Making fun of tradies is pretty deeply engrained in the Australian culture. The daggy shorts, speed dealer sunnies, run-down ute, butt crack on full display…it’s not exactly the picture of success we see paraded in movies and on Instagram every day. But like all stereotypes, it’s an unfair representation that’s harmful to society and to students in particular.

In our latest survey, we heard from a bunch of students about their experiences during and after high school. Particularly worrying was the amount of young people made to feel bad about their choice to pursue an apprenticeship. One talked about his experience of being judged by people he thought were his friends at his private school, even though intrinsically doing an apprenticeship gave him a lot of pride. He was even getting it from parents at his school, who openly displayed their disgust to his face and to his folks.

Not only is this hate horrible and heartbreaking, it’s completely illogical; apprenticeships are seen to be the choice for ‘dumb kids’, but its increasingly looking to be the smart choice for a lot of young people. Apart from being able to learn things more aligned with their skills and interest, apprentices actually get paid while they study instead of accruing debt from uni. Considering the wage earned over a four-year carpentry apprenticeship compared to the average cost of a degree, an apprentice could come out around $150,000 ahead of the uni grad.

The National Skills Shortage means trade jobs are in huge demand, too. In fact, 92.2% of graduates in a trade occupation course were employed after training, compared to just 71.8% of university undergraduates.

As for those that do go to uni, only 66% are completing their degrees, which demonstrates an increasing number of students dropping out, changing courses, or taking their time due to indecision. This could simply be because young people are pressured into degrees they’re not particularly interested in and could be mitigated if they were encouraged into other pathways, such as apprenticeships.

The truth is, not everyone can flourish in an academic environment and that by no means is a bad thing. There’s a whole range of skills you can be good at outside of the classroom. In fact, psychologists have identified nine types of intelligence and the majority fall outside of what the national curriculum and your school syllabus would assess. The bodily-kinaesthetic and spatial types of intelligence in particular are essential for most trade jobs, yet most white-collar workers would bomb if tested in these.

But at school, the student gets continually told they’re failing because they find it difficult to analyse Victorian-era poetry and solve simultaneous equations. They might find some momentary reprieve in woodwork or food tech class, but in discussions with their friends these fields get laughed at for being ‘bludgey’ or for ‘dumb kids’. Naturally, these guys are just parroting what they’ve heard and it’s evident when nearly every parent, teacher, and career advisor is pushing for them to focus on their grades so they can go to uni and get a degree.

The student then gets put in this tricky situation where they can either bang their head against the wall trying to learn things they’re not interested in or go against everything they’ve heard and risk mockery by pursuing what they’re actually good at.

At the end of the day, we all contribute to the culture of looking down on tradies every time we make a joke at their expense or overlook the challenges involved in their line of work. Parents and education leaders should certainly be supporting these pathways more, but as peers we need to be positive about them too. Tradies do difficult, necessary, and skilled work; can we all just acknowledge that?!

If you want more info about trades or about becoming an apprenticeship or traineeship, jump right on over here to suss what it’s all about.

This article was written in partnership with the Australian Government Department of Education and Training’s ‘real skills for real careers’ initiative to raise the profile of vocational education and training. If you’re keen to see what VET qualifications are on offer, jump over to the My Skills site here.