Canadian men who complete an apprenticeship can expect to earn more than men who have only a high school education, more than men with trade qualifications and even more than many college graduates, according to a working paper on apprenticeships based on the 2006 census.

But the story is much different for women, with females who complete apprenticeships earning less than women with high school or college degrees or women in trades, according to the report Returns to Apprenticeship.

The study by University of Toronto researchers Morley Gunderson and Harry Krashinsky found male apprentices, who tend to be in the construction and mechanical trades, earned 24 per cent more than men who had a high school degree.

They brought home 15 per cent more money than those in the trades who were not apprenticed and two per cent more than college graduates.  University graduates continued to outstrip those with apprenticeships, with incomes 40 per cent higher than high school graduates, though that number may be changing as the opportunities for university graduates diminish.

The results emphasize the value of apprenticeships, which many provinces are promoting as an alternative to college or university.  With construction booming, businesses are reporting skilled trades shortages.

Unemployment among young people in Canada is now above 14 per cent.

Still, only a small percentage of the Canadian workforce has completed an apprenticeship — about 7.7 per cent of men and 1.6 per cent of women. The system of fostering apprentices is more common in Europe, but the study questioned why so few young men take on apprenticeships when the benefit appears to be so clear.

Canadian women were better off just completing high school, the study found. For women taking "an apprenticeship yields lower returns than simply completing high school and substantially lower returns than completing community college, likely reflecting the fact that female apprenticeships tend to be in low-wage jobs in industries like food and service," the study found.

The areas where women apprenticed were professions such as hairdressing and chef’s assistant. Those who completed apprenticeships earned 25 per cent less than women who completed college and 6.6 per cent less than high school graduates, the study found.

Women apprentices did tend to earn more than their counterparts with no high school diploma.

Gunderson said women should be encouraged to enter the higher-earning apprenticeship trades, but steps may be needed to end gender bias in these areas.

The authors say it is difficult to compare the numbers to past census statistics as 2006 is the first year that a question about apprenticeships was included. They drew their conclusions from a sample size of 2.2 million Canadians.