So you want to be a builder? That's great and a building apprenticeship can be a springboard towards a great career. However, and this may be contrary to the advice you may get from a lot of old hands in the building trade, leaving school early to take up an apprenticeship may not the best way to launch your career.
The Old Way to Become a Builder
Until about 20 years ago and in some areas of Australia even today, the best way to become a builder was the traditional way: to leave school as early as possible and start your apprenticeship. While your mates were still sitting behind desks slaving over their HSCs, you would be making money and gaining the practical experience you needed to become a licensed builder. By the time they finished high school, you would be a skilled builder. By the time those who "foolishly" went on to pursue further TAFE or university studies entered the workforce, you'd be making a good living and have an even rosier future in front of you in a few years' time when you became a licensed builder and started your own construction company.
The old model still works for some, but Australia has changed. For better or worse, the lack of a high school diploma is now looked on as a sign of laziness, not initiative. What's more, large construction companies, while happy to hire apprentices as a form of cheap labour, are more likely to promote well-educated apprentices than those who have been hard working.
The New Way to Become a Builder
Before you take the advice of an old builder who may not have your best interests at heart when he encourages you to drop out of school and take up an apprenticeship with him, have a look at some of the online forums and see what others have to say. Start with a search engine question like, "How can I become a licensed builder?" and see what comes up. You'll get a lot of answers like, "A building apprenticeship is the only way," but increasingly, a different kind of advice is being offered. Uni students, who love to while away their spare time on social media, are saying, "I'm working towards a building and construction degree. When I finish, I'll have a B class builder's license." Since most uni students finish at about the age of 21, that's a pretty good start, but it gets even better.
When you take the university route towards a building license, you may be able to land what's called a cadetship while you're still studying. This is kind of like an apprenticeship, but apparently pays much better - up to $55,000 a year, according to some. Of course, you'll probably need to live in a large metropolitan area to find such a well-paying job and if you're studying at the same time, you'll have a heavy schedule, but it's certainly something to think about.
Let's say a cadetship is not forthcoming or you decide to focus on your studies instead. Yes, you'll probably have your HECS fees to worry about, but consider this:
- Many graduates report that they get jobs as junior construction managers that pay up to $65,000 per year upon graduation at 21.
- By the age of 24 or after just a few years on the job, large salary increases are common - up to $80,000 per year.
- By your late 20s, you could be earning over $100,000 per year as a construction manager.
- Top earners in construction management make up to $180,000 per year.
Of course, construction management is a lot different from actual construction work and if what appeals to you about building is the freedom to work outdoors and the creative satisfaction that comes from working with your hands, the university route may not be for you. Still, and take this with a grain of salt if you like, if you finish your HSC before you take an apprenticeship, you'll have a lot more career opportunities in the future. Don't forget, too: you won't be young and fit forever. Construction is largely a young man's game, so do yourself a future favour and think about what you'll be doing in 20 years, when heavy lifting isn't as easy as it used to be.