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Apprenticeships - An Alternative Option

16 Jan 2007

As a school student in a local secondary college in Melbourne, Macleod resident Heath Bloomfield didn't receive much encouragement to do a trade. Indeed, university was the focus of the future, with TAFE study just an inferior option.

In Year 10, Heath realised he was no academic scholar but went on to finish Year 12 in 2004 to prove he could do it. While most of his friends were waiting to get into university, he was already planning another alternative - an apprenticeship in bricklaying and studying at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE's (NMIT) Heidelberg campus.

He initially undertook a 16-week pre-apprenticeship course at NMIT to see if the bricklaying trade suited him -'I had found out there was a huge shortage of bricklayers and that there was good money to be made so I thought I'd give it a go,' Heath said. He is now a second-year apprentice who hasn't looked back since.

With a third of VCE school leavers missing out on a place at university, Heath said apprenticeships and trades could be a good option for some students but schools needed to talk to their students more about them. Too often, university is it.

NMIT has nearly 100 bricklaying apprentices at its Heidelberg campus and 45 pre-apprentices. It also offers a diverse range of trade training in other apprenticeship areas such as plumbing, locksmithing, wall and floor tiling as well as painting and decorating, welding, plastering and carpentry to name a few.

NMIT Bricklaying Program Coordinator Matt Vasarelli said bricklayers had the potential to earn over $100,000 a year if they ran their own business and worked hard.

The trade is currently experiencing a great skill shortage around Victoria with 8,000 bricklayers aged over 40 years expected to leave the trade over the next 10 years.

According to The Australian Brick and Blocklaying Training Foundation Development Manager, Jane Alexander, only about 50 per cent of the older workers' places would be filled by current apprentices in training.

'There's a huge potential for a successful career and at the moment, more than eight million bricks and blocks are produced in Victoria and are out there on sites waiting for bricklayers to install.

'We really need to get young people into the trade, have them qualified and out there to meet a gap which exists in the trade.'

She added bricklaying was not just about 'slapping on a brick on a brick', but that it was 'an art form' demanding a high skill level in maths and the ability to read and interpret plans.

The Foundation was just embarking on an advertising campaign to try and recruit more apprentices to meet the skill shortages.

Heath emphasised he believed schools should give more thought to trades and TAFE training and not just as a second or third option if you didn't make it to university.

While brochures and pamphlets were available at his school, he said you had to seek them out for yourself and there was little discussion about trades and apprenticeships.

'Most trades are seen as inferior. There's the belief that you're not smart enough so you have to do a dumb job.'

Schools, he added, should be exploring with students what else was out there instead of just saying university was it.

'If you stick with the trade and can hack the physical labour, there's a great living to be made. I wondered what I was going to do for the rest of my life when I realised I wouldn't get into uni. But I found there was an another option - on my own.'

Interview / Photo Opportunity

Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener, on 03 9269 1579, 0413 483 182 or

NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) – Situated on six campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne’s north plus a regional campus at Ararat, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce.  NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.