University graduates vs tradespeople – who earns more?

Is it better to go to university or get a job? It’s the age-old question that most of us face when we leave education. The journey from the classroom to the workforce is a pivotal moment in life, and there are many things to consider, including earning potential. Traditionally, academia has been associated with financial success. However, learning a trade is increasingly lucrative. As we move towards net zero, there is a high demand for plumbing and heating installers and electrical engineers with the knowledge, skills and qualifications to meet the decarbonisation challenge.

Do university graduates earn more?

According to a recent analysis of Department for Education (DfE) data by The Telegraph, many graduate starting salaries are lower than junior building services engineering roles, with less earning potential throughout your career.

When you take into account the debts that university students accrue over the course of their studies – expected to be £42,900 for those who started in 2023 – alternative options are worth serious consideration.


Tradespeople earn more earlier compared to university graduates

The typical starting wage in the building services sector is around £26,000 – the amount that graduates can expect to earn after 3 years in the labour market, according to The Telegraph.


  • University graduates who have been working for 1 year earn an average wage of £21,500.
  • Gas engineer’s starting salary is even higher at £29,684, based on data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).


Who has higher earning potential – university graduates or tradespeople?

The average salary of a gas engineer is £38,507.86, almost £8,500 more than the average graduate can expect to earn after 5 years in work.

An average salary of £30,000 – £40,000 places gas engineers in the mid to higher range compared to graduate salaries.

Across all universities, engineering graduates earned £36,333 on average, ranging from £24,800 to £50,000 after 5 years – close to the earning potential of plumbing and heating engineers on the tools, who could expect to start on around £5,000 more with the potential earn up to £80,000 a year.

The most lucrative undergraduate degree is Computer Science. Students who study at Oxford and Cambridge earn £85,400 and £84,500 respectively after 5 years, but this is a very small percentage of the student population!

Medicine and Dentistry and Economics students are also high earners in the graduate category, earning between £41,400 and £52,750 after 5 years.


Follow your heart or your head!

The Telegraph analysis highlights the earning potential of specialist degree courses where skills are in demand, Computer Science, for example. If you have a specific interest in a topic with a clear career pathway and good job prospects, then pursuing your passion at university could pay off in financial terms.

However, degree courses that lack practical application in the job market may not be such a smart investment.


What’s the best alternative to university?

Contrary to popular belief, university is not the only choice for young people! There are many alternative pathways that lead to a successful and fulfilling career, with plenty of opportunities to climb the ladder, start your own business or pursue particular interests.


Managed Learning Programmes – depending on your starting point (complete new entrant or candidate with relevant skills and/or qualifications) and what area of building services you want to get into, the cost of a new entrant training programme with Logic4training is between £2,700 – £8,000. Our most comprehensive packages also include business support, such as Checkatrade membership and a free website. We offer a range of interest-free and interest-bearing finance options to help you spread the cost over 12 to 36 months.


Apprenticeships – earn while you learn from an experienced expert, gaining on-the-job experience alongside high-quality industry training. Apprenticeships are a win-win for employers and apprentices, providing opportunities for businesses to upskill and expand while nurturing new talent.


We are about to launch Logic4training Apprenticeships for students aged 19 and over, combining our unrivalled experience of the building services engineering sector with flexible training designed to suit employers. If you have any questions or wish to discuss your requirements, contact our dedicated apprenticeship team, who will be happy to help.

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