Hodgkinson Builders are centre of The Sun on Sunday’s campaign to #builderbetterbritain
YOUNG brickies are laying the building blocks for their future thanks to brilliant apprenticeships -
But despite the huge paypackets on offer in the trade, it is currently facing a chronic shortage of workers.
The Sun on Sunday’s Builder Better Britain campaign has been launched to highlight how the industry can give youngsters like Jeorgie Percer and Lucas Robinson a vital, well-paid career.
Apprentice Lucas, 22, says he is doing his “dream job” after ignoring the school teachers who told him he must go to university.
The 22-year-old landed a place to study business at Nottingham Trent Uni but at the last minute decided to become a bricklayer.
Lucas, from Nottingham, told The Sun on Sunday: “I’d encourage anybody to become a bricklayer. You can show off your skills, earn good money, keep fit, be in the fresh air and have a laugh. What’s not to love?
“I have been doing it for two years and can already lay 300 to 400 bricks a day which, once I qualify in June, will be worth £200 a day.
“But throughout school I was discouraged from doing it by the teachers, even though there was a course there to do it. Therefore I didn’t even see it as an option for years and just focused on getting the grades and going to uni.”
Lucas, who is set to earn £1,000 a week when he qualifies in June, added: “At the last minute though I got cold feet. I realised it wasn’t for me. My dad is a bricklayer, he has mates in the business so he helped me get an apprenticeship — and thank God he did.
“University might be right for some people but I’m pleased I changed my mind. I live in my own place, work outside and love everything about bricklaying.
“On site we really are like one big massive family who laugh all day together. We are in the open air enjoying life. And I know I have a career for the future because we need bricklayers in this country.”
Jeorgia Percer is another brickie who loves her job and fought to get to where she is today despite being discouraged from the trade.
She said: “In the final year of school we were able to go to college a day a week to do either brick-laying, farming or hairdressing. I was told I was doing hairdressing.
“As a kid you don’t know what you want to do so someone should have sat me down and discussed the options available. One day I said to my dad, as a joke, I’d like to be a brickie. He rang a college and got me an apprenticeship.”
Now Jeorgia, 22, from Monmouth, Gwent, and dad Mervyn work together. The self-employed qualified brickie loves working outdoors, being her own boss and the workout that comes with her career.
She said: “On my college course there was only one other woman and I’ve only met two others on the job. But it is ace work.
“If I really grafted I could make £2,500 a week. You are problem-solving, using your brain, using muscles and having fun. I love being a brickie and would en-courage young girls to join up too.”
There are only 70,000 skilled bricklayers working in Britain today, despite the Government’s plan to build 300,000 new homes a year.
The lack of young recruits and apprentices means the Government has now said brickies, carpenters, plasterers, tilers and roofers are on the shortage occupation list.
Skills Minister Robert Halfon says £2.7billion is available to encourage businesses to offer more apprenticeships.
Yet things could be better. Bricklayer boss Ian Hodgkinson says the Government should simplify apprenticeship levies in order to make it easier for firms such as his to recruit.
Ian, 59, said: “I am proud to say that about a quarter of my team, both men and women, started as apprentices with me. But we pay the price for having app-rentices.”
The Apprenticeship Levy, introduced five years ago, is a tax on UK employers to fund apprenticeship training. Employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3million must pay it. There is also a CITB Levy, which is used to support construction employers to make sure industry has the skilled workforce it needs.
Ian, who runs Hodgkinson Builders in Derby, says: “The feedback I get from others in the industry is that the levies are just too complicated.
“We read that billions of Apprenticeship Levy funds are returned to the Government, and it’s not surprising.
“I pay the CITB Levy, which ends up being like a secondary tax. It’s complicated and difficult to ad-minister, particularly for smaller companies, and it is these smaller companies that require the most help with recruitment and apprentices.
“Reform and help in these areas would be most welcome. We need to make it easy for youngsters to get apprenticeships and for us to take them on.” He added: “The Government goes on about building 300,000 houses a year to keep up with demand but with fewer than 70,000 bricklayers in this country each one has got to build four houses each year. It is just not going to happen.
“I am pleased the Government has put bricklaying on the shortage occupation list because foreign workers will come back into the country and help with the situation we’ve got.”
Ian is so passionate about his trade that staff from his house-building and property developer company are starring in new BBC Three series Brickies, showing the banter, fallouts and friendships while building houses. He added: “Some of the junior staff that work for me can earn £1,000 a week. The more senior £2,500 a week.
“But since the Nineties we have had people like Tony Blair saying that the route to everything is by going to university, so you were made to believe that if you hadn’t gone to university you’d already failed. That is not the case at all, it’s rubbish.
“A building site is a fantastic place to work but you won’t catch many teachers encouraging students to go into bricklaying instead of spending three years at university. Obviously university is right for a lot of people, and we need youngsters going to uni, but they need to be told that there are other avenues too. And that is where apprenticeships come in.”
In a 2018 YouGov survey statistics showed that just 11 per cent of 15 to 18-year-olds are likely to be encouraged towards an apprenticeship rather than further education at a uni. And 73 per cent of students claimed the most likely recommendation made to them by their school or college would be to take a university route.
Yet those who do go on apprenticeship schemes have a good chance of a reliable future. One study found that 85 per cent of apprentices stay in employment, and 64 per cent of these continue working with the same employer.
In Leeds, bricklayer Stuart Nicklin has struggled to recruit apprentices. One job advert led to just three applicants.
Stuart, 52, said: “Instead of going to uni and coming out with debt they could be laying bricks, cutting wood, learning a craft on the job and earning good money.
“The academic pipeline teachers are trying to push the youth of today down is not for every child.
“I understand the Government recruiting from abroad but I have found there’s often a language barrier and we don’t know what type of training they have. Then you have the fear that homes that we desperately need built are not being built as well as they were.”