Young men with a trades certificate now earn more in Canada than those with a college diploma, while young women with a trades education are now earning almost as much as those who went to college.
If you look at education like an investment in the future, apprenticeships in the industrial skilled trades have yielded great returns for over a decade. Their cost — in terms of school fees and time spent in a classroom instead of out in the field being paid — is low. The payback — a relatively straightforward path to well-paying jobs — has been high.
Canadian men with apprenticeship training were making nearly $73,000 a year in 2015, seven percent more than those with college diplomas ($68,000). On wage growth, too, university grads in Canada come off worse: Men with a university degree saw their earnings grow a mere six percent between 2005 and 2015, compared to eight percent for their college-educated peers and 14 percent for those in the trades.
Young men with a trades certificate now earn more than those with a college diploma. In Saskatchewan, they managed to out-earn even bachelor degree holders, bringing home around $86,000 a year compared to $84,000 a year for those with a degree. Young women with a trades education are now earning almost as much as those who went to college.
Instrumentation technicians — who are in charge of installing and maintaining the measuring and control instruments used in manufacturing, petrochemical and other commercial settings — were making an average of $130,000 a year, the highest-paid trade in Canada.
Working in the trades wasn’t always this lucrative. The numbers show that stronger earnings growth started in the mid-2000s, coinciding with the onset of the oil and gas boom in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the real estate craze in Vancouver and Toronto.
While the demand for people like line workers, electricians and carpenters skyrocketed, the share of Canadians with the skills to fill those jobs barely moved, from 4.9 percent in 2006 to 7.8 percent in 2016. As a result, pay went up quickly.
But “long-term, a university is still probably a better investment,” according to Thomas Lemieux, a labour economist at the University of British Columbia.
Overall, university graduates remain Canada’s top earners, with a mid-range annual salary around $68,600 in 2015, compared with $52,300 for those with a college diploma and $42,700 for those with a trades certificate or apprenticeship training, data from the 2016 Canadian census shows.