We’d like you to meet Scott Brunning – a 51-year-old self-employed bricklayer from Bury who recently achieved his NVQ Level 3 in Bricklaying with us. The NVQ was Scott’s second bricklaying qualification (when he did his first one Down Under, Mrs Mangle was still in Neighbours and David Gower was captaining England in The Ashes).

We reached Scott on the phone one evening for a chat about bricklaying, Australia, and electric bikes.

Hi Scott, thanks for joining us. Can you start off by describing your work? We know you’re a bricklayer but what sort of work do you do? Is it site work, domestic work or a mixture of the two?

I would say about 90% is site work. That comes from commercial and housing projects in Manchester. The other 10% is extensions and domestic jobs like you just said, and they include flagging, concreting, bricklaying, stonework, anything like that.

How long have you been working as a bricklayer, Scott?

I think I’m coming up now to 36 years. I actually lived in Australia for 20 years and I did a four-year apprenticeship there. When I came back to England, they transferred my apprenticeship papers to what they called ‘Accreditation A’. At the end of this year, they’re removing the accreditation and that’s one of the reasons I’ve done my NVQ.

You don’t sound like an Aussie. Did you move there when you were younger?

Yes, I moved there when I was a teenager, spent 20 years there and then I came back, got married and had four children.

Out of all the construction trades, what was it about bricklaying that drew you in?

My dad was quite a manual person – a hands-on person – and I think I’ve followed in his footsteps. After leaving school, I got offered a one-year pre-apprenticeship in ‘wet trades’. You did a few months each on bricklaying, plastering, tiling, and concreting, and then you decided which apprenticeship to take. I wanted to be an electrician but then I fell into the bricklaying side of it and that’s how I got started.

You said you did your apprenticeship in Australia. How did you end up going down under for two decades?

Scott in action.

My mum and dad emigrated out there when I was a teenager, and I went with them. Me and my brother used to go out [to the UK], come back [to Australia], go out, come back, all the time. Eventually I met my wife [in the UK], and I came back, got married and had four children.

Do you miss Australia? The weather, we’re guessing.

At the moment I miss the weather! [editor’s note: it’s the middle of winter in England right now]. I’ve got loads of mates in Australia who I’m still in contact with and I go back there every now and then. But I’m quite happy in England.

Other than your apprenticeship in Australia, have you done any other construction qualifications over the years?

I’ve studied and taken training courses in other areas, but I’ve not really gained any qualifications.

Did you train in areas linked to bricklaying, such as flagging and groundwork?

No, I learned about flagging and groundwork during my apprenticeship. Since then, I’ve done training in areas like lime pointing, stonework, lime plastering, and heritage work.

Jumping back to bricklaying and your NVQ, Scott. Did you complete Level 2 Bricklaying first or did you go straight in at Level 3?

I jumped in straight at Level 3. I’m 52 next month but I feel I’ve still got a fair bit to put into the industry. Level 3 gives me the opportunity to turn, as I’m getting older, to either teaching or working as a site foreman.

What were your expectations about the NVQ? Did your three decades of experience give you confidence about the qualification, or did you have any reservations about it?

I was fairly confident. Probably the only reservation I had was, because I’m 51 and I’ve been in the industry for 30 odd years, some of the NVQ questions nowadays might be a little different to when I did my apprenticeship. Things have changed, health and safety wise, and different aspects of the work have changed. I noticed this because I have apprentices myself and what they tell me they’re learning in college is very different to what I learned.

Was that something that concerned you?

I wasn’t concerned because thanks to these young apprentices I have at work, I knew what I was heading into. I knew that I was going to be asked questions such as how I’d approach someone with mental health problems. Things like that were never involved in my apprenticeship when I was 16 or 17 years old.

Mental health is definitely a modern development in construction qualifications, and for the better. What kind of tasks did your assessor ask you to carry out during your bricklaying NVQ?

I was told that the NVQ is made up of four or five sections, My assessor wanted to see photographic evidence of my work. I had to complete 75 [job knowledge] questions, get a work reference, have a phone consultation [professional discussion] and a meeting on site [onsite observation].

Scott had some 'wheely' good things to say about DMR. (Please don't complain about puns to our marketing staff.)

Can you give us a few examples of the types of bricklaying work you were doing that you had to provide evidence for to achieve your Level 3 NVQ?

Flemish bonds, feature panels, fallen arches, setting out my job, reading drawings, that sort of thing. Even pushing a wheelbarrow and tidying up!

You mentioned a reference – did you get that from a customer, colleague, supervisor, employer?

I could have got a reference from somebody who employed me but I used the site foreman.

What kind of support, if any, did your assessor provide to you? Did you need any help with interpreting the job knowledge questions, for example?

 I felt the support was always there. I received a few messages from my assessor stating that if I needed any help or advice, or anything like that, he was there. But I don’t think I needed any help really with the questions.

It sounds like you were happy with the performance of your NVQ assessor but how would you rate DMR overall? Could we have improved anything for you during the assessment process?

Everyone [at DMR] was excellent. They were all very approachable and I felt that if I needed to call them or needed to talk to them, I could do that. Sometimes I forwarded an e-mail or a message to my assessor at half-seven or eight o’clock at night, and I thought he probably wouldn’t reply until the following day. But he always got back to me straight away and that put me at ease.

We think some of our assessors must be working 24/7 because learners often say things like “oh yeah, I messaged my assessor at 8:00 PM and he called me straight back!” The assessment team is very flexible and accommodating in that respect.

Looking at how the qualification will help you in your career, what do you think are going to be the main benefits of achieving your NVQ Level 3?

Like I said, I’m hoping that it will open a few doors. I’m hoping that when I get to the age where I feel that I’m too tired and too old to be standing out in the cold and the rain, that I can turn to something else. The NVQ has given me options – a few more options than I had before.

You mentioned teaching earlier. Is that something you’ve thought about as a possible next step in your career?

Yes, definitely. When I came back from Australia, I actually applied for a few teaching roles, but not having the NVQ Level 3 was a problem, so I put the idea on hold. I’ve always been interested in teaching.

With 31 years of experience behind you and the level of knowledge you’ve acquired, we’re sure you’d make a great teacher.

Appreciate it, mate! But if I’m totally honest with you, I can probably earn more money bricklaying [rather than teaching] at the moment, so I’ll just keep plugging away at it for now.

So, the plan is to keep working, but at some point in the future, you’ll get off the tools, get off the site and into a workshop or a classroom so you can pass on your knowledge to the younger generation?

Either that or working as a ‘hands-on’ site foreman (rather than just sitting in the office).

We’d like to finish by asking you what you enjoy doing in your spare time when you’re not laying bricks. Do you have any hobbies?

I’ve got four kids, and they keep me fairly busy. I tend to do a lot of work. I generally work six days a week. The one day a week I have off, I spend with my kids. I’ve got a daughter who loves horse riding – I’ve spent a lot of time with her on that. And I enjoy my holidays. Last year we went to the Dominican Republic and I’ve also been to Tenerife, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Bali and Thailand.

Having lived in Australia for 20 years, are you an outdoors person? Would you say you’re a bushman?

I don’t know about that. I love getting on my bike. There was a point where I was riding to work every day for about two years. I had a road bike but, because I’m getting older, I traded it for an electric mountain bike.

We’ve never used an electric bike. Are they the ones where a motor kicks in when you’re going uphill?

Yes. Everyone says “Oh, you’re a cheat” and all of that! But you still need to pedal on an electric bike to get it to work. It’s only ‘assisted’ power. The difference is, when you hit a hill, you can remain in your seat. On a normal bike, you have to stand up and slog your guts out getting up the hill.

We’ve done quite a bit of bicycle touring, where you load up your bike with your tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear and off you go. We love it. But the hills are horrible when you’re riding a bike fully loaded with all your camping gear. Whenever we come to a steep hill, we sometimes wish we had some form of assistance like a motor to help us up it.

Scott showing off his skills!

The only downside to electric bikes is how heavy they are. If the battery runs out, pedalling them is a proper pain in the arse. But you’ve got fairly long-life batteries now and, overall, they’re a dream to ride.

We can see the benefits of them if you’re commuting by bicycle. When you go up a hill, you’re covered in sweat by the time you get to the top. Not having a pedal hard up a hill, and having that extra boost, would be ideal if you’re cycling to work.

Right, we won’t keep you any longer, Scott. We really appreciate you taking the time to have a chat with us about your career and NVQ.

No problem. And I really appreciate being given the opportunity as well. I’d just like to say that the whole [DMR] team are brilliant. I can’t fault them; they’re all marvellous, and I think they’re doing their jobs perfectly.

We’ll pass on your compliments to the team! Thanks again, Scott. Enjoy the rest of your evening and hopefully speak again soon.

Scott achieved his NVQ Level 3 in Trowel Occupations through skills funding provided by Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Level 3 Single Pot offer. This interview is based on a telephone conversation that took place on Monday 15th January, 2024.

To learn more about flexible onsite NVQ assessment with DMR Training and to check your eligibility for skills funding, contact us on 01942 673047 or get in touch with us through our contact page.

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