The Crime of No, or Delaying Trowel Time

Monopoly Jail Image BannerIf 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.


John White


5 Responses to “The Crime of No, or Delaying Trowel Time”

  1. Sheldon Hutchin

    The trouble these days are these play station young blokes don’t know nor understand hard work. They want it all given to them on a platter but won’t or can’t work to achieve it.
    I am a firm believer in trowel time as the sooner they can lay bricks the sooner they cover their costs.
    I recently met a young bloke that was working for another Bricky but wasn’t happy so came to see me for work, anyway turns out after 12 months of being paid wages and tool allowance the only tools the kid had was a trowel and a $40k hilux.
    These kids need to take responsibility and prove they want the job by applying themselves and getting in front so we can teach them this wonderful trade.
    Finding honest hard working young blokes is impossible, and I won’t be starting anymore apprentices for them to quit shortly after.

    • John White

      Hi Sheldon
      Thank you for your response on the time of no trowel time. I hear you and I hear you loud and clear. I wish I could tell you that we have solved the issue of the play station playing want everything now generation and have turned their heads around instantly but that is not the case.
      Young men and women like we had to, have to learn by their own mistakes. Trouble is no one explained supply and demand. EG: If everyone has a University degree then a university degree is worth significantly less. Same reason that Porsche doesn’t mass produce cars.
      The tide is turning although slowly. We have to get these kids to realise when they are laying bricks that it is an excellent fraternity they have joined that has a tradition going back 1000’s of years.
      The point of my article was that when you actually get a kid that has the vision to enter the trade it breaks our heart when a boss treats him like a labourer and does not wish to teach him.
      I should say I am not a tradesman. But the bricklaying trade has put food on my table for 25 years and I would like to see it do so for at least another 15.
      I would really like to have a conversation with you when you have a chance and get your opinion on what is the best way to attract more young folk to our cause.
      Please feel free to ring me on 0400 579 002
      Regards, John White

  2. Robb Evans

    It is hard these days to try to attract younger guys to pick up a trowel or even come and labour. They all want top dollar but dont want to work hard for it.

    In my apprenticeship i laboured for over a year and only really picked up a trowel up towards the end of my second year. I do believe they need to know how to mix mud, set scaffold and load up properly but also have adequate trowel time, its hard to find the correct balance when you are flat out trying to get jobs done. You want them to learn but you need to be making money but you cant treat them as labourers as they are signed up as an apprentice bricklayer.

    I currently have my brother working for me as a 3rd year apprentice. He is the most valuable asset my company has as i have taught him everything i know. I try and take the time to let him set up the jobs and i double check over his work. He may be slow at the moment but he lays a nice brick and speed comes with experience.

    Once he is qualified i will be looking for another hard working apprentice so my brother can step up and teach him what he knows.

    • BAB

      Hi Robb,
      Thanks for your feedback, we couldn’t agree more. Let us know when you are looking for another apprentice as we may be able to offer you a candidate from one of our Work Ready Programs.


Leave a Reply

Interested in trying Bricklaying? Then please contact us on 1300 66 44 96