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Build quality

This post was inspired by a blog on brickwork, written by Samuel-James Wilson on his site www.Apprentice-Ship.com

You know, i think we get the quality we deserve. When I joined the trade some 40+ years ago, there was a steady reduction in apprenticeships and therefore a steady decline in the numbers of tradesmen that were capable of producing quality work. The problem was the large companies. Although good local builders knew their market and their clients and tried to maintain standards, the volume builders were not interested in quality only speed of construction and cost savings - look at the rubbish that was built in the 70's and 80's.

Now I am not actually blaming them because they were driven by the need to build and sell at the market rate and at the same time new building regulations were being brought in which added to costs. Just think that when a brickie could earn a hundred pounds a week in the late 70's the house they helped to build could be bought for 20K. Nowadays a tradesman can earn what? 5 times? more? Whatever, but the house he builds now will cost 20 times more.So something had to give and the brickwork was an obvious choice. Why? Because it was relatively easily replaced by blockwork, cladding, timber frame, render etc. What brickwork there was, was often just face flettons, stretcher bond with nothing fancy at all. So on the sites there would be just a couple of proper tradesmen, setting out and maybe raising the corners, and a load of trowel hands running the lines. Apprenticeships were, for the big companies, a thing of the past.

That had a knock on effect. Because the big builders were paying brickies ( or trowel hands ) by the yard or thousand, it encouraged speed over quality, led to bad practices ( laying frog down, tip and tapping perps ) and discouraged young people from learning the trade because they could earn lots of money, just by being quick. That meant the smaller companies struggled to attract new people in to the trades, which meant further decline.

Things are getting better. The general public have begun to recognise quality and the massive uplift in property values has meant that, a) people expect more now when prices are so high and b) with higher prices it has become more viable to build quality. Plus the regulations have helped to raise standards again. Modern construction is much better now than it was.

Modern materials and techniques help. The timber industry has done incredible things with engineered timber. Manufacture of windows and doors that actually work and keep the elements out, insulation, finishes, electronics and efficient heating and water systems have all improved almost beyond belief.

There are though, still trades that a time traveller from the 18th or 19th century would recognise and even be able to work in. These of course are the wet trades - plastering and brickwork, which have not changed in principle since the invention of mortar. There have been innovations of course in materials. Tools have improved and a few new ones invented, but basically you still rely entirely on the tradesman, using the tools, with his hands, to do the job. And that will never change. So the new demands within the industry, driven by the need for quality, will ensure that apprenticeships thrive again and although they may be different from the apprenticeships of the past, will still deliver quality tradepeople who can deliver top class work.

The Project Master