Reviving the Skilled Trades: Your Guide to Boosting Enrollment in Trade Schools

There’s a high demand for the skilled trades. There always has been, and there always will be.

Twenty-one percent of the engineering workforce is made up of specialists. Welders, fitters, electricians, machinists, and technicians. They’re all vital to the industry, and lately, also in short supply.

Despite this, blue-collar workers are often underappreciated.

In this article, we’ll show you how to boost enrollment in your trade school by understanding all the factors involved. Other school leaders, please note: you also have a lot to learn here, so read on! The aggressive sales environment of trade schools may soon come to a county near you.

Let’s start with some context before we get to your plan of action!

The Skilled Trade Stigma

Trade schools, also known as vocational schools, used to be seen as a “dumping ground” for students who didn’t excel in the traditional academic environment.

“The early vocational education was driven by a philosophy of fitting people to their probable destinies,” said Jim Stone, director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.

“Kids from poor families were tracked off into becoming the worker bees. Others were tracked off to go to universities and be the intelligentsia,” he added.

This remains somewhat true today. Many parents in the US want their children to earn a Bachelor’s Degree. An office job in a company is seen as reliable. The old “you must be a lawyer or doctor” anecdote remains a factor, too.

A Bright Future For Trade Schools?

The current realities of the job market make job security and a steady income a distant dream. This is great news for trade schools.

In the spring semester of 2016, roughly 6 percent of the total college population were enrolled in technical, vocational and career schools.

It seems that trade schools are slowly getting the attention of young students and even adult learners. Why is this? Job security? Timeless skills acquisition? What’s causing the positioning shift, and what can we learn from it?

Certainly “People now have a much higher view of vocational schools, which have taken on a much more qualitative tone,” as said business historian Bruce Weindruch.

It may take decades before the American population learns to fully embrace trade schools as essential to the U.S. education system. The tide is certainly changing though.

Let’s dig in further.

A Constructive Plan Of Action!

While stigmas remain and are agitated by occasional fraudulent practices by certain for-profit schools, things are generally looking up. But how do you tap into this positive trend? How do you beat down the aggressive sellers? How do you connect with parents’ looking to send their kids to trade schools?

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Earn the trust of your prospective families.

Defining your brand is the first step. Branding is a huge topic we will not expand on here, but don’t shun it. In all markets where competition is fierce, a strong brand is what often made the difference for the winners.

Most of your peers are going for direct ads. Sure coupons and direct response marketing works, but will only take you so far. Take the time to look into branding; it’s worth the investment.

Once you have a brand, it’s time to market. Don’t fire up those Google or Yelp ads just yet.

We have a different approach to propose. An approach that will earn the trust of your students and position you as the go-to authority in your field. You will start getting more students without much effort after that.

Sounds nice?

Read up on enrollment marketing funnels, which gradually draw prospects closer to your school. The competition is not using those yet.

Here’s a summary of the concept:

First, you create awareness of your brand through broad but targeted online advertising. You need to opt for visual, emotional ads, with a strong use of video. Connect emotionally with the dreams and aspirations of your target audience. Yes, you are introducing your school, but not directly. Instead, you are presenting your prospects with a better version of themselves.

Think of a Coca-Cola ad. The Coke bottle is there, but that’s not what the ad is about. You may think: who has the time or money for that? We need students now!

All school leaders, whether in trade schools or other types of school, hear us out. The time will come when competition is so strong that you will not be able to get one student without using this strategy.

Also, no it’s not that expensive anymore. Digital ads are targeted and affordable. That’s why Facebook is a core tool here and the best platform to advertise on.

After you’ve created awareness, you enter the consideration stage. You then gain the trust of your prospects by being helpful and forging human connection too.

This is when a student is starting to consider your school. Help them do their research. You won their hearts. Now present them with data, comparisons, and visual aids.

By looking at enrollment funnels, you will learn that events play a role in the consideration stage of a funnel. A social event where families can meet the faculty and see the school is great for forging a relationship of trust with the community.

Here, Florida Technical College used Facebook to promote their Summer Social event.

They’re on to something. If they included awareness ads before this, I bet they are seeing results.

Only after the consideration stage do you go for direct ads. You have a warm audience already that knows you and trusts you. Direct ads will do really well now. But more on that later.

2. Differentiate.

Trade schools have various formats and need to identify, attract, and engage their specific audience.

Promoting the concept of trade schools should be a part of the marketing plan, sure. But that’s not enough. Focus on sparking their interest and introducing specifics that make you different.

Why you? What makes you different? What sets you apart? You need to figure this out before proceeding any further. Star teachers? A particular learning technique? Amazing results? Notable alumni?

Your role is both spokesperson for your school and the skilled trade industry as a whole. Your marketing efforts should reflect both for maximum effect.

3. Effectively use social media.

You have a differentiated brand, and you have designed an enrollment funnel. Where will you set this live for all to see?

You need to speak to students in a language that they can easily understand. The easiest way to do this is to use social media. Spark the interest of students by using Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share what your school has to offer. Attract them with photos and videos.

Social media is a great avenue to share thoughts, opinions, discussions, and more. It’s also a convenient way to post up-to-date information and communicate directly to students.

The Southeastern Technical College in Georgia did a wonderful job of utilizing Facebook and Twitter to create a social media presence for their school.

Here’s a peek at their Facebook and Twitter pages:

If you don’t have social media accounts, start now! Facebook and Twitter pages are easy and free to set up. Running them effectively doesn’t have to be difficult either, as long as you have the right advice!

4. Expand awareness of your program offerings with digital marketing.

It’s amazing how many programs schools are able to offer nowadays. This is particularly true in trade schools. Your courses are your features, and you need to promote them individually!

A great way to do that is posting about the different classes on your Facebook page and running Facebook ads. Listing your courses is great, but going into detail and promoting the options individually is very effective too.

Look at this post by the Atlanta Technical College. It’s visually attractive and really highlights the fact that they have a wide variety of options.

Here, Blackhawk Technical get specific about their Fire Protection course on Facebook.

Nice posts, but what if no one sees them? Facebook advertising is a gamechanger. You can target any audience you want, and you can model an enrollment marketing funnel with the awareness, consideration and decision stages.

Boosting posts? No no no. That’s not what we are talking about.

You can learn more about this extremely important strategy on other, in-depth posts we have done, such as this one.

5. Finally, share your success stories.

When you have a strong brand, an enrollment funnel, Facebook ads that are helpful, what do you do?

Inspiration is a powerful tool in convincing students to choose your school. If they see that your alumni are happy and successful, prospects will feel more confident about trusting you with their education.

There are many ways to showcase the success of your former students.

The Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics created a blog post to showcase the achievement of their 2017 valedictorian. He landed a job with Republic Airlines at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, the University of Nebraska released a video about alumni who recently created a successful recruitment campaign.

Inspire your prospects by telling the stories of your successful graduates.

6. Become a thought leader.

We’ve seen trade schools set all these things up, and they did well. The trickle of leads turned into an abundance of prospects.

What do you do after that? What can take you even further? You need to become an authority in your field, a thought leader. Talk about the industry, post statistics, write thoughtful comments on the latest reports.

Remind people of how important the industry is. Stress the fact that there are many high paying jobs out there for trade school graduates.

Here, Lake Area Technical Institute does a wonderful job of reminding prospects that there is a solid future for their graduates.

Enrollment marketing is easy to write about, but it’s not so easy to put into practice. As you are straining under the responsibility of leading a school, think about this: there are others who have been there before, and the playing field is being leveled. It is more affordable than ever to get the word out online. So now it’s your turn!