What's it really like?Kevin Rowland was a bricklayer at 17. Now 40, he owns and runs his own construction firm, K & N Brickwork, which takes on contracts from private homes to Virgin Active gyms. He tells us a little about his career. "I started as a bricklayer at 17 when I left school. I didn’t have too many options so it was just the best fit for me at the time, but I grew to really love it. It was great to work hard at a job that I was good at and that didn’t leave me going to the same office every day. It’s also been a very good trade for me financially. After a while I did get a bit sick of the early start times, and when you’re working contracts you run the risk of ending up working for unreliable employers, so I decided to go into business for myself about seven years ago. This was around the time that there started to be a shortage of good bricklayers, and the business grew very quickly. Since I try to keep good working relationships with all of my staff, I always get skilled people working for me. Now I mainly spend my time travelling between sites and supervising the work to maintain our high quality standards. If I could give any advice to someone just starting out in the business it would be to try and develop specific skills. Experienced bricklayers will always be in demand, but there is such a shortage that architects have started to reduce the need for brickwork from their designs. It means that the buildings aren’t as high quality, but that’s just the market. If you can do something like cladding or stonemasonry as well as brickwork then you can pick up some specialist jobs as well, making yourself more marketable.
Bricklayers build and repair walls inside and outside of properties as well as working on other kinds of brickwork, such as tunnel walls and chimney stacks. The job of a bricklayer is to construct the first shell of a building, whether it is a house, a school, a bridge or any other construction. Without a bricklayer, the building simply does not get made. A good bricklayer makes the walls waterproof, weatherproof and secure because no-one wants to be in a building which is leaky, cold and in danger of being broken into. With government spending plans for the next few years focused largely on the construction of new houses and schools, good bricklayers will soon be in great demand. This means that it has the potential to provide an extremely secure career choice.
SalaryAn inexperienced or unskilled bricklayer will earn up to £15,000 per year. With a formal qualification this can be boosted to between £16,000 and £23,000, and experienced and qualified bricklayers can earn as much as £30,000 per year. With enough experience you can even set up as an independent craftsman, at which point you can ask for whatever fee your work demands.
ResponsibilitiesTypical responsibilities include:
- Cutting bricks to size using hammers, chisels or power tools.
- Laying the bricks in horizontal layers (courses).
- Measuring out the work area and laying the first courses according to the architect’s plans.
- Mixing mortar, either by hand or with a mixing machine.
- Spreading mortar evenly to fix the bricks into place.
- Ensuring that the line of the wall is totally straight and level. For this a spirit level or plumb line may be used.
- Making access holes in the walls to allow electricians, plumbers and other workers to bring water, electricity and commodities into the building.
QualificationsBricklaying is a very open career as you don’t need any formal qualifications. However, the more technically skilled you are, the higher your wage will be. There are some basic courses available which could increase your starting salary. The best way into the business is to get an apprenticeship with a building firm as you’ll then be being paid to learn. How easy it is to get an apprenticeship depends on your local area, but the government is trying to create more positions. You will usually require GCSEs in English and technical subjects, such as maths or design & technology, in order to begin the apprenticeship. Some firms may already require you to have a basic building qualification before you start your apprenticeship. The most widely accepted of these qualifications is the Edexcel Introductory Certificate or Diploma in Construction. There are also college courses which can prepare you for a bricklaying career. These include:
- The Edexcel First Diploma in Construction (which has bricklaying options)
- The City & Guilds Basic Skills in Construction Award in Bricklaying
- The Intermediate/Advanced Construction Award (Trowel Occupations – Bricklaying).
SkillsTo be a bricklayer you will need:
- Good practical skills.
- The ability to work carefully and accurately.
- The ability to work as part of a team.
- A good awareness of health and safety issues (especially when carrying heavy loads at great heights).
- An ability to read technical plans.
- A good level of fitness.