As university degrees lengthen and diversify, higher education is opening out to more and more people. Classic courses such as Chemistry now sit alongside the likes of Cake Technology and Comedy Standup, meaning this route to work is becoming increasingly popular ‒ 50% of young people in the UK now opt for university after leaving school and college.
It comes at a price; however ‒ rising student fees are leading to an increase in student debt.
According to parliament statistics, over £176 billion is loaned every year, to well over 1 million students ‒ with the average debt of a UK university graduate sitting at around £36,000 (although The Institute for Fiscal Studies cites this figure as quite a bit higher ‒ over £50,000).
It begs the question ‒ is university best for everyone? The short answer is no.
Many other careers don’t require tuition fees, thereby necessitating a student loan ‒ and they can be just as lucrative and satisfying.
The Federation of Master Builders, for example, points out that UK tradespeople can actually earn more than many university graduates ‒ an in-demand bricklayer and roofer can earn around £42,000 a year (up to £90,000 in London) and requires no university degree. In comparison, the average wage for a university graduate is £32,000 (although of course, this figure will rise with experience).
Tradespeople is an incredibly generic term and incorporates a wide range of careers. It can mean working for a large company or setting up as a sole trader, which is challenging but hugely satisfying. If this is something you are considering, then here are three of the top-earning trade careers that can be entered into without taking out a student loan:
Also known as construction managers, site managers take responsibility for supervising construction sites and running whole projects. It is a demanding role as it means ensuring everything is done to time and budget, and it involves working on the site themselves and managing a team as well as liaising with the client and other stakeholders. There are different levels – senior construction managers or building managers look after an entire project whereas junior site managers will take responsibility for part of a job. This role can easily earn an income of over £50,000.
People will always need plumbers ‒ to diagnose problems and install and repair systems that carry water, gas and air around buildings. There are several roles in plumbing alongside the classic residential sole trading plumber ‒ many plumbers work for large companies or contractors and will require knowledge of building regulations, safety and architecture. The average income of a plumber in the UK is £49,000 ‒ and a recent survey revealed that plumbers are the happiest workers in the UK!
The most common electrician is a domestic electrical installer, working on wiring and sockets in people’s homes. However, there are also installation electricians, maintenance electricians, electrotechnical panel builders, instrumental electricians, repairers and rewinders and highway systems electricians, to name a few. The scope is vast, and each role is highly specialised with bespoke training and qualifications. An electrician can usually earn around £48,000 although according to Manpower, they can earn up to £156,000 a year – that’s more than the Prime Minister.
Pursuing a trade career then, can be a shrewd move and, unlike some professions, it means being paid at the same time as learning. A UK apprenticeship means you will gain specific skills by working and learning alongside experienced tradespeople, with time off for study and holidays.
The length of apprenticeships vary according to the educational level and trade; they take between one to five years to complete and go up to level 6 and 7 which are the equivalent of Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
Just like higher education options, apprenticeships are becoming more varied in their subject matter, and their scope means they are also becoming more popular. Between August 2018 and January 2019, there were 225,800 apprenticeships being started in the UK, which marked a 10% rise on the previous year. Of those apprenticeships, 4,500 were at level 7 (compared to 30 just two years previously), while the number of level 2 apprenticeships (equivalent to GCSEs), fell from 291,330 to 161,390, illustrating a shift in the approach to apprenticeships: a demand for higher paid employment and a reflection of the government levy on employers to fund workplace training.
It shows that trade work is more in demand than ever before, offering immediate earning and learning potential, a reliable, long-lasting income and independence.
With that level of job security ‒ and student debts increasing year on year ‒ it’s no surprise that the traditional trades are increasingly becoming the selection of school leavers.