We all know the challenges of getting through a bricklaying apprenticeship in NSW, especially living in the most expensive city in the country namely Sydney.
The Award wage for apprentices is a national Award and trying to stretch apprenticeship pay in an expensive environment is particularly difficult despite the incentives. First year out of school you need to get up in the morning earlier than you ever have and physically, you’re working much harder than you ever thought you would or could.
Imagine for one minute that you are adding the following circumstances:
- You have been born into a war-torn country amidst one of the most brutal civil wars in history.
- You have witnessed your father murdered in front of your eyes.
- You have been taken from your family and been forced to become a child soldier, made to carry a heavy weapon through the most arduous terrain, not knowing that at anytime, anywhere your next step might activate a deadly land mine planted there to kill you.
- You have been rescued by a loving uncle, smuggled over borders and eventually reached Australia, where you could not speak the language.
- Your mother and brothers have also been smuggled out of war-torn South Sudan but they are in the USA and you have no idea if you will ever see them again.
Now, finally, imagine that you are the ripe old age of 12 years old! Pretty hard start I think you’ll agree.
Arop Akok from Granville, 22 km west of Sydney does not have to imagine this, because this is his story. Arop came to Australia 10 years ago as a refugee. However, he had a lucky break at De La Salle Ashfield High School in Sydney where he was instantly popular as a cross-country runner. He won the first ever regional trophy at the school and he never even trained!
When he left school he tried to study construction but found the task a little too hard factoring that English was his second newly-learned language, so he set his sights on a Certificate III in Bricklaying/Blocklaying. This is the part where he breezed through that right? Not so. He faced all the difficulties that every apprentice faces, early mornings, tiredness and sadly a considerable amount of on-site racism. He changed employers once or twice but was lucky to find a mentor in Nick Humphreys from YC Industry Link. Together they formed a strong bond and it was this bond that saw Arop achieve his Certificate III earlier this year. Mentoring young apprentices isn’t easy as they have expectations different to employers.
In May Arop also went back to his old school Ashfield De La Salle to attend their career expo and posed with many of his old teachers telling them of his success. He also spoke to many students and parents telling them of his goal of going on to attain his Certificate IV in Building and Construction saying that after completing his bricklaying course he was confident of “smashing it!”
You would think that factoring his background that Arop would have a ‘poor me’ attitude still lingering on. Not the case. Arop has the most positive mental attitude and the brightest most infectious smile. All that meet him come away instantly charmed and feel it was a very special experience.
Arop is currently working as a sub-contractor for a bricklaying contractor in the residential housing market, but he is keen to start his own business. He has his ute and he’s come by a brick saw, so all he needs is a mixer and there will be no stopping him. Trent O’Sullivan, President of the Masonry Contractors of Australia donated the brick saw for which Arop was most grateful. Now all he needs is that mixer.
Arop is a realist, he says trouble is around everywhere if you look for it but he tends to look for the positive. He sees his future as bright! He wants to start his new business which will help him to reach his ultimate goal: to one day be with his mother and his brothers; to bring them all to his lucky new country will be his dream complete. He really is an amazing young man and at just 22 years old it seems bricklaying is the career start that will help him achieve his long term future freedom and happiness, we hope so.
And what does Arop think of apprentices? He says when he gets his first apprentice that he will make him Apprentice of the Year! And no one who has ever met Arop would ever doubt him!
ABBTF NSW Manager