about 47 percent of Finnish students at age 15 go to vocational school. The vocational school is a secondary school for ages 16–21, and prepares the students for entering the workforce. The curriculum includes little academic general education, while the practical skills of each trade are stressed. The education is divided into eight main categories with a total of about 50 trades. The basic categories of education are
- Humanist and educational branch (typical trade: youth- and free-time director)
- Cultural branch (typical trade: artisan, media-assistant)
- The branch of social sciences, business and merchandise (typical trade: vocational qualification in business and administration (Finnish: merkonomi))
- Natural science (typical trade: IT worker (Finnish: datanomi))
- Technology and traffic (typical trades: machinist, electrician, process worker)
- The branch of natural resources and environment (typical trade: rural entrepreneur, forest worker)
- The branch of social work, health care and physical exercise (typical trade: paramedic (Finnish: lähihoitaja))
- The branch of travel, catering and domestic economics (typical trade: institutional catering worker)
In addition to these categories administered by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior provides vocational education in the security and rescue branch for policemen, prison guards and firefighters.
The vocational schools are usually owned by the municipalities, but in special cases, private or state vocational schools exist. The state grants aid to all vocational schools on the same basis, regardless of the owner. On the other hand, the vocational schools are not allowed to operate for profit. The Ministry of Education issues licences to provide vocational education. In the licence, the municipality or a private entity is given permission to train a yearly quota of students for specific trades. The licence also specifies the area where the school must be located and the languages used in the education.
The vocational school students are selected by the schools on the basis of criteria set by the Ministry of Education. The basic qualification for the study is completed nine-year comprehensive school. Anyone may seek admission in any vocational school regardless of their domicile. In certain trades, bad health or invalidity may be acceptable grounds for refusing admission. The students do not pay tuition and they must be provided with health care and a free daily school lunch. However, the students must pay for the books, although the tools and practice material are provided to the students for free.
In tertiary education, there are higher vocational schools (ammattikorkeakoulu which is translated to "polytechnic" or "university of applied sciences"), which give three- to four-year degrees in more involved fields, like engineering (see insinööri (amk)) and nursing.
In contrast to the vocational school, an academically orientated upper secondary school, or senior high school (Finnish: lukio) teaches no vocational skills. It prepares students for entering the university or a higher vocational school.
A vocational school in Ireland is a type of secondary education school which places a large emphasis on vocational and technical education; this led to some conflict in the 1960s when the Regional Technical College system was in development. Since 2013 the schools have been managed by Education and Training Boards, which replaced Vocational Education Committees which were largely based on city or county boundaries. Establishment of the schools is largely provided by the state; funding is through block grant system providing about 90% of necessary funding requirements.
Vocational schools typically have further education courses in addition to the traditional courses at secondary level. For instance, post leaving certificate courses which are intended for school leavers and pre-third level education students.
Until the 1970s the vocational schools were seen as inferior to the other schools then available in Ireland. This was mainly because traditional courses such as the leaving certificate were not available at the schools, however this changed with the Investment in Education (1962) report which resulted in an upgrade in their status. Currently about 25% of secondary education students attend these schools.
In Japan vocational schools are known as senmon gakkō (専門学校?). There are part of Japan's higher education system. They are two-year schools that many students study at after finishing high school (although it is not always required that students graduate from high school). Some have a wide range of majors, others only a few majors. Some examples are computer technology, fashion and English.
In the Middle Ages boys learned a vocation through an apprenticeship. They were usually 10 years old when they entered service, and were first called leerling (apprentice), then gezel (journeyman) and after an exam - sometimes with an example of workmanship called a meesterproef (masterpiece) - they were called meester (master craftsman). In 1795, all of the guilds in the Netherlands were disbanded by Napoleon, and with them the guild vocational schooling system. After the French occupation, in the 1820s, the need for quality education caused more and more cities to form day and evening schools for various trades. In 1854, the society maatschappij tot verbetering van den werkenden stand (society to improve the working class) was founded in Amsterdam, that changed its name in 1861 to the Maatschappij voor de Werkende Stand (Society for the working class). This society started the first public vocational school (De Ambachtsschool) in Amsterdam, and many cities followed. At first only for boys, later the Huishoudschool (housekeeping) was introduced as vocational schooling for girls. Housekeeping education began in 1888 with the Haagsche Kookschool in The Hague.
In 1968 the law called the Mammoetwet changed all of this, effectively dissolving the Huishoudschool and the Ambachtsschool. The name was changed to Lagere Technische School (LTS) (lower technical school) where mainly boys went because of its technical nature. The other option, where most girls went was LBO (Lager Beroepsonderwijsl). In 1992 both LTS and LBO changed to VBO (Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs) and since 1999 VBO changed to the current VMBO.
In the United States, there is a very large difference between career college and vocational college. The term career college is generally reserved for post-secondary for-profit institutions. Conversely, vocational schools are Government-owned or at least Government-supported institutions, occupy two full years of study, and their credits are by and large accepted elsewhere in the academic world and in some instances such as charter academies or magnet schools may take the place of the final years of high school.
Career colleges on the other hand are generally not government supported in any capacity, occupy periods of study less than a year, and their training and certifications are rarely recognized by the larger academic world. In addition, as most career colleges are private schools, this group may be further subdivided into non-profit schools and proprietary schools, operated for the sole economic benefit of their owners.
As a result of this emphasis on the commercialization of education, a widespread and well-deserved for the period poor reputation for quality was retained by a great number of career colleges for over promising what the job prospects for their graduates would actually be in their field of study upon completion of their program, and for emphasizing the number of careers from which a student could choose. However, this problem has been largely corrected in modern times due to more stringent regulation.
Even though the popularity of career colleges has exploded in recent years, the number of government-sponsored vocational schools in the United States has decreased significantly..
The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) is the largest American national education association dedicated to the advancement of career and technical education or vocational education that prepares youth and adults for careers.
- "Information Literacy in Vocational Education: A Course Model". White-Clouds.com. 2 Sep 2006.
- Goodstein, Judith (1998-06-29). "History of Caltech". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 2007-11-19.
- Career College Association website
- Barry Yeoman, Scam Schools, Good Housekeeping
- Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE)
- Paying for Vocational School
- Questions to Ask a Vocational School