What is a Trade School?

UTI Profile Image Universal Technical Institute Jul 1, 2020 ·

The skilled trades are jobs that require special skills. They’re found in industries like automotive, manufacturing, energy, healthcare and technology. Skilled industrial trades include jobs like mechanics, welders, machinists and collision repairers. Skilled service trades feature jobs like nurses, therapists and healthcare aides. In construction, skilled trades jobs include plumbers, carpenters and electricians.

Trade school prepares students to enter skilled trades fields like technician repair and welding. Trade school is a viable alternative to traditional 4-year college, often with a shorter, less-expensive, specialized program.

The United States is currently experiencing a skilled labor shortage, according to CBS News. Industries including mining and logging, durable goods, transportation, warehousing and utilities, manufacturing and construction had more jobs than workers in 2019. There’s a lot of opportunity for those looking for career growth in the skilled trades industries. A trade school education teaches students the skills they need to qualify for these jobs, as well as provides employment assistance and networking opportunities to gain a career in the skilled trades.

What is the Purpose of a Trade School?

Trade schools, also called career schools, vocational schools or technical schools, teach students curriculum based on a specific skilled trade. Students typically need to have at least graduated high school or have the equivalent of a high school education, like a GED, to attend trade school.

Unlike traditional 4-year liberal studies universities that require classes and electives in subjects students may never apply to their career, a trade school is focused on the industry students are preparing to work in. Students get hands-on experience to prepare them for work in their trade.

Trade school is often shorter than traditional college, around 8 months to 2 years. Some trade school programs, like the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) computer numerical control (CNC) machinist training program, take just 36 weeks to complete.


What Do You Learn at a Trade School?


That depends on the trade you’re studying. In auto mechanic school, for example, you’ll learn the skills you need to be an entry-level automotive technician. Classes may be a combination of in-person lectures, online training and hands-on work in a lab using real equipment. Students take courses like Automotive Engines Service & Repair, Automotive Climate Control Systems & Repair, and Vehicle Brake Systems.

In welding training school, you learn how to become an entry-level welder. This type of trade school teaches a variety of welding techniques, like GMAW, GTAW, SMAW, oxy/fuel and FCAW welding

At any type of trade school you attend, from dental hygienist trade school to marine mechanic school, you can expect to be prepared for an entry-level career in your chosen trade. Look at the curriculum a technical school offers to see if it aligns with your career goals. 


Types of Trade Schools

For skilled trades that aren’t taught at traditional colleges, you might be able to find vocational college programs for them. There are also vocational schools devoted to subjects that may be taught at traditional 4-year universities, but that have shortened programs because they’re focused on a particular subject. Some types of trade schools include:

Trade schools can be both broader in a subject for entry-level positions, or more specific for advancement in an industry. For example, there are Manufacturer-Specific Advanced Training programs for automotive, diesel, marine and motorcycle professionals who want to specialize in certain brands.

Regular college isn’t for everyone. For many people who pursue the skilled trades, they find careers that are meaningful and that took far less time and money to study for in a trade school. With a trade school education, you can become an entry-level worker and grow a career, or use what you’ve learned to start your own business.

What Careers Do Trade Schools Prepare You For?

There are hundreds of career possibilities you can pursue with trade school program completion. Some examples of trade school careers include:

  • Automotive or motorcycle technician
  • Baker
  • Bartender
  • Chef
  • CNC machinist
  • Collision repairer
  • Construction worker
  • Dental hygienist
  • Diesel technician
  • Electrician
  • Fitness or yoga instructor
  • Florist
  • Graphic designer
  • Hairdresser
  • Hotel or restaurant manager
  • Licensed vocational nurse
  • Locksmith
  • Makeup artist
  • Marine mechanic
  • Masseuse
  • Paralegal
  • Plumber
  • Technology specialist
  • Welder

Regular college isn’t for everyone. For many people who pursue the skilled trades, they find careers that are meaningful and that took far less time and money to study for in a trade school. With a trade school education, you can become an entry-level worker and grow a career, or use what you’ve learned to start your own business.

How Long Does Trade School Take?


Trade school length will depend on the program. Typically, trade schools for a specific subject will take anywhere from 8 months to 2 years.

For those who don’t yet have a high school diploma or GED, some trade schools like UTI will offer GED assistance to help students get their GED so they can apply.


What are the Advantages of a Trade School?

If you’re interested in a skilled trade, there are many advantages to choosing a trade school for post-secondary education. These include:

  1. Time: Trade school is typically a much shorter program than a 4-year education. You can complete your education and begin a professional career earlier out of high school by choosing a trade school.
  2. Money: Because they’re shorter programs, trade schools are also typically less expensive than 4-year schools. Plus, with financial aid available like scholarships and grants and employer-paid tuition reimbursement, you could get part or even all of your trade school paid for if you qualify.
  3. Career assistance: At trade schools like UTI, you get more than the skills you need to succeed in an entry-level position. UTI representatives are dedicated to helping students get jobs. With skilled trades-focused career fairs, early employment assistance and a wide network of employers looking to hire UTI students, the level of career services dedication at a trade school like UTI is a major benefit to students.
  4. Focused education: There’s no requirement to take classes in subjects you hate a trade school. Instead, you get to focus on the subject you’re interested in, the one you want to work in throughout your career. At some traditional 4-year colleges, you may have to spend 6 months to 2 years taking liberal studies courses or electives that don’t relate to your career goals.
  5. Classroom experience: Since trade school education is dedicated to a specific subject, the classroom environment also mimics a real-word work environment. Students get hands-on experience with the equipment and tools they’ll use when they graduate. Students can practice, learn and make mistakes in a supportive, true-to-life environment that goes beyond the typical college classroom.
  6. Network: Another cool aspect to trade school is that all of your fellow classmates share your passion for what you’re studying. This adds to the networking opportunities you’ll find in trade school for your career. The common bond also can lead to friendships that help you throughout school and last a lifetime.

Trade schools are good options both for people coming out of high school and for adults who want to learn a skilled trade for a more fulfilling career. Most trade schools will offer free in-person and virtual tours so you can see for yourself if the trade school environment is a fit.

Trade School vs. College

When you’re considering trade school versus college, think about the following factors.

  1. Cost: Average college costs for a 4-year bachelor’s degree program were nearly $100,000 more compared to a 2-year trade school in 2019. You’ll want to make sure your school financial investment makes sense for your career goals and consider how the subjects you’re learning apply to your desired job.
  2. Time: You’ll want to think about how soon you’d like to start earning money in a professional career versus how long you’d like to be in school. Trade school can take 8 month to 2 years, versus a 4-year college that may take longer if you’re a part-time student.
  3. Process: In traditional college, there are often research papers, written tests, long lectures and mandatory group projects. Hands-on work may be limited to internships outside of the classroom. In trade school, hands-on experience is an integral part of the curriculum. Also, compared to 4-year college classes that may have hundreds of people in them, trade school classes tend to be small to ensure one-on-one instructor attention. If you’re a hands-on learner interested in a trade, big lecture halls at a 4-year college may not be for you. 
  4. Specialization: Trade schools are specialized. Traditional colleges tend to have some generalized study that may not relate to work after graduation. Students who want to learn subjects that prepare them for their job and skip unnecessary courses may benefit from trade school.

If you always enjoyed hands-on classes in high school, you can expect more of that in a trade school compared to what you might do at a traditional 4-year college. Trade school programs give you the freedom to choose to study exactly what you want, in a true-to-life environment.

Trade Schools Near Me


There are trade schools all over the country for whatever subject you want to study. You can use the web to search for “trade school,” the subject you want to study and where you live. You’ll see results for the subject you’re interested in wherever you are.

If you’re interested in automotive, diesel, motorcycle, marine, CNC machining, collision repair and welding schools, UTI has 12 campuses in 9 states. Find UTI locations here. UTI offers housing assistance for relocating students.


Related Questions

What are the requirements for attending a trade school?


That depends on the school. Generally, you’ll need to be at least 16 or 18 years old depending on the school and will need to have a high school diploma or GED. Some programs, like certain nursing schools, may have additional requirements to apply.

For UTI trade school requirements, students need to be at least 16 years old and have a high school diploma, state-issued GED or state-authorized equivalent exam. Instead of a diploma or GED, a student may also be eligible with evidence of having previously attended a Title IV-eligible program at a postsecondary institution under the Ability to Benefit provision prior to July 1, 2012, or with successful completion of an associate degree or college degree, or with successful completion of an officially recognized home schooling program.

Are trade schools worth it?

If you know you want to pursue a career in the skilled trades, attending trade school can be beneficial. Trade schools provide true-to-life, hands-on experience. Students learn in small class settings and can connect with industry employers at on-campus career fairs and through employment assistance.

Is Trade School for You?


Trade school can be a smart choice for those who know they want to pursue a skilled trade and who want to gain the expertise they need for an entry-level position. Trade school is a shorter education than traditional 4-year college. It’s typically less expensive, and it provides hands-on experience that students will encounter in the real professional world.

If you’re interested in pursuing a skilled trades job in auto, diesel, welding, motorcycle and motorsports, collision repair, marine or CNC machining, request info from UTI.


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