Construction crafts and trades: job roles explained
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If you would like to pursue a career in one of the traditional construction crafts or skilled trades, you can go straight from sitting your GCSEs to working on site. You can complete an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship, for which you usually need GCSEs. Alternatively, you can take a vocational qualification at college and then find an entry-level job.
You could find work with large construction contractors, smaller specialist employers or within the public sector. Many experienced trades and crafts people work for themselves.
They would be a good choice if…
- You are physically fit.
- You wouldn’t mind interacting with customers if required.
- You are practical and like working with your hands.
- You don’t want to work in an office – and don’t mind being out in all weathers.
- Keeping up to date with building and health and safety regulations wouldn’t bother you.
Brickwork includes bricklaying and stonemasonry, and you can choose to specialise in one or both of these areas. As a bricklayer, you’ll work as part of a ‘brickwork gang’ to trim and shape bricks, lay bricks, apply mortar and check the courses are straight. There could be several gangs on site, depending on the size of the project.
Stonemasonry is a traditional yet increasingly uncommon skill, but it’s essential to our heritage and great if you like history. Stonemasons – who create and restore stonework on buildings and other structures – might specialise in curving, laying or fixing.
Carpenters and joiners work together to prepare and install the wooden parts of buildings, from floorboards and roof trusses to windows and doors. Typically, a joiner uses drawings to prepare the materials and a carpenter installs them and does any structural work – but the two roles overlap and sometimes one person will do both. Joinery can be split into two areas: site (floors, doors and roofs) and bench (counters, kitchens and staircases). Carpenters and joiners must be able to cope with dusty conditions. You can also specialise in building temporary supports, which are used to hold setting concrete in shape. This is called formwork or shuttering.
You need to be at least 18 to work in demolition, although you typically only need GCSEs (or equivalent). You’ll usually start off as a demolition operative and there’ll be lots of power tools to use and crane-based work to do. As such, it’s essential you have a head for heights and an awareness of health and safety. You’ll spend your days blowing up or pulling down disused or unwanted buildings, as well as preparing sites for new projects. You might specialise in preparing the site for demolition (for example, putting up rails and laying dustsheets), in removing fittings and dismantling roofs, or cutting steel frameworks and removing fragile roofs.
Electricians (sometimes known as electrical technicians) install and repair the electrical systems around us: for example, in all sorts of buildings and on our streets. You might find yourself specialising in installation or maintenance – or in a particular area such as highways maintenance and street lighting or solar panels. You may work in a team or on your own. You’ll need to be a logical thinker and problem solver. A head for heights and being happy working in all weathers will probably be useful, too. Be aware that you may need to take extra on-the-job qualifications to ensure you are able to carry out tasks such as portable appliance testing (PAT). You also need a level 3 electrical or electrotechnical qualification to be an electrician, which you can do through an apprenticeship.
You will paint and decorate in a range of environments, from redecorating homes to applying finishing paint touches to structures such as bridges. You could choose to specialise in a particular technique such as restoration. Be prepared to wear a protective mask or climb a ladder in order to carry out a job.
Plumbers do more than you might think. They fix sanitation systems and leaky pipes, work on heating and air-conditioning systems, fit bathrooms and install devices such as dishwashers. But they might also work on a construction site, planning where pipes need to go. Plumbers can sometimes work unsociable hours if asked to deal with an emergency.
As a scaffolder, you’ll put up and take down scaffolding using a series of metal tubes (standards), horizontal poles (ledgers) and wooden working platforms (battens). You’ll need a head for heights, good hand-eye co-ordination and to be resilient to extreme weather. Steeplejacks use a variety of systems – scaffolding, harnesses, belay rope fall-arrest systems, bosun’s chairs and abseil equipment – to carry out general maintenance work and repairs at great heights. As a steeplejack, you will work across the main areas of construction, doing tasks such as repairing masonry and fitting aircraft warning lights on tall structures.
There are four main careers within this craft: plastering, dry lining, tiling and floor fitting/laying. Accuracy and the ability to work from drawings that someone else has done are core skills. You could be doing anything from pebble dashing (as a plasterer) or applying grout (as a tiler) to improving acoustics (as a dry liner) or re-hanging doors (as a carpet fitter).
If I have A levels, am I over-qualified for a construction trades apprenticeship?
If you’ve already gained A level qualifications and apply for an advanced apprenticeship in a construction trade or craft, employers might wonder why you are not applying for a higher apprenticeship or going to university. You’ll need to convince them that you are passionate about the role and being hands-on on site.