Vocational Education = Successful Professional: 6 Stories from the Field
Popular wisdom has it that you must graduate from a four-year college to get anywhere in life, but is that really true? Your Best Edit has the evidence to prove otherwise, with success stories from six professionals.
Occupations in vocational fields, which often require specific training and/or a two-year degree, quickly provide a student with employable skills in growing sectors. At a time of economic uncertainty, the Washington Post states that only 27 percent of graduates from four-year colleges have a job related to their major. That’s a lot of well-educated baristas crafting your morning latte.
Vocational education can prepare you for professions as varied as web developer, cardiovascular technologist, video animator, aircraft mechanic, and the more traditional trade-school prep for becoming an electrician or plumber. As much as we depend on technology to cater to our every want and need, Alexa cannot bring your faulty wires up to code or repair a leaky faucet.
Here are six other options for highly employable careers that don’t require four years of college, and more importantly, won’t leave you paying for student loans for decades to come. Our professionals love what they’re doing and have some great advice for Your Best Edit’s followers:
1. Carolann Basile, Co-owner of Earthtones Salon, Lynbrook, NY
“When I was in high school, I wanted to go to Nassau BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) instead, but my father wouldn’t let me. He was convinced that I only wanted to get out of regular school. After I graduated, he forced me to go to college, but I hated it and only lasted one semester. I immediately started working full-time until I had enough money saved to put myself through cosmetology school and become licensed. I was the first one in my family to go that route.
I have been in the business for 34 years, always learning on the job, and taking classes throughout my career. I love being creative and enjoy our clients, the people I work with, and the fun and lively atmosphere at Earthtones. The beauty business is always changing. Years ago there were more people who came in for standing weekly appointments. Nowadays, it is a simpler, more natural look, so you don’t have the weekly sets, perms, etc. My advice is to do what makes you happy–college isn’t for everyone.”
Average starting hourly wage: $15
Average annual salary: $41,000-$69,000
Projected job growth rate: 13%
2. David Noble, Film and Television Key Grip, Baltimore, MD, and New York City
“When I became an executive chef 30 years ago at age 21, I realized that I had a problem with ordering around my elders. I spent the next year thinking about what I wanted to do professionally. My father was a soundman and documentary filmmaker, and had many friends who were grips. Grips climb, build, operate lighting devices, run heavy equipment, build scaffolding and sets, and do overhead rigging. When I told my father I wanted to be a grip, I heard a sob before the phone hit the cradle. I called him back and he derided me for my foolishness.
I had long hours and sporadic work to look forward to: 16-hour days are not uncommon. However, the worst part of the film business is dealing with the egos and substance abuse. On the other hand, as I was recently driving a 120-foot lift in Manhattan the wrong way on 3rd Ave., near the entrance to the 59th street bridge at rush hour with a police escort, a kid on the crew yelled up at me: “Why do you have such a big grin on your face?” My answer? “Because they pay me to do this!!!”
I have been to some of the coolest places in Manhattan, including the top of three bridges, simply to protect a camera crew from falling off. I worked in 15 states, on racetracks, airfields, and ballfields. I mounted cameras on the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center. I have met and worked with some of the most creative and brilliant people in the world, on shoots including House of Cards, The Hunger Games, and Wedding Crashers.
There is a job for almost anyone in movies, and many do not require prior training, if you can find a way in. I declined to use my father’s name or business connections, and became a bike messenger, then a production assistant through those contacts. Eventually, I landed a job as a production assistant on TV commercials. PA’s start with no experience, or fresh out of film school. Save the money. If you want to be a film critic, or a director, film school might be useful. People who are more technically oriented get a job at a camera rental house to learn the gear firsthand, and meet camera assistants who will hire them. Others work in grip or electric rental houses.
This is truly a job where your parent, brother, or buddy is your best teacher, guiding newbies on how to act properly on a job, with many unwritten rules and taboos. Crew members NEVER sit in directors chairs, even though they are strewn all over the set; you do not use that trash can for trash, it's a prop; you do not, ever, make a sound from the word “rolling” to the word “cut,” even if that means you have to hold that sixty pound sheet of plywood over your head for ten minutes.
To apply for the Local 52 Motion Picture Studio Mechanics Union, you must be 18, have certification for aerial lifting, and a 10-hour OSHA course. It covers grips, electricians, set builders, prop people, special effects, as well as sound, video playback, and medics. It is so busy in the New York City film community right now that we are at 125% employment."
Average starting hourly wage: $14-$41
Average annual salary: $37,000-$110,000
Projected job growth rate: 5%
3. Christine Reslmaier, Veterinary Assistant, Westbury, NY
"I had been thinking about pursuing a veterinary technician degree for several years, but there were no programs nearby that were approved by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. I also had a very good full-time editing job, but it became less and less fulfilling to me. I wanted to put my efforts into something that had more personal purpose, which I could feel good about at the end of a workday.
In changing careers, I had to be willing to start over at entry level as a veterinary assistant. The previous volunteer experience I had at an animal rescue shelter helped me get my foot in the door. If you're thinking about any kind of career transition, I recommend volunteering to get to know the field better. Working with animals is not all cuddly and cute. I was exposed to some of the less glamorous aspects of animal care–you have to be okay with cleaning, as well as getting scratched and bitten.
I recently accepted an offer from a well-known animal welfare organization and they were willing to train me. After a year of employment, I will be eligible for tuition assistance to take an associate’s degree program to become a licensed veterinary technician, which is like being a nurse for animal care. Being a vet assistant also means working nontraditional hours, typically 8- to 10-hour shifts, including one weekend day. I have scaled back my spending and supplement my salary by doing freelance editing. It’s still less money than what I earned before, but I am happier, which is priceless. There are definitely opportunities for becoming a supervisor or manager, or continuing my education to become an LVT, or even a vet. Two of the vets at my clinic had careers in business and tech before going to school to become veterinary doctors.
Now I can’t imagine going back to a business environment. The transition was not easy. Asking for help and admitting you don’t know exactly what to do is difficult. As each week has gone by, I’ve felt more confident and less reliant on others at work. I love making pets and their owners feel more comfortable in stressful situations and that I’ve made their day a little better."
Average starting hourly wage: $12
Average annual salary: $24,000-$36,000
Projected job growth rate: 19%
4. Janet Mangano, Registered Dental Hygienist, Long Island, NY
“When I was a senior in high school, I became friendly with the hygienist in my dental office. I asked her lots of questions about her career. I also talked to my guidance counselor and she told me how to get started. Then I enrolled in the dental hygiene program at SUNY Farmingdale. It's an intense two-year science program. Once I completed it, I took a written exam for a couple of hours, followed by a clinical exam. After passing those tests, I received an associate degree. I am licensed in New York State and every three years I have to take 24 credits in approved dental courses to renew my license.
I have been practicing dental hygiene for more than 30 years. I enjoy meeting clients, and, of course helping them. Many people are terrified to go to a dental office. I try to alleviate their fears and show them that modern dentistry is nothing to be afraid of. I don't just clean teeth. A hygienist is usually the first person to see the patient. You must do an exam of the teeth, gums, and soft tissues of the mouth. I look for cavities, periodontal problems, and pathologies, so that I can inform the dentist when he comes in to do his exam.
I would definitely encourage a high school student to join my field. They must be well spoken to converse with patients on a professional level. No fear of blood. Have an interest in science. You will be trained to take X-rays, which can be challenging on difficult patients. If you need to leave the work place for a time, it's a great field to return to. The salary is good, you are among peers, and well respected in your office. As long as you can find a highly esteemed doctor to work with, who respects you, you can learn so much.”
Average starting hourly wage: $35
Average annual salary: $74,000
Projected job growth rate: 20%
5. Greg McCusker, President of Southern New England Heating & Cooling, Inc., Newington, CT
“Unlike my four siblings, I decided that I was not college material and knew it wasn't for me. I wanted to work with my father in his heating, ventilation, and air conditioning business, which he started when I was in high school in the early 1970s. I learned on the job on weekends and my father also set up an HVAC teacher for the staff in the evenings, so that we could all get our certification. At that time in Connecticut, the vocational education system was not as good as it is now. It was hard to find programs that worked with our schedule and this way it took six months of night classes, instead of one to two years in a tech school.
In the beginning, I did installations and metal fabrication. Then I moved on to doing sales with my father, using a network of subcontractors to install the jobs. I worked with administration and service management. It’s been great to have a progression in the industry and adapt to different facets of my career.
Being in a family company, it’s extremely difficult to transition from one generation to another. Working together was hard, as were the challenges of the economy. When business slowed down, we reduced our staff from 50 at its height, to a few people. I was back in the field doing installations myself. I eventually partnered with a consultant to increase profits and then branched out in 1990 to help other companies.
For the last five years, I also have held a second job at night running a steam plant for a university. I had a contract for servicing many of the state’s substations and would do that work before my second job started at 3pm. I want to do this for as long as I can—another ten years at least till I’m 70. I have really come full circle in the HVAC business.”
Average starting hourly wage: $22
Average annual salary: $47,000-$76,000
Projected job growth rate: 15%
6. Viviane Arzoumanian, Owner PumpkinPups Dog Training Inc., Brooklyn, NY
“In 1999, I adopted a standard poodle, and learned to groom him. This led to a business, which led to boarding other dogs, which led in 2005 to a growing interest in dog behavior and training. I very much enjoy my career. The style of training that I do is to teach dog owners to train their own dogs. To be successful you have to enjoy working with the people, as much as you enjoy working with the dogs. My goal is always to help people see things from their dog’s point of view. When they can do this then the training part comes pretty easily.
My early learning was reading books by positive reinforcement dog trainers and behavior consultants, going to seminars, and taking professional workshops. This lead to studying good manners training with Pat Miller, over the course of several years, at Peaceable Paws in Maryland. I also read research articles, participate in online discussion groups, and more. I feel that vocational education is very important, and the skills that can be learned this way can have richness and depth. The learning never stops!
Unfortunately, with dog training, there is no requirement for licensing, certification, or formal education of any sort. More regulation is definitely called for. There are certifications that can be gotten various channels that require formal knowledge and training to pass the required test and along with proof of hours worked as a trainer. These are worth taking, as they require that you have core knowledge about training dogs and what is ethical and what is not.
Not all dog training is equal. Popular reality TV personalities have promoted a training methodology that has been very harmful to dogs, and shaming their owners into using harsh techniques to gain compliance. There is a great deal of research showing that this is an outdated view. Positive reinforcement-based training at PumpkinPups is more effective in achieving solid long lasting results, while treating the dog fairly, and creating a strong bond built on trust and safety.”
Average starting hourly wage: $9-$27
Average annual salary: $20,000-$56,000
Projected job growth rate: 11%
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