PTUs form a government-funded nation-wide system for school graduates who don't intend to receive a university degree (see "Secondary education"). Instead, they are both educated generally and trained for non-academic occupations. PTU were specializing in almost all such professions, but the most spread are for construction and machinery positions. Specializations also included secretary (girls only), cook, waiter and even mosaic artist (needed drawing talents to apply). Usual entering age of students is 15 – after 8 years of ordinary school, usual background — peasants, lower working class, orphans etc. Two or three years of learning are typical. However, part of students enter after 10 years of ordinary school and learn during 1 year.
PTUs required no entering examination, provided with free hostels and meals. Parents were also attracted by the 24-hour presence of “upbringers” – mentors whose task is to prevent students from deviative behavior. Further employment was also guaranteed, as well as possibility to continue education in university level. That is why PTUs played an important role in urbanizing rural communities and forming Soviet working class (see Urbanization). Society widely associates PTUs and their students with lower class and its negative attributes: bad manners, low educational level and alcoholism. But these schools were unbeatable form of mass education, employment and distracting youth from crime.
In 1920-30ties the analogs of PTU existed, named as "schools of factory and plant apprenticeship"(Russian:"шко́ла фабри́чно-заводско́го учени́чества" – "Shkola fabrichno-zavodskogo uchenichestva", acronym: FZU; ФЗУ, фэ-зэ-у́), which were partly inherited from the vocational school system of the Russian Empire. In 1940, they were reorganized to "vocational schools" (Russian:"реме́сленное учи́лище" – "Remeslennoye uchilishche"), and in 1959 – to PTUs.
During transformation to market economy, PTUs suffered a huge blow since their graduates lost socialist employment guarantees. Many of PTUs were closed or merged and the number of students declined dramatically. Some PTUs were renamed and reformed into "lyceums" or "colleges" in attempt to gain higher status and establish tuition fees.