Young New Zealanders who take on apprenticeships or earn-as-you learn work programmes have an easier climb to the property ladder, say supporters of the sector.

The Herald this week spoke to several tradies who had managed to buy their own homes before they turned 30 - an impossibility for so many New Zealanders given the country's current housing situation.

Josh Williams, chief executive of the Industry Training Federation, said there were now some 146,000 trainees or apprentices in New Zealand, which is about the same as the number of university students currently enrolled.

"With industry training you are learning on the job; you're working, you're paying taxes, and most importantly you're not accumulating student debt," he said.

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When a university student finished their degree and had, say, a $20,000 loan, many apprentices had already started saving, he said.

Many apprentices stayed on with the organisations that had taken them on while others went on to other companies or became self-employed contractors.

"The key point is that it is a great way to save: rather than spend the first three or four years after school paying big fees, not earning and getting in debt.

"If you were spending those years earning, learning, saving and getting qualified then I don't think anyone would argue that that's a great thing."

Paul Hollings, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Trades at MIT, said he was increasingly speaking to people who said they had planned to go to university but instead opted to take on a trade given the current economic climate.

"I would argue that young guys or girls that are doing apprenticeships or workplace training, if they've got their head screwed on right, they will be able to save quite effectively towards a goal such as purchasing a house from quite early on in their careers," he said.

But Universities New Zealand executive director Chris Whelan urged young people not to dismiss university as a pathway to a prosperous career.

"Students recognise that earning a degree is a good investment: it creates great benefits for them and their families, and that's why they are willing to take on an average of $15,000 debt as they know they'll earn between $1.3 - $4 million more over their working lives than a non-graduate," he said.

The organisation's analysis of Census data clearly showed that degree holders get jobs, pay off their debt, have better job security, and earn more over their working lives.

Graduates also reported being happier and healthier, Whelan said.

"An independent study of graduates two years after they finished university, found that they were highly satisfied with their lives, already earning around the national median income after only two years in the workforce, and that just 2.7 per cent were unemployed."

While there were stories about individuals who amassed huge loans that they struggled to pay back, such cases were the exception rather than the rule, Whelan said.

Figures from the Ministry of Education's 2015 Workplace-based Learners study show there has been a slight increase in the number of workplace-based learners, after significant drops in 2010 and 2011.

There were about 139, 000 "workplace learners" in 2012, the same in 2013, about 145,000 in 2014 and 146,000 in 2015.

Figures provided by Universities New Zealand show a declining trend in enrolments since 2010, when there were 156,015 domestic students at New Zealand's universities In 2011 there were 152,625, in 2012 there were 151,915, in 2013 there were 148,860, in 2014 there were 146,275 and in 2015 there were 146,015.