The truth about eye-watering pay packets tradies bag

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A pair of veteran carpenters have taken to breakfast television to defend the sky high salaries tradies can rake in, after a TikTok of young workers boasting about their fat pay packets went viral.

In February, news.com.au reported on a video clip produced by employment tech start-up getahead, showing several Queensland tradies openly revealing how much they make.

It featured workers in various roles, from a plumber to a carpenter and a diesel fitter, spilling all about their six-figure salaries, like a second-year apprentice taking home $1100 per week after tax and a coal miner bagging $160,000 a year.

Among the top earners in the video were another diesel fitter specialising in heavy earth-moving equipment on $130 per hour – the equivalent of at least $250,000 annually based on a 38-hour week – and an auto electrician on $120,000 per year.

“I think I’m in the wrong career,” a user on Reddit commented alongside a link to the video.

This morning, Jake McArthur, chief executive of Carpentry Australia, and Nathan Quinn, the industry body’s head of development, appeared on Sunrise to talk about the stark reality behind those salaries.

“There’s a bit of a hoo-ha about this particular TikTok,” Mr McArthur said. “But we need to understand what’s behind those pay packets. It’s things like risk, [a variety] of different roles, of responsibilities, [and] skills.”

How much someone can make in a skill trade, such as carpentry, also depends on how long they’ve been in the industry, Mr Quinn said.

Apprentices just starting out in an industry tend to bag modest, if not low salaries while they learn and earn their stripes.

“As you move through, if you become a subcontractor, the salary can go up,” Mr Quinn said.

“Then if you’re running your own business, if you’ve got the right support at round you … the money and the opportunities are definitely there.

“It really depends on where someone‘s at in their life cycle. Depending on their circumstances … you can earn higher money depending on the conditions.”

In the wake of the social media frenzy surrounding the original video, news.com.au spoke to tradies about the lengthy training, long hours, physical demands, business risks and gruelling conditions that come with the job.

And from that pay packet, most tradies fork out a pretty penny for things like the cost of tools and equipment, vehicles, or business expenses, for example.

The clip also doesn’t acknowledge the physical toll that’s demanded from many trades.

Tradies hits back at claims they’re overpaid

“They’re all important considerations,” Mr McArthur agreed.

“But it’s a fantastic job and you do have great earning potential. Anyone who wants to get into the trade, particularly carpentry, the best trade of all, should dive in.”

Analysis conducted by insurance brokerage Trade Risk found the average gross salary for a tradie last year was $90,940 – a 11 per cent increase in 2019 figures.

That’s the average taxable income reported in 2023 – roughly on par with data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“We believe it is the best representation of how much Aussie tradies are really earning, as it utilises the taxable incomes provided to us by thousands of self-employed tradies from around Australia,” Trade Risk said in its report.

Coming in at top spot were boilermakers, with an average income of $112,535, followed by electricians on $96,338 and plumbers on $95,507.

The report’s author anticipated push-back, explaining: “Before you say, “I know plenty of electricians and plumbers who earn more than $100k”, yes, we know they do, and plenty in our data did too, but these are average figures.”

Carpenters ranked fourth on the list with a $88,979 salary, followed by plasterers in fifth on $83,327.

The potential pay on offer can also depend on where you live, with SEEK data showing tradies in Canberra have the highest average annual salary at $89,999.

The nation’s capital is followed by Sydney with an average yearly pay of $80,450 and the Newcastle-Maitland-Hunter Region on a neat $80,000.

Meanwhile, tradies who work in mining can make some serious coin, with Talent.com reporting an average salary of $124,000 per year.

Entry-level positions start at $101,000 while the most experienced workers can bank $180,000 per year.

Sam McNamara, founder of getahead, the app start-up responsible for the video, said there’s a benefit in people being open about how much they make.

“One of the things that’s compulsory on our app is salary transparency, so companies must put at least a range on every job so that it’s clear to jobseekers what they’re applying for,” founder Sam McNamara explained.

“With that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to going out and interview people, asking them what they do for a living, what sort of money they make, the perks of their job and everything in between.”

While giving a tantalising insight into people’s usually private affairs, Mr McNamara said the intention was more about “inspiring people to pick a career that helps them get ahead in life”.