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Are Trade Schools Better For You Than University? For Some People Maybe

Are Trade Schools Better For You Than University? For Some People Maybe

TVET employability was 98.7% in 2019

Danyal Cheah

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Due to the increasingly high costs associated with a university education, as well as other drawbacks, more and more people have been considering trade school (vocational qualifications) as an education alternative.

Trade School vs. University: Drawbacks to a University Education

Length: Four (or More) Years vs. Two Years

For starters, a bachelor’s degree typically takes four years of study, which means that people who enter the workforce after receiving their bachelor’s degree aren’t doing so until age 22 at the earliest. 

That shaves some years off of a person’s career and can be considered an opportunity cost for experiencing the ‘real world’ hands on instead of being in a classroom.

High Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree

The average cost of a bachelor’s degree in Malaysia ranges from RM80,000-RM120,000, and that’s not including living expenses. 

Dropout Rates and Late Grads

Another drawback is factoring in that a considerable portion of students end up dropping out of their degree course, thus squandering both time and money. In 2012, 17.5% of total students who enrolled in tertiary education dropped out in Malaysia. 

Additionally, many students end up taking longer that the prescribed 4 years to finish, incurring additional financial costs on top of time that could have been spent earning. 

credit: pexels/anna shvets

Disadvantageous Economic Conditions and Unemployability of Fresh Graduates 

The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) estimated that the total unemployment among fresh graduates in Malaysia amounted to 116,161 people or 20% of graduates in 2020. 

In other words, 1 in 5 of fresh graduates struggled with unemployment, even after investing a high amount of money and time obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree. 

credit: freepik

Trade School as an Alternative

People approaching high school graduation should seriously consider trade school. A traditional four-year degree is not for everyone, and trade school offers a pretty compelling career path, especially when considering the factors associated with a university education outlined above. 

Below is an overview of what a trade school education is, who it would be best for, and some of the advantages of trade school versus university.

What is a Trade/Vocational School?

A trade school, also known as a technical or vocational school or TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) is an educational institution that exists to teach skills related to a specific job. 

Trade schools are a more streamlined approach to education, with curriculum focusing on developing a particular skillset and knowledge base for a career rather than receiving a general education. 

Trade schools typically take a lot less time to complete, have smaller class sizes, and the majority of the training is hands-on, which is an ideal environment for many types of learners. 

Vocational qualifications can lead to relatively well-paying jobs like electrician, mechanic, machinist, pharmacy technician, and dental hygienist, and more. With room for growth and managerial potential in each field.

Advantages to Trade Schools

Salaries for Trade School Jobs

For starters, salaries for trade school graduates aren’t that much of a drop-off compared to a four-year degree. In fact, because many trade skills are required abroad, some graduates end up significantly out earning bachelor degree holders with their income being in higher value international currencies. 

Faster Entry to Workforce 

Because trade school only takes an average of two years to complete versus four with a bachelor’s degree, that amounts to an additional two years of income for the trade school graduate.

credit: pexels/cottonbro

Price of Education

The average trade school qualification costs RM6,000 – RM15,000, compared to a RM100,000 bachelor’s degree, means a savings of RM85,000.

Job Security & Employability 

There’s a growing domestic demand for high-precision skills. Skilled trade workers are a disproportionately older population, and will only continue to get older, creating increased opportunities for young workers to fill their shoes.

TVET Division director Azman Adnan said TVET education holds great promise to fulfil the country’s dream to become a high-income nation.

After we embarked on the transformation plan for TVET education, our graduate employability rate in vocational colleges has continued to soar. For instance, the employability rate of vocational college graduates was 97.6 per cent in 2017. It reached 98 per cent in 2018 and stands at 98.7 per cent in 2019

TVET Division director Azman Adnan

Final Thoughts on Trade School vs. University

It should be noted that I’m not opposed to a four-year degree. Instead, I’m simply making a strong case for an option that many people overlook when deciding what to do after SPM. 

In lifetime earnings, a bachelor’s degree still pays off. According to statistics in the US, a person with a bachelor’s degree is projected to earn around $1.1 million, compared to the $393,000 projected earnings of an associate’s degree or trade school program graduate.

The advantages of a four-year degree are many: You’re going to earn much more later on in life and you also have the door wide open to continue your studies and earn substantially more with a masters degree or doctorate. However, the cost/benefit equation to even higher education is changing every day.

Trade school graduates are limited in opportunities to continue to bolster their education. That being said, a four-year degree is expensive, and not suited to everyone’s learning style and skill set. 

If you’re a hands-on learner, excited by the prospects of getting out of the classroom and starting to work immediately after secondary school, trade school is a relatively inexpensive alternative education that may work well for you.


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