A shortage of skilled bricklayers is making it difficult for contractors to meet the strong demand that comes from record levels of building activity in the residential market on the eastern seaboard, according to the Australian Brick and Blocklayer Training Foundation (ABBTF).
The association’s CEO, Geoff Noble, told Tools Trades Toys that rising bricklayer rates, particularly in Sydney, have prompted some builders to employ contractors from interstate or overseas which has prompted the ABBTF to start a drive for more new bricklaying apprentices.
“Apprenticeship-trained bricklayers provide sub-contracting bricklayers and builders with an additional edge of skills and knowledge,” Noble said, adding that apprentice bricklayers in training now number over 2,500, an increase of 30 per cent in two years.
However he said that more commencements are needed.
“Despite the availability of apprenticeships and the benefits to be gained, there have been up to 200 unfilled vacancies available for young people at various times in the past year.”
Speaking of expected earning potential, Noble said that a first-year bricklaying apprentice who has completed Year 12 can start on around $25,000 per annum, including time off for training. Rates increase by around $100 per week for each stage or year level.
Apprentices can also claim the Trade Support Loan of up to $20,000 over the term of the apprenticeship. This can be repaid with a 20% discount on completion of the apprenticeship with a qualification.
The nominal term of a bricklaying apprenticeship is three years in Victoria and Western Australia and four years in other states.
However, training is competency-based and the apprentice can finish when the employer and training assessor agree that the Certificate III qualification has been achieved.
Recognition of prior learning can also be used to gain credit and potentially shorten the length of the apprenticeship.
A bricklaying apprenticeship is a great starting point for a range of careers in the construction industry, according to Noble.
“Many bricklayers start successful contracting companies and move from the tools to managing the business, a transition that can be beneficial later in life given the physical nature of the trade,” Noble said.
“As a structural trade, bricklaying is a solid foundation for a tradie who wants to gain a qualification and licence to be a builder,” he said, adding that project or construction management is another career path that bricklayers might consider.
Despite recent developments in robotic bricklaying technology Noble was confident about the future for bricklayers.
“A person who has the skills and the knowledge will always be successful,” Noble said.
“I think the equipment is at a very preliminary stage. It’s not one-size fits all because of the varied nature of workplaces in terms of terrain and access,” he said, adding that he couldn’t see the technology reducing demand for bricklayers.
Speaking of the ABBTF, Noble said that the organisation played a pivotal role in building a skilled bricklaying workforce through their programs designed to inform and attract young people to the trade.
“Try-a-Trade events are run at school and career expos while Step Out Programs are longer, one week courses that give secondary school students a taste of bricklaying either on campus or at a nearby TAFE,” he said.
School leavers and job seekers can also complete ABBTF’s Work Ready Programs which prepare suitable candidates to start in a bricklaying apprenticeship.
“They have reduced the first-year dropout rate and saved contract employers the work of finding and preparing a new apprentice to suit their needs,” Noble said.
Employers can receive a $3,000 ABBTF subsidy paid over three years for employing an apprentice in addition to Federal and State Industry Training Fund benefits.
Employers who take on mature age and female apprentices are also eligible to receive $2,000 from ABBTF on completion of the first year.
Beyond the financial support, Noble believes that bricklayers understand the benefits of having an apprentice in their gang and enjoy teaching keen, young brickies who quickly become productive team members.
“Bricklaying is a great trade that engenders a lot of pride in the quality workmanship evident in many iconic buildings around the country.”