Is bricklaying a dying trade?
With all these new modern construction materials invented, a question we often see pop up is whether bricklaying is a dying trade? So I wanted to take a look at what people are saying about it.
The bricklaying trade is not dying and is in high demand. The bricklaying industry overall has an ageing workforce, and bricklayers are getting harder to source. This provides a great opportunity for younger generations to step up to a career with strong earning potential.
To learn more about the state of the bricklaying industry, keep reading!
Is there a demand for bricklayers?
In Australia there is a demand for bricklayers in most part of the country.
People just love bricks. They not only look great, but are strong, age well, have thermal qualities and are extremely low maintenance. While brick colours come and go, bricks as a material have stood the test of time.
According to Transparency Market Research, the global concrete block and brick manufacturing stood around 2100 billion units in 2018. They anticipate it to expand at a compound annual growth of more than 3% from 2019 to 2027. This is despite all these new cladding materials continuously coming onto the market.
From a very young age, our kids are told that a brick house is best. We all know that the little pig who built his house of bricks was the smartest of the three little pigs! And there really is truth in this…
You can find masonry structures across the globe that are hundreds if not thousands of years old. I wonder how many of these new claddings will outperform bricks in the test of time?
I believe the role of the bricklayer will continue to stand the test of time as it has done for thousands of years.
Is there a bricklayer shortage?
Even though the demand for bricklayers is high, there is a skill shortage across Australia. Employers are finding it hard to find apprentices to fill positions.
For this reason, bricklaying and plenty of other trades are on the Immigration Medium and Long Term Strategic Skills List. Bricklayers from around the globe are flocking to Australia to do the work as our own youth are not recognising or taking up the opportunities.
So what’s going on here?
Society pushing youth into university to achieve success
There used to be a perception that the most lucrative careers stem from getting a University degree. Short term pain for long term gain. You study for a few years at your own cost, but expect a easier job and higher wage for your working life.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, graduate oversupply occurs across a range of fields like law, journalism, marketing, pharmacy, dentistry and medicine, to name a few.
So students choosing to spend years of their life and pay tens of thousands of dollars for university degrees that offer a poor return. Where they could instead, do a paid apprenticeship with a guaranteed job on completion.
This means that in many cases the situation has been turned on it’s head. Tradesmen in Australia are renown for earning a good income, and in some cases an exceptional income. Bricklayers and other trades people are in many cases are having the last laugh. Many are overtaking Australia’s white collar professionals in earning power.
Bricklaying is hard work
Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that bricklaying is hard work. Young people are wanting careers with less physically demanding work. A climate controlled office is more appealing than dealing with Australia’s hot summers, and in some areas of Australia, bitterly cold winters. But by doing this is that they may be limiting their own career potential.
But while a bricklaying job is physically straining, those in the industry have less competition for the good jobs. Housing Industry Association executive director John Gelavis says that bricklaying as a career provides some of the best opportunities of all trades. Bricklayers can take advantage of the perks that comes with a trade being in high demand with short supply of workers.
While there is no denying that bricklaying is hard, it is easier now than it has ever been before. Brick elevators to move bricks up to the second storey as well as hydraulic lifting scaffold. Telehandlers and forklifts to move bricks around the worksite, and of course, your trusty powered cement mixer. These inventions have removed their fair share of back-breaking work out of the trade.
How is the worker shortage effecting the bricklaying industry?
Situations where employers are not able to find skilled workers definitely has flow on effects.
A shortage of bricklayers is pushing wages higher. This raises the cost price of the service which increasing construction costs to builders which is also passed onto customers.
A bricklayer shortage can lead to serious consequences including construction delays, increased costs to the housing and development market and a reduction in the quality of the bricklaying work being completed.
There is also an issue with an ageing workforce in bricklaying. According to the Australian Brick & Blocklaying Training Foundation (ABBTF), more than half of the practising bricklayers are over 40 years old and of these a significant portion are over 50 years old.
If not enough of the young generation step up before they retire, this will hurt the industry. If the older generation have no one to pass their knowledge onto, this will effect the quality of the trade for the long term. As more bricklayers are looking to retire, and the void of skilled bricklayers will continue to widen.
Is modern cladding a threat to the bricklaying industry?
Cladding does have an effect on the industry. It is competition in the field.
With bricklaying, both the labour and the supply costs are more expensive than most cladding products. Combine that with construction delays due to limited bricklayers, it is tempting to build without bricks at all. While less durable, these claddings are often cheaper than paying to the premium price for bricks and bricklayers.
But time and time again, cladding is outperformed by bricks. So many other materials require maintenance every few years. Take wood for example, it’s only going to look good outdoors for a while before it needs resanding and refinishing. Some claddings are more likely to crack with slight earth movement. Not to mention the damage to the reputation of the construction industry when the polystyrene (EPS) cladding on apartment blocks has caught on fire around the world.
The strongest point for bricks is that they remain highly fashionable, and there is demand for them. While it may be cheaper for the builder to use a cladding, ultimately because of the reputation and quality bricks will endure.
Will Robot Bricklayer’s Destroy the Industry?
There is not doubt that robot bricklaying machines are going to play an ever increasing role in the bricklaying industry. And it is already starting here in Australia. Brickworks, has signed up with West Australian startup Fast Brick Robotics (FBR) to test the Hadrian X bricklaying machine.
And the capability of this machine is huge. In one hour it can lay what a human bricklayer would lay in two days. But there is a catch. It is laying a straight wall.
And then there is Sam. This stands for Semi-Automated Mason, the Bricklaying Robot from Construction Robotics.
Robot bricklayers are an expensive commodity – you’re looking at around $400,000 each and there are not many available. So it is unlikely that your regular builder is going to have a robot brickie come and doing a single free standing house.
But are Robot Bricklayers the death of the industry? Probably not. As Jeff Buczkiewicz, president of the Mason Contractors Association of America said “There’s a human element to a craft that you don’t get from a robot.”
These bricklaying robots don’t know how to do corners or read plans. Sam the robot works alongside bricklayers. They are there setting him up, striking the joints and quality checking the wall and filling him up with the bricks he has to lay.
While bricklaying robots are unlikely to be the death of the trade. They are likely to shape the trade, especially in large commercial developments. And considering the shortage of skilled workers, Mr Buczkiewicz says it may actually help ease some of the pressures within the industry.
If you don’t want to sit inside for the rest of your life, bricklaying is a solid career choice. Bricklayers can take advantage of the perks that comes with a trade being in high demand with short supply of workers. It is a well paid trade with plenty of opportunities to make a good living.
The HIA Trades Report for September 2019 says there is a bricklayer shortage. Demand in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane exceeds availability. But in Perth, the construction sector is not completely recovered and there not shortages there. Bricklaying is on the Australian Government’s Immigration Medium and Long Term Strategic Skills List. This means overseas bricklayers are able to migrate to Australia to address the shortage of bricklayers.
As a basic requirement bricklayers complete 3-4 year bricklaying apprenticeship before they are signed off as a qualified bricklayer. But the learning does not stop there. Good bricklayers continue to want to learn on the job from the older generations. Due to the demand for workers within the industry, bricklayers with a drive to learn and work hard, should have positive career opportunities.
To become an accredited bricklayer you need to complete a Certificate III in Bricklaying/Blocklaying (CPC30111) through a registered training facility. Physically bricklayers need to be fit and enjoy the outdoors. There is a shortage of bricklayers, so there are plenty of job opportunities for bricklayers who are prepared to work hard and have a drive to learn.
To become a bricklayer you need to sign up with a registered training facility. Once you successfully complete a Certificate III in Bricklaying/Blocklaying (CPC30111) you are signed off as a bricklayer.