A Look at the Vocational Teaching Career

A female vocational teacher writing on a board

Vocational teaching is a meaningful and rewarding profession. Instead of focusing on academic subjects, such as history or languages, vocational teachers guide their students toward acquiring practical skills and knowledge that are applicable in workplace settings. If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in vocational teaching, you can explore this guide to learn about the vocational teacher requirements.

What Is a Vocational Teacher?

Not all postsecondary education institutions are traditional colleges and universities. Many of them are trade schools (also known as “career institutes” or “technical institutes”). A vocational teacher (also known as a “career teacher” or “technical education teacher”), is a professional who teaches a particular trade or occupation to students.

There is a vast range of vocational and technical education fields, such as the following:

  • Culinary arts
  • Auto repair
  • Healthcare
  • Computer technology
  • Cosmetology
  • Business administration
  • Security and public safety

These are just a few examples. Vocational teachers typically have both academic and professional backgrounds in the fields they teach. Their daily tasks dependent largely on the subject they teach, but in general, a vocational teacher might do any of the following:

  • Develop the course curriculum, lesson plans, learning objectives and assignments, and gather together or create learning materials
  • Deliver classroom lectures and lead discussions
  • Work with students both one-on-one and in small groups to ensure that they master the necessary skills
  • Grade students’ tests, projects and other  assignments
  • Demonstrate specific skills to students in a learning environment that mimics the professional workplace (e.g., auto shop or professional kitchen)
  • Instruct students in necessary safety procedures and equipment, and ensure that the rules are followed

How To Become a Vocational Teacher

If you’ve decided that vocational teaching is the right career choice for you, it’s time to work start planning your career pathway. If you already know which field you’d like to teach and you’re still in high school, take all the classes you can that are relevant to that subject. Tell your guidance counselor  about your career plans, and ask whether they  can suggest any  courses that would be helpful for you.

If you aren’t quite sure which field you want to specialize in at this point in your life, that’s perfectly fine. You may want to explore job-shadowing opportunities, which will allow you to get a first-hand look at various career fields. This can help you figure out which professional field to pursue.

Look for other opportunities beyond the classroom. For instance, if you think you might like to teach woodworking, look for local woodworking workshops or classes outside of your high school. Consider internships and part-time jobs as well these are always a good way to build your experience.

After high school, you’ll need to plan on earning a relevant undergraduate (i.e., bachelor’s) degree. After earning your bachelor’s degree, you might also consider pursuing a graduate (i.e., master’s) degree. It’s not strictly necessary for aspiring vocational teachers to earn a graduate degree, earning a graduate certificate can be very helpful, both for enhancing your skills and for establishing a professional reputation in your field.

After earning your bachelor’s degree, you will need to land a full-time job in your field. You won’t qualify to become a vocational teacher just yet. Instead, you’ll need to develop your professional competencies in your chosen field so that you can effectively teach them to your future students.

Once you’ve acquired at least a few years of professional experience, you can finish fulfilling the vocational teacher requirements. Each state establishes its own criteria. You’ll need to fulfill the eligibility requirements established by your state’s education department, which will usually include providing proof of relevant work experience, academic credentials and student teaching experience.

Earn an Undergraduate Degree to Teach Vocational Education

Although there are a few exceptions, most vocational teachers are expected to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. There is considerable flexibility regarding the type of bachelor’s degree you can earn. You should choose a degree that reflects the subject you’d like to teach to your future students.

For example, if you’d like to teach administration classes, you should choose a degree in business administration. Similarly, if you’d like to teach phlebotomy, look for a degree in health sciences. To teach classes to aspiring auto mechanics, look for a degree in industrial technology.

Here are a few examples of degrees that can be appropriate for aspiring vocational teachers:

Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences: For future teachers of phlebotomists, radiology technicians, EMTs and physical therapy assistants 

Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration: For future teachers of home care case managers, wellness program administrators, medical billing specialists and medical coders

Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain and Logistics Management: For future teachers of transportation managers and purchasing agents 

Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management: For future teachers of hospitality professionals 

Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering: For future teachers of electricians and solar installers 

These are just a few examples. There is a vast range of possibilities out there to choose from. To narrow down your options, consider your interests and passions, and think about the subjects you’d feel confident teaching to others.

For instance, if you love the elements of design and you’re proficient with design software, you might major in digital design and pursue a career teaching aspiring graphic designers. If you enjoy all things information technology (IT), you might major in IT and pursue a fulfilling career teaching technology classes to your future students. Brainstorm about all of your interests and make a list of them. List of all of your interests and then work on narrowing down your choices to determine which subject you would most like to teach.

As you’re working your way through the coursework for your bachelor’s degree, keep in mind that you have two main goals. The first is to acquire comprehensive knowledge and skills in your chosen subject area. The second is to study how your instructors convey that knowledge to you. Since you’re planning on becoming a vocational teacher, it will be helpful to reflect on which pedagogical methods are most effective in the classroom.

Internships are particularly helpful for students who aspire to become vocational teaching professionals. All vocational teachers are expected to have real-world, hands-on experience in their subject area. Completing one or more internships while still in college is a great way to get a jumpstart on fulfilling your vocational teacher requirements.

It’s essential to make a great impression at every internship experience or part-time job. Because you’ll need to land a full-time job in your field prior to becoming a vocational teacher, you can benefit from building up a professional network of contacts while you’re still an undergraduate student. Internships and part-time jobs also give you the opportunity to strengthen your skills and learn how to apply theoretical frameworks to real-world situations.

Gain Industry Work Experience for Professional Development

After graduating with your undergraduate degree, you’ll need to plan on landing an entry-level job in your field before you can pursue your dream career as a vocational or technical education teacher. There is no universal, set-in-stone requirement regarding the number of years you should spend in the field.

Generally, the more technical and complex the subject you wish to teach, the more years of practical experience you should have. For instance, if you want to teach classes on computer programming or information technology, you’ll likely need more work experience than you would if you wanted to teach classes on business administration. In general, however, you should plan on getting about five years of field experience under your belt before you work on completing the remaining vocational teacher requirements.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t also work on strengthening your communication and teaching skills in the mean time. After you’ve gained a couple of years of work experience, you might consider dabbling in informal online teaching. For instance, consider creating your own YouTube channel and posting videos that demonstrate how certain things are done in your field.

You might also explore online platforms where enable knowledgeable professionals can  upload their own tutorial courses in their respective areas of expertise. Taking such steps could help you prepare for your dream career as a vocational teacher.

Earn a Communications Certificate

Aside from vocation-specific knowledge, communication skills are among the most important qualifications to become a vocational teaching professional. It’s essential to be able to clearly explain a concept or process in terms that all students can easily grasp. This is why, aspiring vocational teachers should strongly consider earning a graduate certificate in communications.

Many schools offer graduate-level communications certificate courses. However, it’s best to choose one that is specific to the teaching profession. Before enrolling in  a program, check its core curriculum to see whether it includes at least one course in classroom or pedagogical communications.

Most graduate certificate programs can be completed in less than one year, although programs may vary from one school to the next. These days, it’s quite common  for certificate program courses to be available entirely online for the convenience of adult learners. Depending on the specific program you choose, you may expect to study any of the following topics:

  • Theories and applications of interpersonal communication skills, with a look at relational communication theories, leadership communication, collaboration, conflict negotiation and emotional intelligence
  • The creation, management, modification and communication of organizational culture, including social responsibility and ethical issues
  • The concepts and theories of strategic communication and the development of sound organizational messages intended for diverse audiences
  • Theories and applications of modern pedagogy, student comprehension, educational frameworks and praxis-based training
  • Theories, methodologies and effects of media consumption

In addition to fine-tuning your communication skills, you’ll have opportunities to polish your critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills while you complete your certificate program. Throughout your coursework, you should take some time to think about how you might apply the principles learned in class when the time comes for you to lead your own future classes as a vocational teacher.

Fulfill the Vocational Teacher Requirements in Your State

Every state establishes its own vocational teacher requirements. You’ll need to check with your state’s education department to determine the steps you must take to become a vocational teacher. If you plan to work in Arizona, you’ll need to navigate to the Career and Technical Education (CTE) section of the Arizona Department of Education website, and follow the requirements listed there.

The state of Arizona allows aspiring vocational teachers to choose from several different career pathways in order to qualify as CTE teachers. For instance, if you have a bachelor’s degree in your CTE field, you’ll need 240 documented clock hours of work experience in the CTE field to obtain a CTE certification.1 (Certain CTE fields may have different requirements.)

Although there are differences from state to state (and from field to field), in general, you should be prepared to provide the following:

  • Proof of field-specific academic requirements (transcripts likely required)
  • Proof of a certain number of documented professional work experience hours
  • Submission of fingerprints and a successfully passed background check
  • Specialized training certificates
  • Application and fee

Before obtaining your vocational teaching certificate from the state, you can also expect to complete a student teaching experience. You’ll be paired with an experienced vocational teacher in your field. This person will serve as your mentor and supervisor, showing you the ropes and assessing your progress.

Student teaching experiences are an invaluable opportunity to learn from an established professional. You’ll likely start by observing your mentor as they conduct classes. You’ll then progress to developing your own lesson plans, working one-on-one with students, grading assignments and teaching classes.

During your student teaching program, be sure to take plenty of notes and ask your mentor questions. Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback on your performance when you lead classes. After completing your student teaching program, fulfilling all other state requirements and obtaining your vocational teaching certificate (if applicable), you’ll be ready to pursue your first job as a vocational teacher.

If you’re passionate about empowering other people to work toward their dream careers, you can enhance your own career qualifications at Grand Canyon University. In addition to our wide range of undergraduate degree programs, we offer a number of graduate certificates, such as the Graduate Certificate of Completion in Communication, that can help prepare you to become a vocational teacher. This graduate certificate emphasizes the communications competencies needed in pedagogical settings.


1Retrieved from Arizona Department of Education, Application Checklist for CTE Teacher Certification in September 2022. 

Approved by the Program Director for the College of Education on Nov. 11, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.