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BBC Three's Brickies: 'I earn more bricklaying than my friends who went to uni'

Bricklaying is sometimes seen as a “man’s job” or menial work according to some in the trade. But these young brickies are proud of their career, and want to change the negative perceptions

Thea de Gallier
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They’re a vital workforce who build and maintain the homes, workplaces and public buildings we use every day, but what is life like for Britain’s bricklayers?

A new BBC Three series, Brickies, follows several young bricklayers as they go from job to job, travelling the country to work on building sites under the watchful eye of the site foreman.

Business owner Ian Hodgkinson, who runs a property developer and contractor firm in Derby, hopes the programme will help change the perception of brickies and construction.

“There is a preconception that [bricklaying] is only for men and it’s a dirty job and low-skilled,” he says. “We’ve got to work harder to ensure the whole industry is working to combat the stereotype. We need to alter the preconceptions of schoolteachers and parents, so they can encourage people into this trade. The opportunities are immense.”

According to a report by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), there has been a slight decrease in workers from the EU since immigration rules changed after Brexit, and initiatives like more training schemes to get UK workers into construction are planned.

So, how do you actually become a bricklayer? And is the money any good?

'I went to work with my dad one day and never stopped'

Apprentice Lucas, 21, who works with Ian, says he didn’t have much support from his school when he realised he didn’t want to go to university.

“If you say you want to do bricklaying in school, it’s kind of frowned upon. My mum wanted to push me more down the university route,” he says.

Jeorgia, 23, whose dad is also a bricklayer – the pair now work together – felt similarly.

“I wasn’t exactly the best at school, and I didn’t do great in exams. It just really wasn’t for me,” she says.

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Apprentice Lucas (right)

“I left school and didn’t really know where I was going to go in life. I like doing physical things. My dad and friends were really supportive. I started going to college to do my apprenticeship in 2017. It’s like I went to work with my dad, and never stopped!”

Apprenticeships are one way into the industry. Last year, the CITB launched a pilot traineeship at Hartlepool College, and told the BBC it plans to "scale up the delivery" of the course, as well as offering other courses in decorating, carpentry and joinery. "Our aim is to get 8,000 learners through a construction traineeship by 2025," a spokesperson said. 

In the 2021 budget, an extra £126 million was announced for training and apprenticeships, and firms taking on apprentices can apply for a £3,000 incentive payment. The 2022 Spring Statement reiterated the government’s plans to support businesses to offer training and improve the flexibility of existing schemes.

From 2019-20, 322,500 people started an apprenticeship, and 53% of those were aged 16-24. But just 7% of all apprenticeships were in the building and construction sector.

As for other routes, the government careers website suggests looking for work as a labourer on a building site and learning on the job. You wouldn’t be qualified to lay bricks straight away, and you’ll need to do at least a health and safety course if you want to join the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) - an optional registry of qualified construction workers.

“Once you’ve got a CSCS card, it’s like a licence to be on site. It’s an hour’s course, then you can start working and earning and seeing how other people on site work,” says Jeorgia.

Only 2% of bricklayers are women

Brickies Jeorgia and Molly, who also appears in the show, are two of a small number of female bricklayers in England. Analysis of workforce data shows that women make up just 12.8% of workers in the construction industry, and that figure is even smaller when you look only at bricklayers. Research by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), an organisation that works to improve and promote the practices of the construction industry, suggested that only 2% of the construction industry’s female workforce worked on-site. Black, minority ethnic and disabled employees both made up just 6% of the workforce.

“It was a bit scary at first to be the only woman,” says Jeorgia. “But you have to not care. Just have the confidence that you want to do it, and people start respecting you. People realise you’re there to do the task and work hard.”

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Jeorgia and Molly

“People might think it’s just for big burly men, but these days there are forklifts and machinery to do the manual handling, so it isn’t just for men of a certain stature,” Ian adds. “Anyone can now work in the building trade… we want to make sure everyone’s accommodated.”

"We are taking big steps to attract a more diverse group of applicants including women, into construction," a CITB spokesperson said.

“We have recently part-funded a flexible working pilot, aiming to address the lack of flexible working onsite, which we know can be a barrier to anyone working in construction who has caring responsibilities.

“We have also funded the Fairness, Inclusion and Respect initiative which aims to make workplaces more inclusive for all.

The money

According to the government careers website, bricklayers can expect to earn anything between £17,000 and £40,000 depending on their level of training and experience.

“We have people who’ve been qualified two or three years, in their mid twenties, with the earning capacity of around £1,000 to £1,500 per week,” says Ian.

Jeorgia says that a lot of bricklayers are self-employed and negotiate their rates rather than working for a company.

“We do price work, meaning we get paid per brick,” she says, meaning that their rates depend on the amount of bricks laid.

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Jeorgia and dad Merv

As for finding work, it can be as simple as asking for it. “If you see a construction site, you can literally just pop in and see if they need any bricklayers,” says Jeorgia. “After a few years, you know people and people ring you about jobs. It’s a lot of word of mouth. It’s a really small world once you work in it.”

'People go to uni and still struggle to find a job'

While Jeorgia felt supported by her school to go into bricklaying, Lucas felt pushed towards the university route – but he’s glad he didn’t go.

“I like knowing I’ve achieved something at the end of the work day,” he says. “We’ve been on a site where we’ve just built four houses and when you take the scaffolding away and take a step back you think, ‘I built that’. It’s a great feeling to have.”

Jeorgia feels similarly.

“A lot of people I know have been to uni and got the qualifications but are still struggling to find a job, and are in debt,” she says. “People think going to uni means you’ll do well, but I’m already earning good money. I can do less than 35 hours a week and earn twelve hundred quid [per week].” According to a trade website, bricklayers typically charge between £700-£1200 per 1000 bricks laid, and can usually lay around 500 in a day.

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Being self-employed means that your work may be more sporadic than someone on a permanent, full-time contract, but if Jeorgia were to consistently earn £1200 per week, this would be equivalent to a pre-tax full time salary of around £62,000. In reality, this could fluctuate depending on how many weeks of the year she works.

The median graduate salary in 2021 was £30,500, according to research from the Institute of Student Employers. Earlier research by the Department for Education suggested the average non-graduate salary was £24,000.

There is also potential to progress as a bricklayer.

“I was looking at becoming a site manager but it’s a lot of stress, so I’m thinking about engineering instead,” Jeorgia says. “When you’re on site you have so many opportunities to ask questions – everyone is willing to help you get onto the next step you want to do. I could do another apprenticeship in engineering and get paid while I learn.”

Brickies is on BBC Three at 9pm on 14 April and on BBC iPlayer