A student learns welding at a vocational high school in Massachusetts. (Photo: Emily Hanford)A student learns welding at a vocational high school in Massachusetts. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

Ready to Work

Reviving Vocational Ed


Vocational education was once a staple of American schooling, preparing some kids for blue-collar futures while others were put on a path to college. Today the new mantra is “college for all.” But not everyone wants to go to college, and more than half of jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Many experts say it’s time to bring back career and technical education.

This American RadioWorks documentary explores how vocational education is being reimagined.

    In This Documentary

  • A student at a vocational high school in Massachusetts learns to weld. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

    The troubled history of vocational education

    Vocational education was once used to track low-income students off to work while wealthier kids went to college. But advocates for today's career and technical education say things have changed, and graduates of vocational programs may have the advantage over graduates of traditional high schools.
  • Students in the biotechnology program at Minuteman High School in Lexington, Massachusetts dissect dogfish. The school is called Minuteman because it’s located just down the street from where the Minutemen fought the first battles of the Revolutionary War. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

    A 21st-century vocational high school

    For years, vocational education was seen as a lesser form of schooling, tracking some kids into programs that ended up limiting their future opportunities. Today, in the nation's best vocational programs, things are different.
  • At Glencliff High School in Nashville, career academy students are invited to be tour guides based on their leadership and public speaking skills. (Photo: Laurie Stern)

    Career academies: A new twist on vocational ed

    Across the country, thousands of high schools are transforming into career academies. The idea is that students will be more engaged if they see how academics are connected to the world of work. And they’ll be more likely to get the postsecondary schooling they need to support themselves in today’s economy.
  • New cars waiting to be driven off the factory floor at the Toyota manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. A new car comes off the production line every 54 seconds. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

    A company short on skilled workers creates its own college-degree program

    At a Toyota plant in Kentucky, young people are learning how to fix robots, earning associate's degrees and graduating with jobs that pay up to $80,000 a year.



Executive Editor: Stephen Smith
Correspondent and Producer: Emily Hanford
Producer: Laurie Stern
Editor: Catherine Winter
Digital Producer: Andy Kruse
Audio Mixing: Craig Thorson
Assistant Producer: Suzanne Pekow
ARW staff: Samara Freemark
Interns: Dylan Peers McCoy and Minna Zhou
Project Manager: Ellen Guettler
Managing Director, National Content Development and Arts & Ideas Programming: Peter Clowney

Special thanks Kohnstamm Communications and the Hatcher Group.

Support for “Ready to Work” comes from Lumina Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Spencer Foundation.