There is a high expectation to attend university these days – but is it for everyone? And is the money better in a trade? By Lawrence Watt
Despite the high pay that some experienced tradesmen now earn, in some cases $100,000 a year or more, there is a recurring shortage of people entering all the trades in New Zealand.
The shortage driving high pay is not new. Trade trainers believe it is part of a national
mind-set that university is best for most – and that somehow, being a tradie is second best.
Electricians and plumbers are the best paid among the trades. Jeremy Sole, chief executive of apprentice trainer, Electrical Training Company (ETCO), estimates pay rates for qualified electricians are currently between $60 and $80 an hour. That’s $2000– $3200 for 40 hours of chargeable time.
“Go to the boat ramp and the person launching the boat is likely to be a tradesman,” he says. Overtime is common although for safety reasons Sole does not want sparkies working more than 15 hours of overtime a week.
These are pay rates, not charge-out rates, which are higher. A glance at Trade Me Jobs confirms his figures – showing electricians’ positions ranging from $75,000 to $100,000, the higher end being for maintenance work at large firms.
Without reference to any formal study, Sole reckons it takes at least 10 years, after graduation, for university graduates to catch up with what trades people have earned, and even then, he believes it is probably only the well-paid professionals who do.
Sole says tradesmen’s high pay rates are nothing to do with Auckland’s building boom – there has been a shortage of electricians (now up to 3000 he estimates) for years. He believes there is a mind-set for school leavers to attend university, even though not everyone is suited to it.
“Some kids are pushed into university, when they are not ready,” he says. He would like more school leavers to become electricians, then after working for a few years, consider if they wish to return to study (in engineering). Few people do this.
“The traditional pathway is quite linear – it needn’t be that way.”
Entrants generally need Level two maths, physics and English to be accepted into an electrician’s apprenticeship, which takes three and a half years. If somehow your school experience at maths or science did not work and your passion is strong, he says they will try to make it work for you.
Plumbing also offers secure and profitable careers, involving a wide variety of skills and projects.
“There’s a misconception that plumbing work is dirty,” says Greg Wallace, chief executive of Master Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers NZ, “but the reality is that with modern technology it’s a clean and exciting trade. It’s a first class career choice.”
“We need to communicate this to educators, students, careers advisers and jobseekers to ensure we have talented people coming into the industry through apprenticeships.” The average age of an apprentice is 23. Wallace estimates there’s currently a shortage of 2,600 plumbers nationwide and demand is projected to increase in coming years.
Typical Trade Me ads for experienced plumbers are $38–$40 an hour. Registered plumbers can expect to earn $60,000 to $77,000; $80,000 to $100,000 if not more for self-employed plumbers. Charge-out rates vary from region to region and depend on the type of work being carried out.