If you have an apprentice bricklayer in your team, we say you’ve got someone pretty special and we want to see him complete his time and become a highly skilled, qualified tradesman.
You don’t need a Diploma in Human Resources to know that it is damn hard at the moment to attract young people into an apprenticeship in our colourful trade of bricklaying but we’re not alone. Motor trades, hairdressing and butchery trades, for example, have their own challenges. I believe a key reason is the breadth of choices on offer to today’s school leavers – it’s immense! It seems there’s a new training organisation opening every day offering kids a bright imaginable future if they just give them their time and lots of money – even if there’s really no job at the end!
But for every one apprentice we get through the trade training, we have to find two so it’s crucial to build the best relationship and hold onto the apprentice you have. In NSW for example, we have a 50% drop out rate. Why is that?
The most soul destroying reason we hear as to why a young person left his apprenticeship during training is because his boss gave him no time on the trowel.
Ok, before you groan and say it comes in time, let me say, yes I agree it’s important for an apprentice to push a wheel barrow, mix mud and set-up scaffolding. If an apprentice doesn’t know how to do these tasks, how can he show a labourer or trades’ assistant how the product should be delivered in order that he can lay bricks most efficiently and the team gets the job done on time?
The apprentice has signed up as a bricklayer because he wants to lay bricks. Generation Z apprentices want to do something they perceive as valuable; they’re grown up to be responsible and they have high expectations of their boss and the job. So, what in 2015 is the acceptable amount of time to be a ‘brickies labourer’ before having a trowel in the hand and feeling productive? Now before you say “In my day I laboured for 12 months before laying a brick”, let me tell you that these are their training and developmental days and your days are over. The master must accommodate the experiences of the student for it to be a good relationship.
If you hold that an apprentice should do a year’s labouring before laying a brick, can I ask how clearly you conveyed that to the apprentice before you employed him?
Sadly, I’ve witnessed firsthand in a TAFE in NSW, not long ago, Stage 3 (3rd Year) apprentices that just can’t lay bricks because they’ve been a labourer for three years and they only get trowel time at TAFE! Who is to blame for that?
One way to grow the business might be to hire a 1st Year, a 2nd, a 3rd and a 4th Year. This builds a hierarchy of skills and unity so that the owner of the business passing on his skills can feel confident that his guys are trained. He can start working on the business instead of in it.
Now you might say that all your work is veneer face work and you can’t afford to pull a brick off the wall after it’s been laid and re lay it, but what about the front fence or the course below the dampcourse? Just spreading beds most of the time gives an apprentice the feeling of accomplishment. It’s not too big an ask!
There is some great advice on how to get the best out of your Apprentice, at the ABBTF website. Checklist of Bricklayer Employer Responsibilities to his Apprentice.
I welcome your feedback on my thoughts.
ABBTF NSW Manager