An Introduction to Construction Jobs and a Career in the Building Trade
The construction industry is huge, covering housing development, institutional public buildings such as schools and hospitals, commercial buildings and industrial plants or factories. It employs over 2 million people, who possess a wide range of unskilled and skilled people. Up to 2 in every 5 are self-employed, with others employed by the major building development companies and medium-sized enterprises.
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Nature of the Employment
Construction is project-based, with each development involving the organisation of many teams of subcontractors. The industry is very prone to economic changes, with market downturns leading to slow downs and lay-offs. Needless to say, prolonged periods of bad weather can also affect the industry badly. Fortunately, while building developments are in a slow period, infrastructure development continues, meaning not all professions are hit.
Most building site workers are employed by the contractors, either on a permanent or a project-by-project basis. Fixed term contract work, short term placements and temporary employment is more common for craftspeople.
Many of the craftspeople involved in fitting and finishing are individually self-employed or work with the larger subcontractors who enjoy ongoing links to major development companies. This affects the degree of security available. During low periods, it's usually possible to gain more work through agencies, if you're prepared to travel for the openings.
Areas of Work: Construction
Here are some of the areas of employment and a brief indication of training needed to enter the line of work.
The bricklayer is a craftsperson who constructs walls or buildings with bricks. This involves working on building sites in many weather conditions, often in noisy or dirty environments. The work is skilled, requiring an understanding of technical drawings and knowledge of how to build durable structures using modern construction methods.
A careful and methodical approach is important, combined with site safety awareness. Training is usually on the job, with time spent on local college courses - apprenticeships leading to NVQs (levels 1 to 3) are available. Other training includes City and Guilds, Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced Construction Awards.
Full qualification usually takes around four years. See Able Skills for training information - www.ableskills.co.uk/bricklaying-training-courses/
Labourers come in a variety of guises, including basic labouring, building and groundwork labourers, ground workers, plasterer's labourer and ganger. The work includes many basic physical tasks that don't require specialist skills, although labourers need to know their way around building sites and understand health and safety concerns.
Employers look for physical strength and a willingness to work hard in varied weather conditions. Many sites now require CSCS cards - these are proof of occupation competence and cover hundreds of occupations (available from www.cscs.uk.com).
New materials and construction methods mean that the roofing profession is no longer simply about tiling, although that is still part of it. Roofers can find themselves working on flat or sloped roofs, handling tiles, slates, concrete, felt or leadwork.
It's possible to get into the profession without qualifications, but most employers now prefer trainees to undertake formal training of some kind. In this increasingly regulated world, evidence of training is more and more important. NVQ-based apprenticeships are available, along with other qualifications set up by City and Guilds and the Construction Services Authority.
These workers construct and take down the scaffolding that enables construction crews to work at the higher levels of buildings. Much of the work is at heights, working in sometimes dangerous conditions.
There's a recognised qualification operated by the Construction Industry Scaffolders' Record Scheme (CISRS), although an NVQ-based apprenticeship is also available.
These teams work on all kinds of construction projects, installing and fixing the girders, beams and pipework that constitute the framework of the structure. This involves working closely to engineers' instructions, and frequently working at heights.
There are various NVQs in this profession, while it's advisable to gain the Powered Access Licence (PAL) that shows the holder can operate mobile elevated work platforms (see the International Powered Access Federation's (IPAF) website (see www.ipaf.org)
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Cavity Wall Insulators
These teams are responsible for fitting insulation materials into wall cavities, between the inner and outer walls of the construction. The work also involves laying loft insulation, fitting draught proofing and installing sound proofing materials.
Qualifications aren't normally needed for starting this work, although a BTEC First Certificate or Diploma in Construction at Level 2 will be helpful.
In construction, the plumber is responsible for installing plumbing systems while the building is being constructed. This means working closely with the construction team to ensure correct drainage and water supply is provided, before installing appropriate pipes and water systems in the building itself, and then finally installing the fittings.
Plumbers need to start working on training schemes immediately, with NVQ Level 2 and 3 diplomas from City & Guilds or EAL. See Able Skills for training - www.ableskills.co.uk/plumbing-courses/
Construction Plant Operator
These operators drive the equipment and vehicles found at construction sites, such as JCB excavators, bulldozers and dumper trucks, elevated work platforms, forklifts, cranes, etc. Basic day-to-day maintenance is also involved, such as changing buckets.
You can start this work with no training and gain all your experience on the job. Apprenticeships are available, although not always required.
The welders join shaped pieces of metal through a range of different welding methods. All joins need to be checked and tested for strength and durability. Complex engineering instructions and diagrams need to be followed. The usual access route is via an engineering apprenticeship, or a welding qualification supported by City & Guilds or BTEC. See the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board - www.ecitb.org.uk
Areas of Work: Fitting and Finishing
These teams of craftsmen mix and apply plaster to internal walls and ceilings (dry lining), to outside walls with sand and cement coatings, as well as pebble-dash and other materials (solid plastering) and ornamental work, such as cornices and ceiling roses, using moulds (fibrous plastering).
Qualifications aren't needed for entering the profession, although training is available through NVQ apprenticeships, City & Guilds and the CSA amongst others. See Able Skills for training information - www.ableskills.co.uk/plastering-courses/
Carpenter or Joiner
Working on site, the carpenter is responsible for fitting wooden structures such as floor and roof joints, roof timbers, window frames, staircases, etc. Sometimes wooden structures need to be fixed into setting concrete. Fitting work once the building is completed include door surrounds and doors, windows, skirting boards, cupboards and shelving.
No qualifications are needed to start work in this profession, although study for an apprenticeship or a vocational qualification such as a BTEC Certificate or Diploma in Construction is required for continued work. See Able Skills for more information - www.ableskills.co.uk/carpentry-courses/
Dry liners build the internal walls in houses, offices and shops, using plasterboard panels. They might also install removable wall partitions, suspended ceilings and raised flooring. As a dry liner, your work would involve a 'fixing' stage, followed by a 'finishing' stage.
These teams fit suspended ceilings to conceal wiring, heating or air conditioning and pipework in commercial developments and large institutions such as hospitals. This involves following engineers' drawings and written instructions during the building process. It's possible to start as a trainee, although apprenticeships are available.
Tilers and Floor Layers
Tilers prepare floor surfaces before measuring for, cutting and fitting tiles. This achieved using hand cutters or bench tools. Tiles can be made of ceramics, glass, terracotta, stone, granite and marble.
These teams measure up and fit carpets and laminate floors in near completed buildings. In renovations, they remove old flooring surfaces first. Most training is achieved on the job, so it's possible to start work straight away with a carpeting company.
These teams measure up and erect fencing around buildings, using diggers or hand tools to prepare foundations, positioning metal, concrete or wooden posts and cutting panels. Qualifications aren't normally needed to access this profession.
This role involves installing glass panes in the window frames of newly built projects. Most panes would be made-to-measure, but the work would often involve making adjustments and shaping individual pieces. Experience is more important than qualifications for this work, although apprenticeships are available.
Heating and Ventilating
These professionals are involved in fitting heating systems, ventilation and air conditioning systems, refrigeration or fume extraction systems in construction projects. This involves following detailed engineering plans. Apprenticeships are usually required due to the high level of safety regulations surrounding this profession. Alternatives are the BTEC National Certificate or a Diploma in Building Services Engineering.
Painters, decorators, and paint sprayers
These professionals are involved in finishing the building's interior by painting or varnishing plaster, metal and wood surfaces. Prior work involves preparing the surfaces by priming them and, in the case of renovation building projects, removing old finishes. Many people join this profession by working as an assistant first and gaining hands-on experience. However there are also courses available. See Able Skills - www.ableskills.co.uk/decorating-courses/
Job Sites for Construction Jobs
Construction Jobs can be found on some dedicated websites. These include:
Main Training Agencies
In the UK, the national apprenticeship schemes provide many openings, mainly for 16-18 year olds who are prepared to work for lower income while training towards NVQ qualifications at college.
- The National Apprenticeship Service website for England can be found at: gov.uk/topic/further-education-skills/apprenticeships
- The centralised Scottish site for apprentice is still growing, as it is run by apprentices for apprentices: earlycareers.scot
- Welsh apprenticeships: Careers Wales
- Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland: nidirect.gov.uk
The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) works with employers in the construction industry to provide sector-specific qualifications.