Last month there was a bricklaying competition held in Sao Paulo, Brazil called the WorldSkills Americas competition to which I was fortunate in obtaining an invite to, because of my role as Chief Expert with the international WorldSkills competitions.
It was held at the same time as the Brazil national WorldSkills competition, so it was a very large event comparable in size to an international WorldSkills competition. Competing in the Americas was Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia.
It was only the second time this competition has been held and there has been good growth in participation. There were many teachers present and it was a good chance to look at their laying methods and methods of instruction.
The most striking aspect of their training is how narrow but deep they go into the training. For instance the bricklaying students learn a lot about the sciences such as thermal ceramics and a lot of theoretically based learning. This is in contrast to many other countries (such as Australia) where apprentices have a broader skill base more focussed on what they can do with the trowel in hand, adding worth to their employability.
A striking difference in their techniques was that they build walls but do not maintain full joints, so they spent just as much time filling the joints as they do laying the bricks. Apart from the messiness associated with filling the joints, it is also structurally weaker to construct brickwork this way.
In some countries, these methods are employed due to the substandard materials, particularly mortars, but in Brazil the mortar was very good so I spent a fair bit of time with the teachers and students there to share a few tricks in maintaining full joints and hopefully positively affecting their efficiencies. All the teachers and students I met there were outstanding people and it was quite a humbling experience to hopefully provide some input and different methods that will assist them in their training and eventually affect the bricklaying industry in their country. I also learned a lot from what they showed me as well.
Bricklaying Chief Category Expert, WorldSkills; A/Head Teacher – Civil Engineering, Surveying and Mapping, TAFE NSW – Illawarra Institute, Wollongong Campus