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Is Your High School Student Interested in Trade School or a Formal Apprenticeship?

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Carol Becker

Diane Kummer
Diane Kummer

“Both of HSLDA’s high school consultants homeschooled their children from kindergarten through the 12th grade.” Learn more >>
Dear Friends, November 5, 2015

November brings chilly mornings, colorful leaves, and the opportunity for family and friends to gather for Thanksgiving Day. We are thankful for you and the investment of time and love that you pour into your teens on a daily basis. Amidst all of your holiday preparations, we encourage you to set aside time to reflect on your blessings. One such blessing is the opportunity to help guide your teen toward a vocation that is the right fit for him or her.

As part of the investment you make in your teen, it will take advance planning to prepare her for her post–high school goals. Whether she is headed to college, the military, or the workforce, you and your teen will need to explore the training and education that provides the skills required for their future endeavors.

If your graduating teen is interested in attending a trade school, vocational school, technical school, or apprenticeship program, let’s investigate some helpful resources and ideas to chart a path towards success.

Trade, Technical, and Vocational Schools

According to Wikipedia, the terms trade school and vocational school may be used interchangeably. A trade school prepares students with the skills required for a specific occupation, through classes and on–the–job training. The American Education Network notes that most trade schools fall into two broad categories: government–funded, non–profit vocational schools or privately funded, for–profit career colleges.

Trade and technical schools provide instruction in many different fields such as automotive services, carpentry, welding, plumbing, cosmetology, web design, property management, healthcare, security, construction, veterinary care, and culinary arts. Each occupation necessitates a program of study that may include classwork, on–the–job training, or formal apprenticeship.

A Starting Place

During the high school years, your teen may need help determining the trade or vocation he wants to pursue. Having your teen take a career interest test helps to focus him on credible career options that utilize his strengths, talents, and skills. There are many career tests available, and most offer additional services such as counseling with a career specialist.

For the least expensive option, check out the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Career Exploration Program test. Although the military uses the ASVAB to determine job training possibilities for enlistees, the test assists many students as they explore various career prospects. Many public and private high schools offer the ASVAB twice a year, and you can contact one in your area to find out about the possibility of testing your teen there. However, many ASVAB representatives throughout the country will provide the test to groups of homeschool students. Visit the ASVAB website or call 1–800–323–0513 for more details.

Researching the Possibilities

Once your teen has an idea of the various career paths he would like to investigate, it’s time for him to do some research. Suggest that he scan the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook at a public library or online. This handbook contains a wealth of information and details for jobs, such as training and education required, licensing, job forecasts, average earnings, work conditions, required skills, and indispensable abilities. Gleaning this information will give your teen a realistic and comprehensive understanding of occupations–of–interest.

For example, a teen interested in auto body and glass repair will quickly discover that he must earn a high school diploma, and that industry certification is highly recommended. Essential skills include critical thinking, customer service, attention to detail, manual dexterity, mechanical aptitude, and time management.

What better incentive for your teen to apply himself in high school, so that he can hone these important abilities? Becoming familiar with these requirements can motivate your teen to take his studies seriously because he can connect the dots to crucial skills that will serve him well in the workforce.

Job shadowing and Networking

As your teen narrows down the career avenues she wants to pursue after high school, check out “Job Shadowing: Opportunities to Ignite Future Careers”. This past newsletter provides ideas and tips for teens to take an up–close and personal look at jobs of interest. Encourage your teen to talk with people currently in the job she considers interesting.

We interviewed Ken Sauerwein, a former homeschool dad and the lead supervisor of the electronics shop at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. Ken began his career through summer and part–time jobs in the field to learn about the industry, and he now oversees and supervises the low–voltage control systems at the airport. These include fire alarm systems, paging systems, lighting control, electrical metering, flight displays, and runway sensors. He has a cool job, and he interfaces with electricians daily.

Here are Ken’s tips for high school students interested in pursuing a job as an electrician:

  • Today’s trades are technically oriented so computer skills are vital.
  • Students need strong math skills. Algebra is especially important when performing current calculations within a circuit and voltage drops across a load. (Parents, having your teen hear this type of recommendation from someone other than you—someone in an occupation your teen wants to pursue—is worth its weight in gold. There really is a practical reason for workforce–bound teens to develop algebra skills—it helps them solve real–world problems!)
  • Deciphering county code books requires meticulous reading skills. Organized and disciplined problem–solving skills produce confidence in calculations, and logical writing skills are important to document safety precautions, develop standard operating procedures, and train new staff.
  • The National Electrical Code book is extensive, and students need to develop good research skills because safety and success depend upon knowing the applicable guidelines.
  • Trade schools provide classes for electricians, and on–the–job training prepares students for journeyman tests. A formal apprenticeship program requires students to pass pre–screening tests including math, reading, spatial recognition, color vision, and manual dexterity. It may take as many as five years of experience in order to apply for a journeyman’s license. After additional years on the job, an electrician can qualify to take the master journeyman’s exam.
  • There are different routes to becoming an electrician. High school students should contact companies and small businesses in their area to learn about the local and state requirements for licensing and certification.

By interviewing people in the field, your teen can sharpen his interpersonal skills, practice note–taking skills, collect valuable information, develop responsibility that helps him own his education, and hopefully be inspired to envision a bigger future.


Although vocational and trade schools generally require anywhere from 10 weeks to two years of training, apprenticeship programs usually run from one to six years, with four years being the average duration. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) hosts an official apprenticeship website, which currently lists over 63,000 apprenticeship training jobs available in the U.S. in 2015. Click here to find apprenticeship job listings within your state or around the country.

The broad appeal for apprenticeship programs is that workers begin earning a decent pay on the day that training starts. The DOL calculates that the average starting pay for an apprentice is currently $15 per hour, and apprentices receive pay raises as their skills increase.

Apprenticeship sponsors set the minimum qualifications, which applicants must meet in order to apply for a job. Most apprenticeship programs require both on–the–job training and classroom instruction. Another helpful resource to find more apprenticeship opportunities is 200 Best Jobs through Apprenticeships.

Mapping out high school

Now is the time to develop a solid high school plan. This should cover the five academic areas (English, math, history, science, and foreign language) and include a variety of electives to provide a foundation upon which your teen can build more specific job–oriented skills. Check out electives, such as:

Each trade school determines its own admission requirements. Visit websites of trade schools to ensure that your teen is adequately prepared to meet the admission requirements. Though some trade schools offer financial aid to students based on need, encourage your teen to start saving his own money for post–high school training costs. Before you seriously invest in a trade school, make sure you determine what percentage of students find related employment within three months after graduation. Explore the American Education Network’s website to find more valuable information about admission requirements and other parameters to keep in mind as you evaluate particular trade schools.

Some students may think that high school marks the end of their classroom study and examinations. Not so! Most trades and apprenticeships require exams for classes, certification, and licensing, so give your teen plenty of on–the–job training during high school. Practice ways to develop study skills and learn test–taking skills.

Homeschooling gives families the freedom to develop their teens’ interests to learn a trade and explore the many opportunities available to them. So take advantage of career testing options. Research online websites. Formulate job shadowing opportunities. Network within your circle of associates, and encourage your teen to interview people in areas of interest because all of this will stir his passions and raise his sights to a new vision. We encourage families to use the high school years as both a foundation for developing crucial skills and as viable springboard to vault teens into future careers!

Join us next month as we delve into the newly expanded world of the PSAT.

Sharpening our Thanksgiving culinary skills with thankful hearts,

Carol Becker and Diane Kummer
HSLDA High School Consultants