It’s no secret that Aussies love to travel and that Europe has a lot to offer, so Britain’s skills shortage in construction trades might be an opportunity too good to pass up.
With carpenters, joiners, bricklayers, plasterers, decorators, foremen and site managers consistently in high demand, the working holiday visa could be the way to go for eligible Australian (or Kiwi) tradies under the age of 30 wanting to work and live in the UK for up to two years.
Despite recent turmoil in the country following the Brexit vote, Heeral Patel, health and safety training manager at London-based recruitment agency, Construct Recruitment, told TTT that she doesn’t believe this will affect opportunities for Aussie tradies to find work in the country.
“There’s an overall shortage of quality tradespeople in the UK, specifically London,” said Patel, adding that if the UK’s borders did close to European tradies post-Brexit then the demand for Australians would only grow stronger.
“If 30 chippies turned up on our doorstep today then we could get them out working tomorrow!”
Patel cited the quality of apprentice training in Australia as one of the reasons Aussie tradies don’t have any problems finding work.
“Their time-served apprenticeship backgrounds incorporating a mixture of technical and on-site experience make them highly regarded,” she said.
“They’re also sought after due to their work ethic and camaraderie – they’re known to have the right attitude and are quick to learn and adapt,” she added.
This eager welcome was felt by Andrew Johnson, builder and owner of Good Foundations Building in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, who spent three years living and working in the UK.
“Everyone likes to hang around Aussies. They know we’re hard workers,” said Johnson.
Johnson was a qualified carpenter with a commercial and residential licence when he took a bag of tools and headed over to London with his wife.
“I looked up some local agencies for carpenters and hooked up with one when I got over there for about three or four months.”
Johnson then started a company with a co-worker and completed a few small projects before a mate put him in touch with a builder who he spent 18 months working for.
He said that being in the UK gave him the opportunity to work on projects that wouldn’t exist in Australia.
“My first job was building the female toilets at Lord’s cricket ground,” he said.
“I also worked on a sixteenth-century, heritage-listed Tudor mansion down in Surrey, the manor house of the area on 270 acres. The budget was 1.8 million pounds and we lived down there in the countryside on the job.”
With most people focused more on the travel part of working holiday visas, the flexibility that an agency can offer makes it a logical choice for many tradies, particularly with current high demand allowing them to choose the job that suits them best.
“Due to the nature of construction work there’s ongoing demand for contractors without employers having to take on permanent staff,” said Patel.
“We have over 80 clients in London and if they like the job, it’s not unusual for tradies to end up spending a year or two with the same crowd,” she added.
“An agency might be better if you want to do a week here or a week there. But if you can find a good local builder who’s going to look after you and pay you well then you can get the same thing,” he said.
“Get in with the right crew, make sure you do the right thing by your employer and don’t tie yourself down. Just travel,” he said.
What about my tools?
“I just took my basic tools over with me: my nail bag, hammer and tape. No chisels or saws or anything,” said Johnson, adding that he bought other tools over there as he went.
Patel noted that tape measures and hammers are small tools which tradies commonly miss and might bring with them, particularly if they’re arriving directly in the UK, however buying is also an option.
“We can guide you on where to get the best prices and there are always Construct guys heading back to Australia and New Zealand who have second-hand tools on sale in our office.”
One thing it’s definitely not worth bringing are your corded power tools. Most sites in the UK operate with 110V and Patel said that many also provided power tools so only hand tools and perhaps some cordless tools are required.
How much will I earn?
Although UK wages will most likely be less than in Australia and overtime rates are rare, Patel said that there are opportunities to advance into management type roles which would pay a higher wage if that’s what the worker is looking for.
“Site Managers could earn up to £250 per day while tradies will earn between £13-18 per hour, depending on the trade – more than enough to pay the bills and experience Europe!”
One advantage that can come from going through an agency instead of a company directly is the possibility of guaranteed pay at the end of each week, according to Patel
“For the majority of tradies we pay them weekly in arrears and charge the client a margin on top of the hourly pay. We guarantee weekly pay to the tradie regardless of when we get paid,” she said.
What about bank accounts, accommodation, tax, qualifications?
Most Australian qualifications are easily transferable and Patel advises talking to them before arriving to find out which are worth paying an official body to translate across to the UK equivalent, as not all are required.
You will need the UK equivalent to a white card though, called a Health and Safety ticket. Construct Recruitment are offering to organise the training material and test for anyone who mentions TTT for $40, half the standard price.
Once you arrive in the UK you can apply for a National Insurance Number which is the working equivalent of the Australian Tax File Number. Tax works similarly to the Australian PAYG scheme with both employees and the self-employed able to ‘pay as you earn’.
“Bank accounts are easy to open once you’ve got a UK address sorted although we do know of a couple that will allow you to open an account with just your passport,” said Patel.
“Accommodation requires a little research – usually you’re looking at rent, travel connections and the general culture of the area – but once you know where you want to live, it’s not too hard to find a house share option.”
Australia has reciprocal agreements with the UK and a number of other countries for adults aged 18-30 years who wish to have a working holiday.
If your twenties have already passed then a UK Ancestry visa could be an option if one of your grandparents was British.
Without a visa, the only way to live and work in the UK is with a British or EU passport (at least for now).