Brick/Precast/Concrete/Refractory Plant Operative

The Job and What's Involved

Brick, precast concrete and refractory plant operatives work in the production of the following materials:

  • Bricks, blocks, tiles, street furniture, such as signage and lamp columns and benches, concrete floors, bridge sections and cladding for buildings.
  • Manufactured concrete, of which there are two types: ready-mixed concrete (concrete in its plastic state); and precast concrete (hardened concrete units, cast and cured at a factory and then transported to a work site), such as bridge sections, kerbstones, wind turbines and protective barriers.
  • Refractories, which are heat-resistant materials that are used to line furnaces, boilers, kilns, stills and reactors and other processing units. They are used in high-temperature applications and other severe environments. These materials are supplied in both shaped and loose form. Specialist firms are used to install the linings.

Raw materials are delivered to brick, precast concrete and refractory plants and discharged into stores or silos. Individual operative jobs vary, but many are largely concerned with operating machinery. Jobs include one or more of the following:

Crushing - crushing of some raw materials, such as clay for bricks and refractories. Operatives load the materials into a crushing machine and then operate the machine before discharging the crushed material into hoppers.

Batching - combining raw materials in the right proportions and loading them into a mixer. Operatives usually do this by operating computer-controlled machinery from a control room. They also operate the mixing machines.

Moulding - bricks are formed using moulds and this is usually done by machinery operated by plant operatives. Operatives use machinery to stack pressed bricks on to kiln cars before firing. Some bricks are hand made and, after firing, are sorted by hand into grades and colours.

Kiln operation - in brick manufacture, operatives use machinery to load the raw materials into a kiln for them to be subjected to intense heat, and then use equipment to load the bricks into packs for despatching to customers.

Making precast concrete - operatives set up formwork (moulds), which, in the case of large precast items, may include steel reinforcement. They pour concrete into the formwork. When the concrete has set they use lift trucks and cranes to transport the finished items to a storage area.

Quality checking - e.g. checking that bricks are of the right size, colour and quality.

Packing - filling bags with finished products, such as refractory material. In some instances, packing is highly automated.

Delivery - with bricks and precast concrete items, operatives use a lift truck or crane to load their products. When they reach the delivery site, they use a crane to unload the goods. Drivers also deal with delivery paperwork.

Housekeeping - being responsible for keeping work areas as clean as possible to reduce the risk of accidents.

Plant operatives may operate a range of machinery and electrical process and control equipment, and may also use lift trucks and small tools.

There are no standard hours of work, but many operatives work a basic 38 to 40-hour week. Some operatives work shifts and can be on call. Others work 8.00 am to 4.00 pm, Monday to Friday. Overtime is common.

Working conditions vary between jobs. Some work takes place in comfortable control rooms. Other jobs can be more physical, but most lifting is done by machinery. Conditions can be potentially dusty, although dust control systems are used. Working conditions can be hot near kilns and drying machines and cold when working outside, e.g. when storing precast concrete items. Care has to be taken with wet concrete, which can cause skin burns. Some jobs involve working at heights.

Operatives wear protective equipment, including safety boots, hard hats, goggles, high-visibility jackets and sometimes masks. With precast concrete, drivers travel locally, as most deliveries tend to be no more than a few miles away.

Entrants to the job usually earn around £13,000 a year. Experienced operatives may earn over £20,000 a year.

Some employers operate a profit-related bonus scheme.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are about 80 brick factories in the UK, with three major employers and some small firms. The number of operatives in the brick industry has decreased in the past few years.

There are around 850 precast concrete manufacturers throughout the UK, with some concentration in the East Midlands. Although there are some major employers, many firms are very small. There are four cement manufacturers in the UK, operating 15 major plants.

The concrete industry has undergone rationalisation and increased automation in recent years.

There are around 15 refractory manufacturers in the UK, concentrated around the Sheffield area. The number of people employed in the industry has been decreasing.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, Construction News, Jobcentre Plus offices and in Connexions Centres.

Education and Training

There are no set entry qualifications though applicants need basic literacy skills. Some GCSE's, particularly in English and maths, can be useful for those wishing to progress to supervisory grades. The Diploma in construction and the built environment would be useful for progression in this industry and apprenticeships may be available.

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.

Applicants may be asked to take numeracy and general intelligence tests and undergo a medical, to make sure they are fit enough to perform the job. Some jobs will require entrants to have normal colour vision as they need to check the colour of a product.

Operatives can be accepted on leaving school, but cannot drive a lift truck unsupervised before they are 18 years old.

There is no upper age limit for entry to this work. Experience of lift truck driving can be helpful.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

When they start work, entrants receive induction training, which usually includes learning about the company, health and safety, staff welfare and their conditions of employment.

They learn the job under the supervision of an experienced worker. They may also be trained in lift truck driving.

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You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A brick/precast concrete/refractory plant operative should:

  • Be able to work accurately.
  • Be health and safety conscious.
  • Have common sense.
  • Be reliable.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be able to work on their own initiative.
  • Be able to follow instructions.
  • Work well in a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion may be to a supervisory post, such as team leader, then to production manager.

It may be possible to transfer to other work in the manufacturing or construction sectors.

Get Further Information

British Precast,
60 Charles Street, Leicester LE1 1FB
Tel: 0116 253 6161
Website: www.britishprecast.org

The Concrete Centre, Riverside House,
4 Meadows Business Park, Station Approach, Blackwater, Camberley GU17 9AB
Tel: 01276 606800
Website: www.concretecentre.com

Proskills UK, Centurion Court,
85b Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 833844
Website: www.proskills.co.uk

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