Career Spotlight : Bricklayer
Bricklayers build the interior and exterior walls of buildings, as well as other types of walls, such as the linings of tunnels. They also repair existing walls and refurbish old buildings.
Bricklayers use different grades of standard and special bricks. They also use materials such as firebricks, blocks and patterned blocks for work such as ornamental walls or archways.
Building a wall is a skilled job. On larger sites, designers and engineers set out the positioning of the walls. The bricklayer's job is then to:
- 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 normally brought to the bricklayer by a labourer or operative, who also mixes the mortar. However, 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.
- All bricklayers need to be able to follow detailed plans and drawings showing how a building is to be constructed.
Hours and environment
The usual working week is 39 hours, Monday to Friday, but times can vary to make the most of daylight hours or 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, as well as in noisy, dusty, dirty or wet areas. A lot of building work takes place at high levels so they need to climb ladders and work from scaffolding.
The work involves a lot of standing, kneeling and movement, often using heavy tools or carrying loads of bricks and mortar. Bricklayers wear safety helmets and boots. They may wear gloves, goggles or ear defenders on some jobs.
As construction projects start and finish, bricklayers travel from site to site, working on one job and then moving on to the next. This may involve working away from home. A driving licence is useful.
Salary and other benefits
These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.
The standard hourly rate for qualified craftspeople, with NVQ/SVQ Level 3, is £9.25 (£9.00 in Scotland). With NVQ Level 2, the standard hourly rate is £7.95 (this does not apply in Scotland, where Level 2 is not a recognised qualification).
- A bricklayer with NVQ Level 2 may earn just over £16,000.
- With NVQ/SVQ Level 3, earnings may be over £18,000.
- With experience, it is possible to earn around £25,000 a year.
There may also be bonuses and overtime pay.
Self-employed bricklayers negotiate their own rates.
Skills and personal qualities
- to be fit and healthy
- practical ability, especially hand skills
- a head for heights
- careful, methodical and accurate planning skills
- to be able to carry out various tasks quickly and in the right order
- awareness of safety - their own and other people's
- to work well in a team
- an aptitude for maths - essential for understanding drawings and plans
- to be able to carry out written or spoken instructions.
There are 145,500 bricklayers in the UK, and numbers have increased in recent years. Plans for major new construction projects - such as venues for the 2012 Olympics - mean that the demand for bricklayers is expected to remain strong.
Bricklayers are needed for new construction work and to carry out maintenance and repair on buildings. They may work for:
- building or mechanical engineering services contractors
- public sector bodies such as local authorities
- specialist contractors in the marine, chemical and gas industries
- contractors abroad
- private householders.
- Entry for young people
There are no set entry requirements. GCSEs/S grades in maths, English and technology subjects are useful for further training and for aspects of the job that involve measurements and calculations.
Vocational qualifications in construction are available in some schools and colleges, providing an introduction to the industry and a foundation for further training. They include:
- GCSE in Construction and the Built Environment
- CITB-ConstructionSkills Foundation Certificate in Building Craft Occupations
- Scottish Progression Award/Skills for Work Award in Building Crafts
- BTEC Introductory Certificate and Diploma in Construction
- BTEC First Diploma in Construction
- City & Guilds Vocational Award in Basic Skills in Construction: Bricklaying (6211).
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.
Apprenticeships are the usual route in, although it is also possible to train by doing college courses (this is not applicable in Scotland).
Apprenticeships which may be available in England are Young Apprenticeships, Pre-Apprenticeships, Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships. To find out which one is most appropriate log onto www.apprenticeships.org.uk
It is important to bear in mind that pay rates for Apprenticeships do vary from area to area and between industry sectors.
Training usually involves a combination of on-the-job experience and attendance at a college or a training centre.
In England and Wales, there is a three-year Construction Apprenticeship Scheme. In Scotland, there is a four-year Scottish Building Apprenticeship Scheme, run by the Scottish Building Apprenticeship & Training Council.
It is possible to begin training by taking a college course leading to a Construction Award (in England and Wales). The awards are at three levels: Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced. They are based fully on college work, and do not involve practical work on site. Training for a Construction Award, combined with work experience, can lead to an NVQ.
NVQs in Trowel Occupations are available at Levels 1 to 3, and in Scotland there is an SVQ in Construction: Bricklaying at Level 3.
Bricklayers working on construction sites need to have a CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) 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.