Bricklayers are now in such hot demand for Australia's booming construction industry that students learning the trade are almost guaranteed an apprenticeship once they complete a short pre-apprenticeship course.
Victoria University bricklaying teacher Lionel Skinner said one of the world's most ancient trades is now facing a critical shortage of newcomers, and that will only get worse.
"Of the 29,000 bricklayers in Australia, nearly half of them are aged over 50," he said. "The students we are training are not matching the people retiring and leaving the industry."
To help address the problem, VU's bricklaying pre-apprenticeship is attracting a new group of students – migrants and refugees from Burma and Africa – proving to be talented and committed workers.
Sunshine resident Sui Andri, 34, was forced to flee his homeland in Burma and his job in a rubber factory more than 10 years ago. Although he is the oldest member of his class, Sui said the course has given him new skills and a good start to his new life in Australia.
VU's pre-apprenticeship bricklaying program is the only course of its kind in Melbourne's west, and is offered at both its Newport and Melton Campuses. Up to 15 students are taught full-time in two eight-week semesters, earning a Certificate I and II in bricklaying.
Students then work as an apprentice with an employer for a further two and a half years before they are fully qualified bricklayers.
"After 16 weeks with us, they learn everything from basic first-aid to masonry blockwork, and they would be a confident asset to any employer," Lionel said.
Werribee's Scott Abbott is more typical of the group of young men traditionally attracted to the trade.
The 16-year-old realised early he preferred to work with his hands rather than sit in a classroom and got instant satisfaction from the course.
Scott, like many one-time bricklaying apprentices, wants to become a self-employed contractor in the highly lucrative building and construction industry.
The cost of a VU's bricklaying pre-apprenticeship course for health care card holders is $250 and about $950 for non-concession. Contact the School of Construction Industries on 9919-8406.
The next intake for bricklaying apprentices at both VU's Newport and Melton Campuses is Monday 2 August.
Lionel Skinner or Murray Miller, Bricklaying Teachers
School of Construction Industries, Victoria University
Ph: (03) 9919 8339.
Ann Marie Angebrandt, Media Officer
Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University
Ph: (03) 9919-5487; Mobile: 0403 556 001.