A bachelor's or graduate degree is not the only route to a financially rewarding career. There are good-paying technical jobs in fields like healthcare and other skilled trades that require some postsecondary training, experience or education, but not a college degree. Policy leaders, including the National Academies of Sciences, have made it a priority to better understand how to prepare more adults for work in these fields.

New data from Gallup and Strada Education Network's Education Consumer Pulse shed light on who advises students in vocational programs about their field of study, and how helpful students find that advice. The data are from 506 adults living in the United States aged 18 to 65, interviewed between June 16 and Aug. 5, 2017, who attended a vocational, trade or technical program. These results are further compared with survey data used in a larger research publication, which have been collected since January 2017 for those who have an associate degree, have a bachelor's degree, or attended college but do not have a degree.

Students who attended technical, trade or vocational programs are much more likely to mention receiving advice about their major from informal work-based sources -- such as employers, colleagues or people with experience in their field -- than are students who have attended a degree program: 33% vs. 20%, respectively.

At the same time, technical or vocational program participants are much less likely than those who received a degree to mention getting advice from school-based resources, such as counselors -- on the formal side -- and teachers or coaches, on the informal side.

Source of advice about major for adults who attended a technical, trade or vocational program compared with those who attended degree-earning programs at a bachelor's level or lower
Attendees of tech, trade or vocational programs Attendees of degree programs at bachelor's level or lower
% %
Informal social network 51 55
Informal work-based 33 20
Formal 28 44
Informal school-based 25 32
Did not receive advice 2 2
Other 2 2
Don't know 1 2
The columns report the percentage of respondents who mentioned a source of advice when given up to three choices. Degree programs at the bachelor's level or below includes those with some college and no degree and those with an associate or bachelor's degree.
Education Consumer Pulse

Regardless of occupation, participants in technical or vocational programs who received advice on their field of study from a work colleague or an expert in the field tend to receive higher pay than those who got their advice elsewhere.

Engage students to prepare them for great jobs and great lives.
Gallup provides the tools to help students succeed in university and beyond.

Workers in Skilled Trades Least Likely to Look to Formal Sources

Among adults attending vocational, trade or technical programs, those in skilled trades -- including construction, production, installation, maintenance and repair, transportation, and agriculture -- are more likely than those in professional or service jobs to report getting informal work-based sources of advice (40% vs. 38% and 31%, respectively). Workers in skilled trades who attended vocational programs are also the least likely to mention receiving advice about their major from formal sources, such as high school guidance counselors.

Source of advice for adults who attended a technical, trade or vocational program, by broad occupational group
Not working Skilled-trades workers Professional Service job All
% % % % %
Informal social network 48 59 52 48 51
Informal work-based 25 40 38 31 33
Formal 32 22 21 38 28
Informal school-based 23 23 27 26 25
Did not receive advice 2 1 5 0 2
Other 4 0 2 0 2
Don't know 1 2 1 0 1
Education Consumer Pulse

Technical or Vocational Program Students See Informal Sources as Most Helpful

When asked to assess the helpfulness of each source of advice, students who attended technical, trade or vocational programs generally rate any source of advice as "very helpful" or "helpful" and, for the most part, at higher rates than those who attended programs that earn a two- or four-year degree. Those who attended vocational programs rate informal school-based sources as the most helpful. They are also much more likely than degree recipients to regard formal sources of advice -- from high school and college counselors -- as helpful. Both groups give high ratings to work-based sources of advice.

Percentage of adults who attended tech, trade or vocational programs who describe the source of advice they received about their major as either "helpful" or "very helpful", by source
Attendees of tech, trade or vocational programs Attendees of degree programs at bachelor's level or lower
% %
Informal social network 86 72
Formal 79 64
Informal school-based 91 78
Informal work-based 81 83
Degree programs below the bachelor's level include those with some college and no degree as well as those with an associate or bachelor's degree.
Education Consumer Pulse

Bottom Line

The U.S. Department of Education data show that there were nearly 900,000 technical, trade or vocational awards given out in 2016 below the associate degree level. Many who pursue this level of education work in relatively high-paying occupations that demand technical skills, while others end up in low-wage occupations that require very little training or experience. Helping students select the right field for them could potentially have a large impact on their earnings.

These findings illustrate how students who pursue higher earnings pathways in vocational, trade or technical programs are heavily influenced by their work experiences, but not by professional advisers such as counselors. This points to a potentially important role for career and technical education programs at the high school level and an opportunity for counselors to suggest these and related career pathways to larger numbers of students.

Learn more via the Education Consumer Pulse report: Major Influence: Where Students Get Valued Advice on What to Study in College. Follow @GallupHigherEd and @StradaEducation online and use #EduPulse to join the conversation.

Gallup