The Job and What's Involved

Scaffolders put up scaffolding and working platforms for construction workers to use when building, maintaining or repairing buildings and structures. They put them together so that bricklayers, plasterers and painters can walk on them and work on the outside (and sometimes the inside) of a building.

Scaffolding is used for all sorts of work, including:

- Building a new house
- Restoration work inside buildings
- Making repairs to a road bridge

Much of their work takes place on construction sites, but scaffolders also work on structures such as:

- Stands for spectators at sports events and concerts
- Offshore scaffolding
- Petrochemical plants
- Power stations

Scaffolders generally work in teams of three: a chargehand, a fixer and a labourer. The chargehand first lays timber boards as a foundation, while the fixer and the labourer lay out the scaffolding equipment.

Scaffolders join horizontal and upright metal tubes together with fittings to form a framework, and position them on foundation timbers. They use ladders to place scaffold boards and fix them onto the framework, working up several levels until the required height is reached. They leave some ladders tied firmly into place to provide access to the different levels.

For restoration work inside buildings, scaffolders may need to erect a tower scaffold, often on wheels so that it can be moved around.

There are strict safety regulations and scaffolders have to follow the requirements of each job very carefully. For example, a strong platform is needed by bricklayers to support piles of bricks, but a normal platform would be adequate for painters and decorators. Scaffolders have to fit safety nets and guard rails as they work, not just for their own safety, but also to protect people walking underneath the scaffolding.

Scaffolders use a range of hand tools, including spanners, spirit levels, pulleys and winches.

The usual working week is 37 to 39 hours, Monday to Friday. Times of work can vary to make the most of daylight hours or to avoid disrupting business. Self-employed scaffolders are likely to work additional hours, especially when starting out. Scaffolders can expect to work overtime at weekends or in the evenings because scaffolding may have to be erected or dismantled outside normal working hours.

Work takes place indoors and outdoors, using ladders, hoists and winches. Much of the work is at heights, sometimes many storeys above the ground. The work is physically demanding and involves climbing, lifting and carrying heavy materials. It can sometimes take place in cold, dirty or windy conditions.

Scaffolders wear protective helmets and footwear, and sometimes safety harnesses.

They travel from site to site, working on a project and then moving on to the next one. They may also work away from home for short or long periods.

Starting salaries are around £12,500 to £13,000 a year. Overtime pay and shift allowances can increase income further.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Scaffolders work throughout the UK for:

- Specialist scaffolding firms
- Building contractors
- Oil and power companies

Companies may be small, employing just a few people, or multinational with hundreds of scaffolders. Some scaffolders are self-employed. There are around 18,000 qualified scaffolders in the UK, but there is a shortage.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, Construction News, Building, Connexions centres, Jobcentre Plus offices, and on the internet.

Education and Training

There are no set entry qualifications for scaffolders, but some GCSEs/S grades (A-E/1-5) could be helpful. The more important subjects are English, maths, science and craft, design and technology. A qualification such as the BTEC Introductory Certificate or Diploma in Construction can also be helpful.

Many young people who train for scaffolding become apprentices. It is also possible to start as a trainee scaffolder straight from school and train on the job.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

The Construction Industry Scaffolders Record Scheme (CISRS) aims to make sure that scaffolders are properly trained and have sufficient experience to carry out work safely and correctly. It operates a card scheme for operatives at all levels - Labourer, Trainee, Basic and Advanced Scaffolder.

The Labourer's Card is for operatives carrying out labouring or driving duties only. The Trainee's Card is issued when a person is accepted for training as a scaffolder.

The Basic Card can be achieved in different ways:

Apprenticeship: This is a two-year programme that combines learning with an employer with a total of 11 weeks spent on residential training at one of the National Construction College's sites at Bircham Newton (Norfolk), Birmingham, Glasgow or Erith (Kent). Apprenticeships lead to an NVQ/SVQ Accessing Operations and Rigging - Scaffolding Level 2 and the CISRS Basic Card.

Non-apprenticeship: Following at least six months' scaffolding experience, scaffolders can do the Scaffolding Basic Part 1 course (which lasts two weeks). After a further six months' experience they can do the Scaffolding Basic Part 2 course (another two weeks), then after a further six months do the NVQ/SVQ Accessing Operations and Rigging - Scaffolding Level 2. The Part 1 and 2 courses are offered at eight training centres throughout the UK.

To qualify for the Advanced Card, scaffolders must:

  • Hold a Basic Card
  • Get at least six months' subsequent experience.
  • Successfully complete the ten-day Advanced Scaffolding course.
  • Get a further six months' experience.
  • Successfully complete the NVQ/SVQ Accessing Operations and Rigging - Scaffolding Level 3.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A scaffolder should:

  • Have a good head for heights.
  • Be agile.
  • Be physically fit and have the strength to cope with climbing and handling heavy equipment.
  • Have a good sense of balance and be sure-footed.
  • Have good hand skills for using tools and equipment.
  • Be able to work well with others, as safety depends on teamwork.
  • Be responsible and appreciate the need for safe working practices.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced scaffolders may progress to supervisory work, estimating or construction management. If they have CAD skills they may be able to progress to project design and management. Self-employment is possible. There are also opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

Bircham Newton, King's Lynn,
Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577 577
(for careers advisers, teachers and adults)
and (for young people).

4 Edison Street, Hillington,
Glasgow G52 4XN
Tel: 0141 810 3044

National Access and Scaffolding
Confederation, Carthusian Court,
12 Carthusian Street, London EC1M 6EZ
Tel: 020 7397 8120

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