WHEN Princess Anne opened the new gym at our secondary school in the Seventies and asked the students what they wanted to do, most of them replied: “Go to university.”
But I told her: “I want to work with my dad.” He was in the building trade.
From the age of four I had worked with my dad Jim at weekends and I had cement in my veins.
Some of the breeze blocks made by my dad are in Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street — they were needed to repair war damage.
It wasn’t just my family heritage which made me certain this was a career for me — I knew it would be challenging, satisfying and safe as houses.
It’s a profession of which you can be proud. The grammar school I attended in London’s East End had great expectations for me that I never quite met.
I knew this career would be challenging, satisfying and safe as housesTommy Walsh
The other pupils would call me the kid with nine lives because every time I went to see the head, they would run a book on whether I would be expelled or not.
In the end I only got four O-levels, the predecessor to the GCSE, so I had to leave school aged 16. Those students who didn’t get the GCSEs they’d hoped for shouldn’t worry.
There are routes to good pay and fulfilling work other than through further education.
Construction also has a great value to society. If you become a brickie you will get a chance to shine.
I love building because you are providing homes for families to grow in. It’s a job where you get outside, there’s lots of exercise and you are going to be a happier, healthier person.
PROFESSION OF PRIDE
I loved all the camaraderie, all the banter. It made me the man I am — someone who just enjoys life.
During my career as a builder and on TV shows such as Ground Force and Challenge Tommy Walsh, I have done everything from renovations to restorations, and period buildings to innovative green buildings for the future.
Britain is known worldwide for the quality of our masonry work. Just look at St Pancras train station in London.
If you go to New York there is nowhere near the quality of what is produced over here.
I knew a bricklayer who used to go to work in a shirt, tie and a bowler hat. He gave me a building encyclopedia, but a lot of that knowledge has been lost.
I think we are in danger of compromising our reputation because there is a shortage of properly trained brickies.
These are reliable careers which are only going to get more in demandTommy Walsh
Figures show that 61 per cent of small to medium enterprises are struggling to hire bricklayers.
A few years ago it was a lot of people’s fantasy to become a plumber, because they’d heard they could charge a fortune for their services.
Now we need to get the same message out for other trades. These are reliable careers which are only going to get more in demand.
The Government announced plans to build 300,000 new homes a year, to start building much needed council homes again and there are major construction projects under way such as the new nuclear power station Hinkley Point C in Somerset.
Believe me — the work is out there. My future son-in-law has seen the value of studying the art of masonry.
He used to be a bar manager but retrained to become a bricklayer and has been qualified for 18 months. He is happy that he made the transformation and earns good money.
THE WORK IS OUT THERE
He had to find a more regular job if he was going to marry my daughter! I am involved with Dagenham and Barking College in East London, attending open days and awards ceremonies.
What I have noticed is more females going into the building trade and becoming brickies.
A quarter of a century ago it was an all-male industry, but today it is much more open to take in people from all walks of life.
Youngsters from troubled backgrounds who think there is no hope need to be offered the chance to take up a proper trade.
Margaret Thatcher’s government got rid of the apprenticeship levy, which resulted in a fall in skilled craftspeople.
Thankfully, David Cameron brought the levy back in and around a billion pounds has since been put into apprenticeships and training.
The good news is you won’t end up burdened with the massive debts of a uni education because learning this skill is free.
If we put that ability to good use by building homes for everyone to call their own, then we will build a happier country as well.