For this #SkillsetStory we sat down with Bricklayer Dave Cooper from DR & DV Cooper. Dave runs a successful bricklaying business in Orange and has been working as a Bricklayer for over 40 years. Dave is a wonderful advocate for bringing young people into his business to complete their apprenticeship and at the same time teaching them valuable life skills. We spoke with Dave and found out about his experience with Skillset and the value of taking on apprentices.

David Cooper - Host Employer Skillset

How long have you worked in partnership with Skillset?

I’ve been working with Skillset since 1998.  This year will be the 20th year that I have worked with Skillset.

How many apprentice/trainees have you taken on?

I have employed 11 apprentices and I still have Blake still working with me today. But I encourage the apprentices to stay with me for 6 -12 months after they complete their apprenticeship then move on so they can have a variety of experiences and learn from others.

How has your experience with Skillset been?

It’s been terrific. Skillset has always been reliable and answers my phone calls every single time I call. Skillset have the reach to help apprentices get through things if they are having a tough time. For example, if an apprentice is having a tough time at TAFE or experiencing difficulties personally, the consultants are approachable enough to help them get through it. It’s really important that it’s not just about business but it’s the approach to an apprentice’s well-being too.

What successes have you experienced as a Host Employer?

I’ve never had to sack anyone I’ve brought on as an apprentice or trainee. I’ve only ever had to hand back one Apprentice over the 20 years I’ve been working with Skillset. I’m proud to say that my business has a 99% completion rate.

My apprentices have also had their own accolades such as:

  • Kyran Bubb selected to represent Western for Golden Trowel
  • Kyran Bubb NSW & ACT GTA Apprentice of the Year Winner
  • Kyran Bubb Finalist for GTA Australian Apprentice of the Year
  • Kyran Bubb Western DEC Apprentice of the Year Finalist
  • Kyran Bubb CWA Apprentice Scholarship winner
  • Blake Hutchinson Bert Evans Scholarship Winner

How have you found the experience of having apprentices and trainees as a part of your business?

I wouldn’t function without them. I’m at retirement age and I know I couldn’t work with a bunch of guys around the same age as me, I’d fight with them all the time and be cranky. I still enjoy getting out of bed each day and coming to work with the boys. They are a really good group of guys.

These kids are with you eight hours a day and I’m trying to provide them with work and life guidance as some of them haven’t had a father figure in their life.  I’ve seen too many kids leave the industry heartbroken because their hosts have been too hard on them. Bricklaying has a reputation for being a hard man’s game.

Why do you think it’s important to invest in skilling and employing local youth?

The building industry in Orange is starting to experience a skills shortage and we are in real need of skilled trades. By teaching our youth, we’re building a workforce for the future that has the right attitude and work ethic. It’s important that we keep the flow of apprentices coming through to keep the bricklaying market at a reasonable level. Bricklaying is a key part of the construction industry.

What has been the best thing about working with Skillset? 

They have helped me to employ more apprentices than I would originally think I would have. The service Skillset provides has allowed me to focus on the day to day running of my business, and relieve the pressures of having to do bookkeeping, payroll and sort out any performance management issues with the boys – they do all that for me

What would you say to anyone considering engaging Skillset to take on an apprentice?

You get access to a wide range of services that would be perfect for small businesses. We get access to HR, insurances, Work Health and Safety services through the small fee you pay. The fee is reasonable for what you get access to.

I hate seeing kids left behind and I know that if I didn’t have work for my apprentices then I can hand them back to Skillset and Skillset will find them another brickie to work with. The apprentice doesn’t lose their job because they are employed by Skillset not me, and Skillset work hard to get them another placement. I’m proud to see my apprentices have their own teams and are successful and I’m fortunate to have been offered, great young kids.

Finally, what sets you apart from other Bricklayers?

I have a lot of respect for other bricklayers in Orange and it’s really special that we are able to work together. If I’m quiet, I’m able to send my boys over to other bricklayers that need help and I’m able to do the same.

We are easy to work for. There’s no fuss. The only difference I would say is that I am a big believer in the youth of today and giving them a chance. It’s important to have patience with your apprentices as well as allowing them to make mistakes and not leave them behind. It’s important to be productive but if we teach them right then it makes the whole business more productive.

Thanks, Dave for giving young people in regional NSW the chance to start their future careers!