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What does a bricklayer do?
A bricklayer is a skilled tradesperson. They are sometimes also known as a brickie, builder or mason. They lay bricks and build and repair interior and exterior walls and other brickwork structures, such as chimneys, tunnel linings and archways. They may also work with other hard materials, such as concrete, blocks and pre-cut stone.
Bricklayers can generalise or specialise in various areas of bricklaying, such as house and extension building, maintenance and repair, pointing, sealing, foundations, and restoration projects. They can also combine their role with other trades, such as stonemasonry and plastering. Therefore, what a bricklayer does will depend on their job and specialisms.
A bricklayer’s main aim is to ensure the walls and other brickwork structures they build and repair remain intact and comply with the relevant legal and industry safety standards. They will carry out many tasks, including measuring work areas, setting out, mixing mortar, laying bricks and mortar, shaping and cutting bricks, checking rows are level, etc. The role may also involve paperwork completion and some computer work.
Bricklayers can work on their own on smaller jobs. They can also work and liaise with many people, such as designers, maintenance staff, customers/clients (business or private), suppliers, retailers, contractors, subcontractors, other tradespeople (other bricklayers (gang), joiners, carpenters, plasterers, plumbers, tilers, electricians, painters, decorators, etc.), building inspectors, Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) providers, local authorities, government departments and others.
A bricklayer can work for small businesses, e.g. subcontractors, and organisations with a few hundred employees, such as large housebuilding firms. They can be self-employed with their own business and may work alone or employ others. They can also work freelance or for a recruitment agency on a temporary or contract basis.
A bricklayer’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including who they work for (employed or themselves) and the bricklaying in which they specialise.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Measuring work areas.
- Working at height.
- Following technical plans and specifications accurately.
- Setting out initial brick or block rows and damp course.
- Mixing mortar using a mixer or by hand.
- Laying bricks and applying or removing mortar using a trowel.
- Constructing chimneys, arches and ornamental brickwork.
- Shaping and cutting bricks to size using various tools, such as chisels, hammers, power tools and brick-cutting machines.
- Checking brick rows are fixed, straight and level using spirit levels or plumb lines.
- Creating access holes for other tradespeople.
- Repairing and maintaining existing structures.
- Ensuring walls are weatherproof and waterproof.
- Working outdoors in all weather.
A bricklayer can expect to work 42-44 hours a week, usually Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm. However, they can do more or fewer hours depending on their role. They may also work unsociable hours, e.g. weekends and bank holidays.
There may be permanent, temporary, contract, full-time and part-time opportunities for bricklayers. There are also self-employment opportunities where individuals can set their own hours.
The role may involve local or national travel if a bricklayer works on-site. Overseas work opportunities may be available for some individuals, as they are in high demand.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a bricklayer, especially if an individual is practical, enjoys working with their hands and loves working outside. Taking bricks, blocks and other hard materials and helping to build houses, walls and other structures can be fulfilling and rewarding, especially when you see the finished job.
Bricklaying is a skilled trade. Therefore, bricklayers are in high demand, so there is no shortage of permanent and temporary roles. Jobs are available nationally and internationally, and there are opportunities to be employed, self-employed or freelance. As skilled tradespeople, bricklayers can earn decent salaries.
Bricklayers are unlikely to get bored. They will build and repair various brick and block structures and items, requiring different techniques and equipment. They will travel in their local area and nationally, so they will get to see various places and meet many people. There may also be opportunities to work internationally.
Even though there are positives to being a bricklayer, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:
- Health and safety risks – working as a bricklayer can be dangerous. Bricklayers will usually work on construction sites and face many hazards, e.g. exposure to brick and concrete dust, manual handling of materials, use of tools, equipment and machinery, other hazardous substances, slips, trips and falls, work at height, noise, vibration, etc. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website has further information on health and safety in the construction and building industry.
- Physical demands – being a bricklayer is physically demanding. They will be on their feet for most of the working day, and the role will involve manual handling. There may also be work at height. Individuals will need a good level of physical fitness. There may also be intricate work that requires immense concentration, which can cause fatigue. Some bricklayers may work on-site in all weather and wear protective equipment, which can be hot and uncomfortable.
- Mental demands – being a bricklayer is also mentally demanding. They will need to create structures and items to deadlines, which can be stressful, especially if things do not go according to plan. There is a lot of pressure and mistakes can be costly.
- Male-dominated profession – the number of women in bricklaying is low (approximately 2%). However, it should not put off women who want to enter the role, as numbers are starting to increase.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is suitable. The role is physically and mentally demanding, and health and safety risks exist. The profession is also male-dominated. However, there are many positives too, and individuals who become bricklayers love working outside building things.
When considering whether to be a bricklayer, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a bricklayer
Some of the personal qualities a bricklayer requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Interest in construction and building.
- Manual dexterity and enjoys working with their hands.
- Patient, persistent, practical and confident.
- Methodical and neat.
- Physically fit and with stamina, strength and balance.
- Excellent hand-eye coordination.
- Comfortable working at height.
- Knowledge of the different types of bricks and blocks.
- Knowledge of building, construction, materials and processes.
- Knowledge of maths and numeracy.
- Knowledge of health and safety.
- Knowledge of relevant laws and standards.
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Organisation and time management skills.
- Technical skills.
- Analytical skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having excellent attention to detail.
- The ability to interpret and follow technical drawings, plans and specifications.
- The ability to use and maintain various hand tools, equipment and machinery.
- The ability to work well with others and alone using own initiative.
- The ability to concentrate for long periods when carrying out repetitive work.
- The ability to work under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to work quickly and efficiently, prioritise different demands and meet tight deadlines.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to work outdoors in all weather.
- The ability to use IT and software packages for basic tasks.
Qualifications and training
There are numerous routes to becoming a bricklayer, and individuals do not require formal qualifications. Individuals could go to college, enrol on a course with a private training provider, apply for an apprenticeship or apply directly to companies. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
Undertaking a college or private training course can help individuals become a bricklayer.
Some examples are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 1 Certificate in Construction Skills.
- Level 2/3 Diploma in Bricklaying.
- Level 2/3 Diploma in Trowel Occupations.
- T Level in On-Site Construction.
Individuals usually need:
- Level 1 – two or fewer GCSEs grades 3 to 1 (D to G) or equivalent.
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3 and T Levels – four or five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent (including English and maths for a T Level).
Always check the entry requirements before applying.
Some colleges and private training providers also offer short ‘taster’ bricklaying courses that may be more cost-effective. There are usually no specific entry requirements for these courses, and they are a good option for beginners to get a feel for bricklaying activities and associated equipment.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee success. However, it will demonstrate to employers and companies that an individual is keen on the job and may give them a competitive edge.
There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become a bricklayer, e.g. Bricklaying intermediate apprenticeship, which typically takes around two years to complete.
Individuals will usually need the following:
- Intermediate apprenticeship – some GCSEs, usually including English and maths, or equivalent.
Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.
Some companies may offer bricklaying trainee or internship roles where they will train individuals on the job.
It can be a good route for those struggling to pay for courses, as they can sometimes be expensive. Individuals will still need a good education and to demonstrate a passion for construction and bricklaying. Some opportunities may require work experience and individuals to have their own tools, PPE and vehicle.
Relevant work experience (whether paid or voluntary) can help individuals become bricklayers. They could apply for various roles on construction sites, e.g. labourer, where they could help and shadow more experienced bricklayers or become a hod carrier who carries bricks.
There may be volunteer opportunities, e.g. with charities and community schemes, where individuals could gain experience in construction. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO, Volunteering Matters and Indeed.
Any work experience relevant to working on construction sites or building can be beneficial and help an individual work towards becoming a bricklayer. Even community courses can help, e.g. introduction to bricklaying.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
Some examples of courses that may be useful for bricklayers include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Health and safety for employees.
- Health and safety, e.g. hazardous substances, work at height, noise, vibration, work equipment (PUWER), work-related stress, PPE, CDM (construction, design and management) and manual handling.
- First aid.
- Customer service skills.
- Business management (if self-employed).
- Time management skills.
- Basic equipment and tool maintenance.
There are also courses relating to bricklaying, such as:
- Computer-aided design (CAD).
- Different walling types.
- Masonry cutting and drilling.
- Mortar types and uses.
- Mixing mortars.
- Trowel techniques.
- Loading and setting.
- Sills, copings, cappings and junctions.
- Buttering brick joints.
Professional and public bodies, federations and associations, such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), FairTrades, the Association of Brickwork Contractors (AOFBC), the Guild of Bricklayers, Tylers and Bricklayers and others, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become bricklayers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on the organisation an individual works for, the industry and the bricklaying activities. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Construction Job Board, British Construction Jobs, Go Construct, Housebuilding Careers and the Construction Index. Also, look at recruitment agencies and housebuilder career pages for bricklaying roles.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities. Refresher training is also advisable, as it keeps an individual’s knowledge and skills current.
There are additional responsibilities associated with being self-employed.
Self-employed bricklayers must:
- Have the correct insurance, i.e. public liability and car/van, business. If employing anyone, employers’ liability insurance will be required.
- Register with HMRC.
- File tax returns.
- Register with the ICO to hold personal data, e.g. customers (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).
Further advice and guidance on being self-employed can be found on GOV.UK.
They will also need to invest in good-quality tools, equipment and machinery, which is an additional cost.
Some companies may require self-employed bricklayers to be Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) registered.
Criminal records checks
Some bricklayers may need to undergo a criminal record check.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Most bricklayers will need to travel to different sites around the country. Therefore, they will need a full driving licence (preferably with no points). Some roles will provide a company vehicle for this, but others may require individuals to use their own, which must have business insurance.
If a bricklayer wants to work on a construction site, they usually need a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card.
Where do bricklayers work?
Bricklayers can work for private companies/individuals, public bodies and even charities. Some may be self-employed and have their own business, freelance or work for recruitment agencies.
Bricklayers will predominately work outdoors on industrial, commercial or domestic construction and building sites, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- New housebuilding sites.
- Private and social housing.
- Hospitals, GP surgeries, health centres, etc.
- Schools, colleges and universities.
- Shops and supermarkets.
- Historic buildings and heritage sites.
- Other outdoor locations, e.g. bridges, garden walls, etc.
Jobs are available nationally, and bricklayers can work in cities, towns or villages. There may also be opportunities to work overseas.
How much do bricklayers earn?
What a bricklayer earns will depend on their job, industry, specialisms, location, qualifications, experience and whether they are employed, self-employed or freelance.
According to Check-a-Salary (these figures are a guide only):
- Bricklayers, on average, earn a minimum of £36,400.00.
- The average bricklayer’s salary in the UK is £50,090.84.
- Bricklayers, on average, earn a maximum of £59,280.00.
Many bricklayers receive weekly pay, especially if working on temporary and contract jobs.
The salaries for self-employed bricklayers will be variable, as they will set their own fees. They will also need to consider expenses, e.g. tax, insurance, own tools, PPE and vehicle etc. According to Payscale, the average hourly pay for a self-employed bricklayer is £17.00.
Those starting a bricklaying career earn less, i.e. approximately £17,000–£20,000 (data from various sites).
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of bricklaying roles to specialise in
Most bricklayers will generalise in all aspects of bricklaying, but there are opportunities to specialise in specific areas and jobs.
Such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- CSCS bricklayer – works predominately on construction sites and has to have a CSCS card.
- Foundation bricklayer – specialises in building foundation work.
- Heritage brickwork restoration – specialising in restoring historic and listed buildings. They also use traditional methods and materials and can create new buildings using long-established building techniques.
- Multi-skilled bricklayer – specialises in bricklaying but also has experience in other trades, such as joinery, carpentry, painting or plumbing.
- PTS bricklayer – specialises in building, repairing and maintaining railway-associated structures, e.g. bridges. They need a Personal Track Safety (PTS) card to work on or near a railway.
- Refractory bricklayer – specialises in repairing and building furnaces, tanks and other heat and corrosion-resistant structures.
- Repointing – specialising in repairing and maintaining damaged brickwork, masonry and mortar.
- Tuckpointing – using specialised joint-filling techniques to make brickwork and other masonry look more regular and finer, i.e. enhances its cosmetic appearance.
They can also choose to combine bricklaying with stonemasonry or tiling. There are also options to specialise in industries such as construction, housebuilding, healthcare, and rail or focus on building specific items, e.g. walls and chimneys.
Various bricklaying roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All bricklayers must be able to read and understand technical drawings, plans and specifications, use various equipment and materials, and shape, cut and lay bricks. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for and the type of bricklaying role an individual wants. Further qualifications and experience may be necessary for specialised work.
Bricklayers not competently carrying out their roles can result in poor quality structures, which may cause them to fail and items to break and even collapse. If this happens, people could be severely injured or worse. It can also mean a loss of custom, reputation and overall turnover.
Bricklaying is hazardous, and if not done effectively and safely, it can cause accidents, injuries and ill health. Therefore, whatever the type of role, bricklayers must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Standards, best practices, laws, techniques, equipment and technologies are regularly changing. Therefore, bricklayers must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively, safely and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives bricklayers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, be legally compliant and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional or public body, federation or association (as mentioned previously) can help individuals enhance their skills and overall career. These offer different levels of membership, CPD, support, access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression for bricklayers. With more qualifications and experience, they can become a stonemason (as well as a bricklayer) and specialise in different aspects of bricklaying or industries, e.g. heritage restoration. They could become a supervisor, team leader or manager or train in other skilled trades, e.g. plastering and tiling. Alternatively, they may move from a small organisation to a large one, work for an agency or start their own business.
Knowledge, skills and experience from being a bricklayer can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could go into teaching or training bricklaying at colleges or private training providers or even move into memorial masonry. They may decide to move into other areas of construction, such as contracts management, estimating or health and safety.