Brendan, how did you get started in your career?
My first job was at 13 and I started my apprenticeship at 15
I started my apprenticeship at the age of 15. I’d actually done some work earlier with my dad when I was 13 helping dad as a labourer and bricklaying. It was quite a big job over a couple of months. On my first day I was mixing mortar by hand and moving concrete blocks. It was old school, 12 inches long, 9 inches high, 4 inches wide solid block – 15kg in weight, with quite a few thousand blocks in the job. I was a small guy and pretty conscientious, I remember I first set out all the blocks and then the bricklayer said alright, we’re moving them from here..to..here by 10 metres. I was like what?? Anyway, I was quite meticulous with my calculations. Then he turned around and asked if I wanted a job…at 13!
I started my apprenticeship at 15 and finished at 19 years. I was working in Ireland with different contractors. In Ireland the equivalent of a TAFE was free versus in Australia you pay.
During my apprenticeship I worked with 3 different contractors
During my 4 year apprenticeship I worked with 3 different contractors. We were working on pretty big sites with between 20 – 100 bricklayers working in teams. We built up relationships and people would be saying “would you like to work with me”, and it was either a “nooooo….” or someone saying “the next job starts here so why don’t you work with him”.
As a young bloke it was amazing. I earned so much money and had travelled around the world by the age of 18, and had travelled to America 4-5 times, and Europe, Spain with 3 holidays a year.
However the downturn in Ireland led me to Australia. I was 21 at the time and things were changing in Ireland.
“Being a brickie and having a trade made it easier to travel with our trade.”
“It doesn’t matter what age you are, if you’ve always got a trade you’ve always got work”.
How do you see the Australian Market for brickies?
It’s steady right now and you could do 10 years in a row, NSW and VIC definitely. Queensland is busy vs less so in TAS, SA and WA. When I first came to Australia at 21-22 they were screaming out for qualified brickies. I was working for a Contractor and labour for hire. Again I made a lot of money.
However there are times when you have huge Money vs No Money
There are times when it’s really good, it’s really good. But when it stops there’s no income.
Again I went through a downturn period in Australia and so I wanted to look at another way to use my skills.
“My advice is to manage your Career but also hedge your bets so you have options” (Brendan)
At 17 when I was a brickie I never thought I’d get into sales. At that age you don’t think that far ahead.
When the downturn came in Australia I did think about how else I could use my skills. I saw an advertisement in the local paper for customer service people at Austral Bricks. Well one thing I knew I could do and that was talk (aha :). I could kinda, somehow, maybe use a computer. And my big advantage.. I knew bricks! So, yes I got the job.
When they told me about the job they said this is the job and it pays this much ($27,000) vs what I was used to at around $80,000 as a bricklayer. I thought, it pays what??? I said, oh no I don’t want the job. Then they said the best they could probably do was $29,000. I said you’ve got to be kidding. I said and thought, okay I’m willing to take the hit and the lowest is $30,000, but there’s no way on earth I want to be customer service. I want to be a rep and with a company car. I thought I’d only stay for 7 months or so.
I was given all the worse jobs – 15-100 calls daily dealing with housing complaints. Then I was a product development manager for a product that no one wanted, bricklayers hated it. Then as a sales manager, for a period with really bad staff. However during my time I went and did my Masters Degree which the company helped pay for and was part of the development of staff.
As part of my career there are things I had calculated, structured and planned things out. If I think about it now that is exactly how I started on my first job at 13 – structuring and calculating how many bricks to lay out and how to lay them out.
Tip: “There’s not much you can’t complete and get done when you need it done”
Then I got to a stage in my career where I wanted a promotion. They wouldn’t so I left.
I then moved into construction sales with products I (originally) had no idea about – Waterproofing, Concrete Repair, Flooring, Levelling products. Did you know that every week 2 bridges get repaired in NSW as they start to fall to pieces. 80% of problems in a construction site are waterproofing related.
Tip: “I always found out who was the best at what they were doing and spent time with them”
So skipping ahead in my career I was then head hunted by Boral. They were trying to find a NSW Sales Manager. They do like to get people with a trades background but not a lot can go from one to another. I know it seems like we’re all a bit rough and ready (brickies) and not as common switching into a corporate career and suiting up.
Career Switching as Mature Tradie?
I think the reason we don’t come across a lot of Tradespeople in office/corporate is also because it doesn’t pay a lot at the start. Especially when you have to start at the bottom like everybody else. The majority of brickies might move into becoming a builder.
But then bricklaying does get hard on the body and a bit worse for wear into the 50’s. So maybe it is about thinking about how things will pan out in the long run.
What are your Goals Now?
Now that I’m with the ABBTF (Australian Brick & Blocklaying Training Foundation Ltd) my primary goal now is to get as many people as I can to take up bricklaying. And to let them know it is one of the best jobs in the world.
When you build something and lay bricks you have a finished product. I still drive past buildings and say “I built that”. It’s the best feeling in the world. Working in the construction industry is actually fun. Though I know that the youngsters can have a tough time and are pushed hard because they want them to survive. If they can get through the start and the tough years then they’ll be able to survive in the longer term.
As a Brickie you’re Always in Demand
It’s funny because now when people & friends of friends know my past they’re “You’re a bricklayer!!!!” and I’m No No No. You never run out of friends because everybody wants someone for something. I know I’m good at what I do but now days I’ll do it for friends, but I also value my time.
The crazy thing about it is solicitors, lawyers etc are the ones that have trouble finding good tradespeople because as a Tradie we all know the good ones and who to refer but non-Tradies don’t have as many contacts.
What are some of the Challenges in the Industry?
Parents want kids to be superstars and brain surgeons. They influence perceptions about what’s good and bad. They want their children to do better than they did, and to get a degree and study.
I’m also not a fan of the sentiment that gets published about Tradies. Fact or Fiction. Nevertheless people in the trades should do the right thing by people. This also impacts public perception and has that knock on effect of being proud to work in the trades.
What would you like to see Happen in the Industry?
It would be good to get more kids being competent at what they do so we can help turn them into superstar Tradies. We can help through better training and support. Mentoring and coaching.
How would you do this?
There are probably a number of different ways, and these are just some of things I can think of as we talk now:
3. Coaching & Mentoring
Getting government to commit on programmes they rollout to schools and support to TAFE’s. This is not happening in the best way it could be. We’ve got to move past this tick and flick and the pockets of private contractors doing this. With better accountability we’ll have better care and responsibility within the industry.
I remember I had a different mindset from an earlier age and there was a work ethic that stuck with me. For some kids they don’t seem to have this – they’re not consistent, regular or focused. They seem to go around a bit willy nilly saying they don’t know or don’t care and that things are everybody else’s problem. And the parent is the best fallback.
Everything starts from a young age and there’s no easy fix to any of this. But even if we can get the mindset to change fractionally. There can be a perception that things are too hard.
Personal Tip for Surviving: When I was in Aus I had no relatives or friends I could fall back on. I ran out of money twice. Not 1 cent to my name. It will stay with me til I die.
Coaching & Mentoring
I would like to encourage more coaching and mentoring. There are people like myself who can give back and provide support and knowledge. So that there is a support network and the young Tradie or Apprentice can track down somebody like myself and say “how do I get out of this problem?”.
I’m not sure the government understand the cultural issues. Things are 2-way and it is about the human side.
At the same time there would be benefits in having coaching sessions for employers and mentors. We’ve all seen it where some bosses are nasty to apprentices or are ‘set in their ways’ because that’s the way things have been. It’s because they were given a hard time and pushed hard, so they’re passing that on as a way to do things. Some of these things put kids off sticking it out in construction.
I do think working in the Construction Industry is amazing and can be one of the best jobs in the world.
But like everything, we’re all a work in progress.