Bricklayers’ pitch to students: good money, independence

Bricklayers and tradespeople share their success stories at the Teens Talk Now Expo

Joey Hawkins demonstrating how to lay a wall at Teen Now Talks Expo. Photo: Sergio Gonzalez

The majority of the bricklayers in Nova Scotia are getting too old and young workers are not getting involved in the trade fast enough.

“The average age [of a bricklayer] is 62 years old,” says Don Adams, an industrial training certification officer for the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency. “They have all the experience, they have all the knowledge.’

Adams says if older workers don’t reach out to young people and get them involved in the trade, then the jobs will go to people outside of Canada who will take over the trade.

“We want the people here, the kids and our youth to take those jobs,” says Adams.

Joey Hawkins was trying to drum up interest in the trade Tuesday at the Teens Now Talk expo at the Halifax Forum. He was demonstrating how to “butter-up” bricks with cement and how to lay a wall in a live demonstration.

Hawkins is no stranger to bricklaying, despite being only 25, he has won the provincial bricklaying skills competition three years in a row and has competed at a national level in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

In an average brick-laying competition, competitors try to build the same structure over periods of up to 12 hours. Then judges rate the construction, orientation and levels of the structures. These events are highly competitive, Hawkins explains.

“Guys spend a whole year to train for these competitions… I didn’t.”

For Hawkins winning these competitions has meant more than simply having bragging rights.

“Without the… competitions I would never had the confidence to go on my own… stand up to the older guys,” says Hawkins. “A lot of times the older guys look down upon you.”

Hawkins says the confidence he gained from competing across Canada allowed him to calmly observe older bricklayers do the trade and he learned how to fine-tune his skills.

“I was a young apprentice,” says Hawkins. “Then I turned into a journeyman… then I went on my own and started my own business… now I have a few apprentices of my own.”

Adams says Hawkins used to be his apprentice. “Now… he’s the third best bricklayer in Canada.”

Hawkins explains the reason he is at the Teens Now Talk expo is that he wants to spread the word that “it’s not always a doctor or a lawyer that’s gonna make money,” he says. “You can make money getting your hands dirty and getting involved.”

Adams agrees.

“My son spent $80,000 in a piano degree and is working as a machinist, just because the wages are so high,” he says. “Salaries begin at $25 per hour… can go as high as $100 per hour.”

Hawkins says one of his life goals was to be his own boss and once he discovered bricklaying, he knew that was the path he had to take. “It’s a hard, old battle, but it’s paying off,” he says.

Bricklaying isn’t the only trade Adams speaks for. The booth for the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency also included a carpentry demonstration and an interactive oil-heat-system simulation circuit board.

“[Our] goal is to get people to look at trades as an alternative way of learning,” says Adams.

He says he hopes interacting with students at this event will make them realize that an apprenticeship is no longer a “plan B” career and will keep trades like bricklaying strictly Canadian.

Don Adams explains to students the academics behind trades. Photo: Sergio Gonzalez

“There’s lots of time to keep progressing and keep building,” says Hawkins.