Before the twentieth century, education for many young people consisted of learning a trade, which usually meant serving as an apprentice to an experienced tradesman. Apprentices learned to be blacksmiths or cabinetmakers or carpenters. In some smaller towns, children were apprenticed to professions such as law. Since the early twentieth century public high schools have offered a version of these apprenticeships in the form of vocational education (also called occupational education). This includes shop and home economics courses, as well as courses geared toward specific occupations such as electrician or automobile mechanic or cosmetologist.
Although the average high school student takes fewer course-hours in occupational education today than in the 1980s (4.68 in 1982; 3.99 in 1998), the more specific programs held steady in the number of course-hours students devoted.