Bricklayer

The Job and What's Involved

Bricklayers build and repair the interior and exterior walls of buildings, as well as other types of walls, such as the linings of tunnels and boundary walls. They might work on building new homes or large projects like stadiums, shopping centres and office blocks.

Depending on the size of the site, the position of the wall may be set out by the designer, engineer or senior builder. The bricklayer's job is to then:

  • Cut bricks using hammers, chisels or portable power tools.
  • Lay the bricks in courses (horizontal layers).
  • Spread mortar with trowels.
  • Check that the wall is straight and level using lines and spirit levels.

The bricks are usually brought to the bricklayer by a labourer, who also mixes the mortar. On smaller jobs, bricklayers may have to carry their own bricks, mix the mortar and erect scaffolding. In a typical day, they may lay several hundred bricks.

Bricklayers use different grades of bricks, including special materials such as firebricks, blocks and patterned blocks for work such as ornamental walls or archways.

All bricklayers follow detailed plans and drawings showing how a building is to be constructed.

Bricklayers use a variety of specialist tools to spread and joint mortar and cut bricks or blocks to size.

Bricklayers usually work around 39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Working hours can vary to make the most of daylight hours and to avoid disrupting business. Overtime at weekends or in the evening is common.

Self-employed bricklayers often work longer hours, especially when first becoming established.

Bricklayers usually work on building sites. Much of the work is outside, in all weathers, and it can mean working in noisy, dusty, dirty or wet conditions. A lot of building work takes place at high levels, so bricklayers need to climb ladders and work from scaffolding.

The work involves a lot of standing, kneeling and lifting of heavy loads of bricks and mortar. Bricklayers wear safety helmets and boots. They also wear gloves, goggles and ear defenders for some jobs.

Bricklayers travel from site to site as construction projects start and finish. This may involve working away from home. A driving licence may be useful.

A bricklayer with NVQ/SVQ Level 2 may earn around £17,500 a year. There may also be bonuses and overtime pay. Self-employed bricklayers negotiate their own rates.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Construction is the largest industry in the UK, employing around 2.3 million people, including about 233,000 women. Around 80,000 people join the industry each year and about 37 per cent of construction workers are self-employed.

Bricklayers are in constant demand, both for new construction work and to carry out maintenance and repair on buildings. They may work for:

  • Building and development firms.
  • Public sector bodies such as local authorities.
  • Specialist contractors in the marine, chemical and gas industries.
  • Overseas contractors.
  • Private householders.

The Army (Royal Engineers) also recruits and trains bricklayers.

Vacancies for bricklayers are usually advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices and in local newspapers.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements. GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in English, maths and technology subjects are useful.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Vocational qualifications in construction are available in some schools and colleges. These provide an introduction to the industry and a foundation for further training. They include:

  • GCSE's in Construction and in Construction and the Built Environment.
  • ConstructionSkills Foundation Certificate in Building and Craft Occupations.
  • Scottish Progression Award/Skills for Work Award in Building Crafts.
  • BTEC Introductory Certificate and Diploma in Construction (Level 1).
  • BTEC First Certificate and Diploma in Construction (Level 2)
  • City & Guilds Certificate in Basic Construction Skills (Bricklaying).

Schools may be able to arrange work experience with a construction company so that students can find out what it is really like to work in the industry.

Entry to bricklaying work is typically through an Apprenticeship. In England and Wales there is a three-year Construction Apprenticeship Scheme (CAS). In Scotland, there is a four-year Scottish Building Apprenticeship Scheme, run by the Scottish Building Apprenticeship and Training Council (SBATC).

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Training is usually a combination of learning on the job and attendance at a college or training centre.

In England and Wales it is possible to begin training by taking a college course leading to a Construction Award. The awards are at three levels - foundation, intermediate and advanced. They are based wholly on college work rather than practical, on-site work. Training for a Construction Award, combined with work experience, can lead to an NVQ.

NVQs are available in Trowel Occupations at Levels 1 to 3, and Construction Operations at Level 2. In Scotland, there is an SVQ in Construction: Bricklaying at Level 3.

Unqualified bricklayers and those who have re-entered the industry after time away may work towards a qualification through ConstructionSkills' On-Site Assessment and Training (OSAT) programme or Experienced Worker Practical Assessment (EWPA) route. These programmes turn a worker's existing skills and experience into a nationally-recognised qualification such as an NVQ/SVQ.

Bricklayers working on all major construction sites need to have a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card. These are used in the construction industry to demonstrate that the card holder has been trained in health and safety and is competent in a particular occupation, or is working towards becoming competent.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Bricklayers need:

  • To be practical and good with their hands.
  • A head for heights.
  • To be able to plan their work carefully and accurately.
  • To be able to carry out various tasks quickly and in the right order.
  • To be aware of safety issues for themselves and for others.
  • To work well in a team.
  • To be able to follow detailed construction plans and drawings, and carry out spoken instructions.
  • To be fit and healthy.

Your Long Term Prospects

Some bricklayers progress to technician level and then into construction management. Many site managers at large building sites are qualified and experienced bricklayers.

There are opportunities to specialise in areas such as restoration and conservation. It is also possible to become an instructor in a training centre or further education college.

Some experienced bricklayers set up and run their own firms, employing other craftspeople.

Get Further Information

ConstructionSkills, Bircham Newton, King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577577
Websites: www.bconstructive.co.uk and www.cskills.org

Federation of Master Builders (FMB),
Gordon Fisher House, 14-15 Great James Street, London WC1N 3DP
Tel: 020 7242 7583
Website: www.fmb.org.uk

Scottish Building Apprenticeship & Training Council,
Carron Grange, Carrongrange Avenue, Stenhousemuir FK5 3BQ
Tel: 01324 555550
Website: www.sbatc.co.uk

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