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'They've earned and learned on the job' - research shows tradies are better off financially than many uni graduates

For a long time, taking up an apprenticeship has been regarded by many people as a lesser option than going to university - an attitude new research suggests is well overdue for a change.

Industry Training Federation chief executive Josh Williams joined TVNZ's Breakfast this morning to discuss the research's findings.

Mr Williams said, "So we've got 10 years worth of earnings data – this is real earnings data, taxable incomes, reported to the IRD from 2004 to 2014 – and what that shows is that people who hold our qualifications, that are trained through industry training organisations across a range of sectors are well ahead. $165,000 by the age of 28, and certainly, if you’re comparing some industries with some industries and some degrees with some degrees, well ahead still by 30 and into their late-30s".

"They've earned and learned on the job. They've already been placed in the labour market and they haven’t taken a student loan, so this research is just looking at the earnings, so they've avoided that and they’re doing very well."

He said people "always like to talk about university versus trades", but that it wasn't always mutually exclusive.

"We have lots of people who are apprentices who go on to degrees, and actually, we’re seeing more and more people with degrees then coming into the apprenticeship system."

Mr Williams explained how universities are often put on a pedestal, saying, "We've had 20, 30 years of 'stay at school, stay at school, stay at school' and that is important. Industry is more sophisticated".

"After university, kids enter industries, and so we run our economy on the best and brightest and the 'bookish' ones as well as the more practical ones. In the end, I think we've kind of privileged a form of knowledge and the high schools are really set up around practicing for university – pick subjects, pens, pencils, classrooms, exams – all of that is getting ready to go to uni, and I guess a lot of our learners get to feel 'oh, well, OK, they've failed to convert me into a university student, I won't get to go to uni, so I's somehow a lesser option'. What I think is really important for them to know, for mums and dads to know and for schools to know is that apprenticeships are a very good option – just like university is a very good option."

He said while the data focuses on young people as they leave school, the "real mission" is to change Kiwis’ attitudes towards skilled tradies.

"While all of our data is about young people and what they might think about when they leave school – the real mission for New Zealand is to make sure we’re putting more of our skills and investments into life-long learning, to changing worlds, to changing technology."

Industry Training Federation CEO Josh Williams joined Breakfast this morning to discuss a new study which found some tradies are earning more than those with degrees. Source: Breakfast