It’s been boom times for WA brickies over the past two years but an entrenched shortage and an ageing workforce means new apprentices are highly sought after.

Experienced bricklayers can earn anything between $1.20 and $1.80 per brick, with some able to pocket $2 — double the rate being offered in 2012.

With a record number of new homes started in WA last year, the housing boom is expected to carry into at least 2016, making the need for new blood paramount.

Industry insiders say young, qualified bricklayers will have the world at their feet because more than 8000 workers are expected to leave the trade in the next decade. And women could become the key to filling some of the gaps.

Despite employing 260 new apprentices since June 2012, the Australian Brick and Blocklaying Training Foundation (ABBTF) still has 80 vacancies to fill. WA manager Dean Pearson said there was no better time to become a brickie – and young women were especially welcome.

“We’ve had some absolute gems come through the training system, ” Mr Pearson said. “Young ladies tend to have a better eye and an appreciation for artistic value. In terms of strength, it’s a fallacy to say women can’t engage in the trade. It takes a while for any brickie to build strength and skill.”

Mr Pearson said the industry was losing its macho image and bricklayers were more professional than ever, wearing high-visibility clothing and protective equipment.

“The housing industry is pretty much able to guarantee an apprenticeship to anyone who is willing to work hard, ” he said. “It’s buoyant and statistics from the Housing Industry Association and Master Builders show there’s plenty of room for more growth.”

Mr Pearson said training institutes and registered training organisations, along with companies such as the ABN Group, were offering good apprenticeship programs. There was $21,000 up for grabs for each newly qualified apprentice through Federal Government grants and ABBTF subsidies, among others.

“The average age of brickies was 45 until just a little while ago. That’s come down a bit but many of those guys will be looking to retire, ” he said.

“Beyond the apprenticeship, there’s a great future and good lifestyle on offer. For people with drive and passion, they can become their own boss. We need a new generation of committed workers who want to push themselves.”

Home Group WA construction operations manager Stacey Rimene said bricklayers were paid according to their skills, and well-trained women earned the same as men.

“It’s an option for women, especially those with families because the early finish means you can still pick up your kids from school and spend time with them, ” Ms Rimene said. “I was a single parent working as a bricklayer for six years and it worked well.”

Emma Burgess took up bricklaying when she realised the FIFO lifestyle of the mining industry was no longer for her.

The 27-year-old prefers working with her hands outdoors, so bricklaying was a natural fit. She was named the ABBTF’s bricklaying apprentice of the year and hopes to build her own business.

“I’m not the biggest of girls but I like the physical aspect of the work and everyone comes in different shapes and sizes, ” she said.

“There’s definitely some money to be made and you never stop learning.”


© The West Australian

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