Our guide to bricklaying
Alistair Stafford

Our guide to bricklaying

First published date November 19 2013 Amended date January 15 2016

We all spent hours of our childhood designing our dream house using LEGO or building blocks, but most will never have got close to putting down the foundations of a full sized home.


Interested to discover how buildings are created? Happy to get your hands dirty? Even if you’re completely new to regular manual work and don’t know yet a rake joint from a bed joint, as long you’ve answered yes to the previous two questions then a bricklaying course could be for you.


Is bricklaying for me?

You’ll need to be prepared to work potentially long-hours in nasty weather conditions, as unfortunately bricklaying does often take place in the wind and rain.

As long as you’re able to work as part of a team and have good fitness, then it can be an enjoyable industry to be a part of. Carrying heavy loads and equipment (often at great heights) will improve your body strength, while working closely with a small team (or gang as they’re often returned to in the manual trade) will make you close to your work colleagues. With all the lifting and moving about as you’re going up and down ladders, you’ll be able to save money by cancelling your now unnecessary gym membership.


But I’m a woman, so I can’t be a bricklayer....

Ignore the gender stereotypes, as the number of female bricklayers is far more than you’d imagine. Recent statistics show that there are well over 225,000 female bricklayers here in the UK, with the proportion of female-led businesses up 16 per cent. Considering that the number of people training as bricklayers is shrinking, it shows that the industry isn’t as much of a male-dominated profession as it used to be.


Does that mean it’s a dying trade?

No, not at all. If anything, it could be considered a good time to get into bricklaying. With the number of qualified bricklayers falling heavily in recent years it has left a bit of a hole, as there is a lack of skilled tradesmen to complete the required work across the UK. Although the amount of building work available does fluctuate during the year, that’s no different to any manual profession so shouldn’t alarm you. So, by completing a bricklaying course, you’ve got a great chance of getting regular employment in the industry.


What qualifications do I need?

To take a bricklaying course you usually don’t require any formal qualifications before hand, although many apprentice schemes require a GCSE grade C in both Maths and English before they enrol you to the course. Before you’re even allowed to be anywhere near a building site though, you first have to get a CSCS (construction skills certification scheme) card, which is an industry recognised card that shows you’re aware of health and safety regulations and are learning towards a building qualification. Some bricklaying courses and apprentice schemes require you to have this before enrolling, while others sign you up to it as part of their programme, so it’s worth checking what the course you’re interested in requires.


What to expect

There are various levels of qualifications or ‘tickets’ that can be gained as part of bricklaying course programmes, ranging from NVQ’s in bricklaying to City & Guilds qualifications, which can help start your building career. An NVQ level 1 will teach some of the basic bricklaying skills, with students being able to learn, develop and progress to more difficult techniques on more advanced programmes.

A typical bricklaying course will be incorporated into an apprentice scheme, which will focus on hands-on experience on-site with a building firm, with one or two days a week spent training in a classroom. The classroom sessions teach students about the theoretical knowledge needed to become a bricklayer as well as demonstrating some of the practical skills, which you can then put to the test on-site.  


Site talk

You’ll obviously get plenty of practice when working as part of your building apprenticeship, but it’s a good idea to know some of the key building terms before you go on-site. Here’s just a few of the words and phrases you’ll expect to here (aside from the insightful site ‘banter’):

. Course – No, we’re not referring to your study programme. A course is bricklayers speak for a row or layer of bricks.

. Hoddie – One of the first roles you may get on a building site, a hoddie  (officially known as a hod carrier) role is carrying bricks on his shoulder in a brick hod, which can usually hold 10-12 bricks, to get the bricks to the skilled bricklayers quicker.

. Mortar – That’s the mixture that holds the bricks together in place when building a wall or building. Usually made by mixing sand and cement, it sometimes also contains lime to help prevent the cement from drying out too quick.


If you’re still not sure whether a bricklaying career is for you, then perhaps reading the expert view from an experienced bricklayer and our bricklayer careers guide will help you decide. 

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