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Tradie earning more than all her friends agrees with millionaire's controversial uni claim

Is learning a trade better than going to university? Multi-millionaire entrepreneur Dick Smith thinks so.

Multi-millionaire entrepreneur Dick Smith is urging young Aussies to pick up a trade instead of going to university, as a tradie reveals she’s earned more than her tertiary-educated friends since leaving school.

Smith, who is worth an estimated $60 million, argued people should be learning something practical rather than spending years learning theory at university, only for their degree to often be “wasted”.

Melbourne woman Ashley Belteky decided to do an apprenticeship after finishing Grade 12 and told Yahoo Finance some of her friends thought she had “wasted” her 95 ATAR result and potential.

Composite image of Tradie Ashley Belteky and Dick Smith.
Tradie Ashley Belteky says doing an apprenticeship has left her better off financially, as Dick Smith encourages young Aussies to pick up a trade. (Source: Supplied/AAP)

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While her parents were supportive of her decision, she said other people in her life expressed that university was the “better choice” and could offer better pay, job security and opportunities.


“There’s very much this idea that university is the better option than a VET pathway,” the qualified diesel mechanic said.


“I think that’s because that was the solution given to our parents, even just a few generations ago, to set yourself up to be secure and successful.”

Smith agreed.

“I think there's a greater chance for a person who's trade qualified to open their own business and employ their own people, than someone with an arts degree,” the businessman told Daily Mail Australia.

Tradies ‘better off financially’

Belteky initially earned $12 an hour as an apprentice but said the low wages ultimately paid off for her.

“You’re much better off financially for doing four years in an apprenticeship than four years at a university,” Belteky said.

“I’ve been earning more than all of my peers who went to university pretty much since I left school. Even now, where they’ve got degrees and I’m qualified, I’ve had a greater earning potential.”

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Ashley Belteky
While her parents were supportive, Belteky said other people and friends didn't understand her decision to do an apprenticeship. (Source: Supplied)

According to SEEK, the average annual salary for trade jobs in Australia ranges from $75,000 to $95,000.

However, there are more opportunities to earn money through overtime as well as getting into FIFO work. Belteky, for example, was earning $140,000 in mining freshly after she qualified.

Plus, unlike university degrees where graduates are left with an average HECS debt of $24,770, many trades offer fee-free apprenticeships, while also providing an income.

A survey by Australian Industry Group found tradies earned 16 per cent more money at 25 years old than their tertiary-educated counterparts. However, it also found tradies were working an extra seven hours a week, on average, than their peers.

‘Short-term pain for long-term gain’

Superior People Recruitment founder and director Graham Wynn believes the value of a university degree has diminished and trades are now “the way to go”.

“Unless you are an engineer or a doctor or something where you must have a particular qualification to do that job, the rest of them really have no benefit whatsoever,” Wynn told Yahoo Finance.

Wynn noted Australia was facing a shortage of tradespeople and that it was going to get worse, with Infrastructure Australia forecasting a deficit of 131,000 full-time workers this year.

Graham Wynn
Graham Wynn believes trades are "the way to go", particularly given shortages. (Source: Superior People Recruitment)

“Yes, it’s low [pay] to start with but most people who do a trade, within a few years, are paid very, very well or they go and start their own businesses and are paid even better,” Wynn said.

“It’s short-term pain for long-term gain whereas other people doing these qualifications, like business or marketing degrees, have no value because companies want experience these days in those sorts of jobs.”

Belteky encouraged young people to consider trades as an option and to be curious about different pathways if it suited them.

“Regardless of whether young people are going to university or follow VET pathways, the real factor in their success is whether they are pursuing something that they actually care about,” she said.