“People just see the bricks stacked on top of each other. People ask how can you compete in bricklaying - but if we’re out a millimetre we loose marks! To lay bricks to the millimetre is very challenging.” Says Nigel. “It takes a lot of practice. It’s taken me three years to get it right. I have a few tricks to get it right.”
Nigel explains just what’s involved in Bricklaying. He arrives at work at 7am, sets up the profile and gauge, so he knows where to lay bricks go to. Then he lays bricks. At smoko, he reassesses the site, sets up all over again, or sets up a scaffold for the next stage. “Then we tidy up, clean up worksite for OH and S, and knock off at 3.30.”
Nigel always knew he enjoyed working outside. At school, he’d done part time work for a builder a few days a week, when his uncle lined him up for some part time work with a local builder. “At the end of the year he offered me an apprenticeship.”
“When you start of apprenticeship you mix mud …then you lay bricks. Then you set up profiles, do windowsills, do fancy brickwork, till they think to can do everything a brickies does.” It’s three years as an apprentice, studying at an RTO, and another one year on the job.
Nigel heard about Worldskills, as the TAFE he attended in Bathurst made it compulsory to attend the regional Worldkskills.
Surprisingly, for training, Nigel headed to a training camp in Wollongong. “We went to a training camp – the whole NSW [Worldskills] team. Went to Wollongong for a training camp for two days.”
He practiced all the fiddly brickwork, and herringbone panels, as they were told that was a surprise element.
“There were 5 bricklayers, and 25 about other kids from other trades like painters, butchers, electricians. All the camps were spread out. Every competitor at Worldskills had a training camp.”
Nigel won Gold at Worldskills, and could beheading with the Skillaroos to the International Competition in Calgary, Canada. “They’re choosing the team in a month’s time.”
If he’s heading to the competition, he’s already worked out a training schedule.
“We’d be starting training one day a fortnight, then when it gets closer then it’ll be once a week” says Nigel with plans to have training up to three or four times a week closer to the competition.
He’ll work on fancy brickwork, he says, but more specifically, he’ll work on what’s defined as a weakness in his bricklaying from the National Competition. “We’ll have a look at the results and work out areas in which I lost marks in and do work on it. For example if my arches lost marks, we’d work on that.”
“I’m hoping to win gold in Calgary – actually, just a medal would be big achievement. After Worldskills, I’d like to start my own business, start off by myself, then put on some apprentices and teach em what I know over the years.”
Nigel shares the challenges involved in the work: “Arches, curved walls, decorative brickwork, water features - fiddly bits like that. It challenges you. I’m qualified in paving as well.”
“In certain arches there’s a lot of maths and technical drawing. I did tech drawing in school - I thought I’d never use it again! [At TAFE,] one day every three weeks is dedicated to technical drawing. There’s so much detail in the arches and other brickwork. We need to be able to read plans – we need to lay walls to certain position and drawing helps us to read plans.”
But in the end, Nigel is just suited to Bricklaying. “I just enjoy being outdoors, I love the outdoors, out in the fresh air. And the hours are good 7am till 3.30, so you knock off nice and early!”
What personal qualities are needed for the job?
Good social skills – communication’s a big thing in bricklaying- be physically fit – as it’s physically demanding, you’re always on the go, and have the will to work. If you got the will to work and learn and listen, and listen to elders, you’ll get a lot from the job.
Advice for people entering the industry?
Yeah - Go for it . Don’t hesitate. Think about if you like outdoors, and physical work. Take every opportunity that comes your way - like Worldskills. It’s definitely worth doing!