At the launch of Construction Week 2000, Construction Minister Nick Raynsford emphasised the importance of the three Rs - recruitment, retention and respect.
These issues are at the heart of the Better Brickwork Alliance's remit. The alliance was formed last year as a forum and action group for better brickwork, bringing together developers, architects, contractors, specialist subcontractors, brickwork tutors, the Construction Industry Training Board and brick manufacturers - parties with a common interest in the skill base necessary for quality laid brickwork at competitive cost.
The first full meeting of the alliance took place in September 1999. Since then its subgroups have discussed four questions fundamental to the future of bricklaying:
How can more people be brought into bricklayer training?
How can the dropout rate of trainees be cut?
How can existing bricklayers be retrained?
How can their skills be enhanced and adapted over time?
The alliance has proposed a number of initiatives, some of which are already being implemented. All touch on the three Rs.
Ensuring sufficient numbers of young people enter the industry is an essential first step. An information pack specific to bricklayer training is to be distributed to all curriculum centres, and soon every college and bricklayer training centre can be twinned with a local brickmaker.
The Guild of Bricklayers promotes the craft of bricklaying to the highest standards and for many years has been involved in the organisation of regional bricklaying competitions, leading to national and international Skillbuild finals. Regional events are to be sponsored by local brickmakers and will have a qualified professional on hand to discuss bricklaying careers with young people attending the events.
The Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers has devised a new competition specifically for NVQ Level 3 bricklayers. Entitled 'Best Practice In Apprenticeship Training' it is intended to become a goal to which all students will aspire.