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Things parents should learn about trade schools

    • Going straight into a TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) college or university out of matric isn’t always the best option for students
    • Less time and expense
    • High employment rates and competitive salaries

Going straight into a TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) college or university out of matric isn’t always the best option for students.

As a parent, it can be troubling to see your child show interest in a career path different to the one you’ve taken—or that you idealised for them. You’ve maybe spent the past 17 or 18 years imagining the day your child would go to university and get a job in a bank. Discovering that maybe this isn’t what your kid aspires to, that they don’t want a bachelor’s degree in international banking may leave you with the idea you’ve failed your child in some way. Trust us, you haven’t – your child still has plenty of options, including trade or technical education like plumbing.

In the 1970’s, many countries began to send many manufacturing jobs overseas especially to the Far East in favour of supporting and promoting white collar jobs back home. Ever since, movies, TV shows and books have tended to portray vocational education as something for students who can’t handle rigorous academics – even in countries like South Africa and the rest of Africa which never had a huge manufacturing base to start with.

The tide is changing. Not only is the job market changing, but as we learned during Covid-19, many people who went to trade schools are among the most ‘essential’ workers. When you really need a plumber or electrician, no substitute will suffice!

Trade and technical education offers a fantastic secondary school experience—with a lot of benefits over university, depending on your child’s interests. If your child is leaning toward not going to university (or tertiary education in general, as private universities and colleges in South Africa are not permitted to call themselves ‘universities’) or thinking about diving into the workplace right away, you should look into what attending a TVET trade school can offer. Here are some of the best reasons you might want to help your child investigate trade and technical education.

    • Less time: Trade school programmes take much less time to complete than university degrees. It normally takes kids who go to university four to six years (yes, six with a couple of flunked years!) to get their degrees. And they spend a lot of time in classes that have nothing to do with their subject and will have limited or no practical use once they graduate. Instead of wasting time in classes that aren’t helpful, trade school programmes can be completed in six months to two years depending on the trade studied and whether they attend full- or part-time. For example, an plumbing course takes three to four years combined with work earning an income on an apprenticeship.
    • Less expensive: The average degree at a public university (never mind the more pricy private ones) costs at least R5,000 to R6,000 a month. Although most parents probably pay for their kids, many others also start their career life with large debts. The average cost of a trade or technical school is about $33,000 total. Students who complete these programs usually carry about $10,000 worth of debt. Compare that to the average bachelor’s degree which can cost between $100,000 to $200,000 and leaves a high percentage of students more than $30,000 in debt.
    • Smaller class sizes: In a trade school, your kid won’t be sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other students. There are usually fewer than 20 students in trade school classes so each person can have a hands-on experience. If your child struggled with academics in high school, a trade or technical education might be a perfect way for them to receive the support they need in the classroom, to be trained for a fulfilling job.
    • Rigorous study programmes: Vocational education isn’t necessarily just about learning a specific trade. In the modern era, many vital skills can be learned at a trade and technical college. The trade and technical colleges of today are no longer skipping out on important classes like high-level math, English for communication, and advanced computer skills. These are practical skills that can be transferred to many fields.
    • High employment rates: The skills that are learned during a plumbing course are ones that are difficult to outsource. They require a physical presence and can’t be done remotely in a foreign country where labour is cheaper. That’s a level of job security that many university-educated office workers won’t be able to count on for much longer.
    • Competitive salaries: The average salary for a plumber varies considerably depending greatly on the experience level of the employee. A trade school graduate does make less than university graduates, but there are some other factors to consider. Trade school graduates qualify faster and therefore save money on both tuition and student debt. They often make money as apprentices in their chosen fields while they’re still in school, so their earning years begin sooner. More importantly, a high proportion of plumbers and other trades start their own businesses and employ other people after a while.
    • High-need jobs: There will always be a demand for plumbers and other trades such as electricians. They are ‘high need’ jobs that can only be filled by people with a trade and technical education. Some other trades are among the highest need jobs in any country, meaning the plumber or tradesperson can work anywhere in the world. Carpenters, plumbers, and electricians are all in high demand. So are any jobs related to construction.
    • Accredited programmes to ensure quality: Many trade schools are accredited. This is important to look for when helping your child search for the right school experience. When your child attends an accredited school, it will help them receive financial aid and it ensures the school engages in practices that will make your child more employable in the future.
    • Students can also earn degrees: Some plumbers have gone on to also earn university degrees – either to advance themselves within the trade such as the corporate world, or to have the skills to run their own plumbing business. Your kid can also now become a Master Plumber, a high qualification recently recognised by the PIRB.

Maybe your kid isn’t on the post secondary school path you imagined. But with hard work and research they can still follow a path that leads to both professional success and personal fulfilment.

Written by Eamonn Ryan

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