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Apprenticeship vs University – Which One is Right for You?

MIGAS Electrical Apprentice

MIGAS Electrical Apprentice, Marlow.

At the end of every school year, thousands of school leavers have to make tough decisions about their careers and their future.

This often comes to making a decision between enrolling at university or taking up a trade qualification.

But which one is right for you?

As Year 12 looms, the pressure can feel heavy around making decisions for your future. You have pathways options to consider, you have to pick the right subjects, and you have to start getting your ducks in a row to get the best ATAR score you can achieve.

A lot of young people feel the pressure to qualify for university, even though they may not necessarily want to enter full-time study for another three to four years (or more). For some, academia is not their ‘jam’. The thought of hitting the books for several more years seems like an eternity, and having to find a part-time job to pay their way is another daunting prospect.

Industry trends indicate an increasing need for more people to take up trade training. Even so, the greater majority will choose to go to university. Incredibly, a degree course is still seen as a more legitimate road to a long and fulfilling career.

What people often fail to realise, though, is that a trade career can be every bit as rewarding, including financially! And remember, with an apprenticeship, you start earning from the day you start.

One reason why young people seem to be funnelled more towards a university education is that schools have traditionally steered students in that direction. It’s good to see schools finally starting to provide more guidance for students about alternate career pathways.

Skill Shortages are Biting

In Australia, skills shortages are increasingly becoming a problem. Three main reasons are behind this:

1. The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the job market in industries like healthcare, engineering and technology.

2. Skills shortages are also the result of high demand for workers in sectors like construction because of heavy government investment in infrastructure.

3. Australia’s ageing workforce means high numbers of skilled workers are retiring, leaving gaping holes that need to be filled by qualified tradespeople.

Fortunately, the government has taken notice of shortfalls in skilled workforces and is providing funding for training programs and initiatives designed to encourage students to pursue trades.

The government has also established initiatives to encourage businesses to provide student work placement opportunities.

How do graduate employment statistics compare between uni and trade courses?

Students who believe that a university degree is a guarantee of a career in their chosen industry may find themselves sorely disappointed. Just 68.1% of university Bachelor degree graduates find full-time employment within four months of completing their degree.

By comparison, 86.6% of Certificate III graduates find meaningful employment in their chosen sector upon completion of their qualification.

Get on board now for the unprecedented building boom

Australia is currently in the midst of an unprecedented building boom, particularly on the east coast.

Tradie shortages are in the news all the time, with home builders waiting more than a year for their house to be completed, and major construction companies are crying out for apprentices and qualified tradespeople to keep their projects on schedule.

This is causing construction costs to rise and some companies have been forced to import workers from overseas.

Most impacted are the carpentry, plumbing and electrical trades, yet recent figures from NCVER reveal that apprentice and trainee commencements are still not at the levels they need to be.

Apprenticeship Statistics

According to NCVER (National Centre for Vocational Education Research), there were 387,830 apprentices and trainees in-training in Australia as at 31 March 2022, a small increase of just 17.1% from 31 March 2021.

As for quarterly training activity, comparing the March 2022 quarter with the March 2021 quarter:

  • Commencements increased by 23.6%, to 85,470
  • Completions increased by 11.5%, to 22,310, but
  • Cancellations and withdrawals increased by 28.2%, to 29,870

If Australia is going to move past this dire skills shortage – and this is desperately needed – more young people are needed to take up apprenticeships and traineeships.

That also means that the future is very bright indeed for apprentices and trainees who complete their qualifications.

The key is getting school leavers excited about trade career options and removing stereotypes.

Where Could a VET Qualification Take You?

Vocational Education and Training (VET) imparts workplace skills, technical knowledge and qualifications that lead to meaningful jobs and careers.

There is no limit to where your career can take you. You can choose a career path that’s as small or as big and thrilling as you like. And you might be interested to know that Australian VET qualifications are regarded as among the best in the world.

MIGAS is working hard to promote trade pathways amongst school leavers. Our dedicated Field Officers regularly visit schools and careers expos to speak with jobseekers about their alternative options to university.

By engaging students at Year 10 and 11 level, we aim to shift the emphasis from university pathways to trade pathways, and educate young school leavers on all the options available to them for their future careers.

Compare trade wages with university fees and see just how much financial freedom comes with earning while you learn.

View current apprenticeships and traineeships available now.

Differences Between University Qualifications and Apprenticeships

So, what else should you consider when trying to decide between a uni degree and an apprenticeship?

  • Uni fees vs apprenticeship costs

    Well, for starters, let’s look at the financial considerations. When you undertake an apprenticeship, you start getting paid from day one. That means you can focus on your apprenticeship and not have to take on a part-time job. University students need to do unpaid work placements, usually as part of a required unit, to gain experience in their field.

    Also, an apprenticeship is typically subsidised by your employer and/or the government, whereas the debt for your uni studies is all yours alone.

    Remember, when doing an apprenticeship, you also receive all the same benefits as anyone else in employment. That includes sick pay, holiday leave and public holiday loading.

  • Consider the way you learn best

    Are you someone who finds it hard to dedicate countless hours to study, reading, and attending lectures/classes? Do you learn best with hands-on education?

    If you prefer to learn-by-doing, then an apprenticeship is definitely for you.

  • Time spent on aiming towards your career

    When you commence an apprenticeship, you are already embarking on a career in your chosen field and gaining an important network of connections.

    While most trade apprenticeships take around 3-4 years, certain vocational traineeships allow you to complete your training in one or two years, giving you a good three-year head start on uni students.

  • Apprentice life versus uni life

    As an apprentice, you are already building connections with people in your industry and working towards a solid career. University life can be full of distractions, from extracurricular activities and activism opportunities to months-long breaks that can cause inertia and poor motivation.

    Your apprenticeship gets you working on a day-to-day basis, focused on your career from the start. You’ll have weekends for socialising, and they won’t be gobbled up by the pressures of assignments and essays.

  • What kind of knowledge do you gain?

    Uni students are loaded up with knowledge that may be out-of-date compared with the real-world, real-time learning you experience as an apprentice.

    University students are often expected to undertake electives outside of their discipline too, whereas as an apprentice, the knowledge you gain is finely honed towards your trade.

What You Could Earn Once You Complete Your Qualification

When a university student graduates, they are starting out their career with a huge debt to pay for their education. Graduates must start paying back their HECS low-interest loan from the Australian government once they begin earning over $47,014 per year.

Entry Level salaries for first-year graduates start at $55,000 per year, so that HECS debt is going to kick in immediately.

For an adult Carpentry apprentice (aged over 21 years), the average annual wage is $48,464. Once qualified, a first-year carpenter can expect entry-level earnings of $64,299 per year.

For more information on what you’ll earn as an apprentice over the course of your apprenticeship in the Electrical, Engineering, Automotive, and Construction sectors, visit our apprenticeship trade pages.

What if a University Degree was Never an Option?

If you didn’t achieve an ATAR that was high enough to get you into the uni course you dreamed of, or if you dropped out of high school because ‘book learning’ was never for you, an apprenticeship could be the answer.

Gaining a skill, a trade, or a qualification is never going to put you at a disadvantage. It’s simply not the case that everyone who gains a university degree will earn more than a tradesperson.

By completing an apprenticeship and becoming a qualified tradesperson, you have countless options available to you in terms of career, earning potential and self-employment.

Right now, Australia is crying out for more skilled workers. Put yourself on the front foot of Australian industry. Find an apprenticeship, learn (and earn) as you go, and look forward to a prosperous future with unlimited options.

Start an Apprenticeship with MIGAS

Is a trade career for you?

View current apprenticeships and traineeships available now with MIGAS around Australia.


Published 20/02/2023

In the spirit of reconciliation, MIGAS Apprentices & Trainees acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.