WELLINGTON, Dec 2 - That's according to research by BERL commissioned by the Industry Training Federation, which oversees training for trades.

"Apprentices contribute to the economy earlier, earn earlier, buy a house earlier and contribute to KiwiSaver earlier, and pay off their mortgage earlier," says Josh Williams, the federation's chief executive.

Instead of focusing on average income which previous studies have done, the research models the financial position of a graduate, versus an apprentice, versus a person who does no formal training over their working life.

"An apprentice has a head start which results in them being ahead of their university counterparts throughout most of their working lives. 

"In the middle of their careers they have paid off most of their mortgage and have no other debts. At the end of their working lives there is little to no difference between a university graduate and an apprentice," Mr Williams says.

The new Labour-led government is increasing student allowances and has also promised students their first year of higher education fees will be free as of January 1.

"Better than first year free, is first year paid," Mr Williams says.

"Workplaces make the best classrooms because you get paid, get qualified, and can launch a highly skilled, in demand, career without racking up a student loan."

Many apprentices go on to own and run their own businesses while some graduates never use the degrees they studied for, Mr Williams says.

When they reach their 40s an apprentice can expect to have net assets of $489,827, somebody with a bachelor degree or higher can expect to have $229,806 and a person who gets a job straight out of school can expect to have assets worth $399,501.