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Simon Spina

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     SIMON SPINA

“You have to be fast, you don’t want to be the one causing a hold up.”

I am a Concrete patcher.

When I left school, I wanted to do forensic science. But at the time, I was under the impression that forensics was only done by the police and that they didn’t have a lot of spots to take people in, so it was hard to get into. I kind of missed that opportunity.

Instead, I started a diploma in electronics and did it for a year. I liked electronics, but this was geared towards TV repairs, which wasn’t really what I wanted to do, so I didn’t end up finishing.

I’m good with my hands and I learn quickly. I used to play around with installing stereos and such, so I did that for work for a while. Actually, I did a little bit of everything for a while, some painting and landscaping work as well.

But the Money freelancing like that isn’t great, especially when you start. I moved around a bit for 3-4 years, and then got into rendering. Rendering basically involves applying render to bricks, mostly for decorative purposes. Well, actually, in Europe they do it with thicker plaster for better insulation, but here in Australia it’s done mainly for decoration.

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There’s no compulsory study you need to do to be a renderer, but you can get a trade certificate.

Mostly you learn on the job and then let your work speak for yourself.

I did that for about 7 years. When I started, it was mainly houses – new and old, apartments. I was a subcontractor for other renderers, so normally it would be me and the boss working together on a job.

If he wanted to make money, he would have to teach me the trade quickly – unlike at bigger sites, where apprentices get told to do all the run-around jobs for months before they get into the nitty-gritty of their trade.

I learnt at a very quick pace though, from the word go.

A good renderer has a combination of both speed and skill.

I always made sure I set the right pace for the job, and then worked to improve my skill. Because, you can be a brilliant renderer, but if it takes you 10 days to do a job I can do in one day, that’s no good either.

Eventually, I got to a point where I wanted something more stable and rewarding. Being a subcontractor has its advantages, but a lot of people use it as a loophole to pay people less, to an extent. First off, you’re supposed to buy your own stuff – tools, protective wear, plus you’re paying your own insurance, training. The employers very rarely take on these costs for you.

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So you’re basically running your own business – yet one thing you can’t dictate in most cases is the hourly rate.

There’s industry standards and if you try to charge more, they’ll just get someone else.

For a while I was working for a company on a full time wage so I was getting sick leave, insurance, all the perks; but ultimately I left to pursue more money.

Rendering used to be a luxury service.It was more expensive, and there was more money to be made. Now the cost of materials has gone up and the rates have come down. There’s a lot more workforce available, and it’s harder to compete.

With render, some tradies get away with low quality, since it’s not vital to the actual construction of a building.

There’s minimum difference between a rubbish job and a quality job, but that difference takes a long time to achieve, and what’s worse, many people just won’t see it.

I stayed in my last rendering job for a while, got into a routine. But then, I had a few changes in my personal life, ended up separating from my ex-wife. I decided I wanted to do something else, move forward.

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I tried commercial rendering, so working on big construction sites. The job itself was pretty much the same, but it was unionized, with much better pay and conditions. However the drawback was that there’s not a great deal of work when you get in a union job.

Everyone needs to get paid what the union says, so often it’s easier for guys with subcontractors to win these jobs.

And then with apartment work, the technologies changed and instead of rendered walls a lot of buildings were being made up of pre-made concrete panels. So the work dried up from that end also. After about a year, work started to slow down, there was no longer full time work. In the end, the company asked us to go back to contracting, as there wasn’t the work for full time employees.

I moved on to a different company, but it didn’t work out – it was a bit of a shoddy operation, with pay regularly being late and me having to chase it. I ended up having a disagreement with the boss, and had to leave.

That’s when a mate of mine offered me a gig doing concrete pumping.

What that means, is instead of carrying wet concrete to site in a wheelbarrow, you have a truck that pours concrete into a pump and with the hoses that extend from the pump, you can get the concrete up to 150 meters away quickly and efficiently.

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So it’s easier in theory, but it’s still hard work! It’s hard on the body, and can be stressful. Because of the nature of wet concrete, once you start a job, you gotta finish it. You can’t take a break, you just gotta keep going. And if something goes wrong, things start piling on real fast: an error that might normally add an extra fifteen minutes of work will cause several hours delay.

My last job in rendering was working for a sole operator for about two years. During this time, he introduced me to Concrete Patching.

Concrete patching is the kind of work you do on commercial or industrial buildings. As I mentioned before, most of them are now built using precast concrete panels, and when they are being put together, they are held up with metal props that go into specially made holes in the panel. Once the construction is done and the props are taken away, the holes need to be patched up.

Other times metal panels have to welded on to the concrete, and then the welding also needs to be patched.

I liked the work, and once I got skilled, I got the satisfaction from being able to do it fast.

In this job, it’s all about the deadlines: if a builder promises to have a project done by a certain time and doesn’t, they get charged penalties and liabilities. So you have to be fast, you don’t want to be the one causing a hold up.

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There aren’t too many companies who focus on concrete patching, it’s a pretty niche trade, and it’s mostly only done on commercial jobs. A lot of formwork companies tend to have their own patching crew.

Once I got into concrete patching full time, I found you really have to be smart with your time and money.

In commercial, it’s a lot of on-and-off work. You’ll have companies that have a big job that will occupy you for 8 months, and then they have no other project in the pipeline, so they will let you go. And while the money is better in commercial jobs, the risks are higher, as well.

So you have to be careful with financial planning. I know a lot of people who work for these big companies, getting a lot of overtime. When it slows down, they lose a big chunk of their income and complain that they suddenly don’t have enough to pay the bills. I don’t get that: you can’t set up your life based on overtime pay, because it’s not guaranteed income.

You need to plan based on the minimum possible, and everything else is a bonus.

For example, I’ve been out of a job for 2 months now, and I’m not too worried. I’ve planned for this. And this is despite the fact that we’ve got 2 houses, one of which I’m renovating. But we don’t live flashy, we don’t drive new cars – I find all that stuff superfluous. Because we don’t waste money of pointless luxury items, we can still go out for a nice meal, go away for a holiday – we’ve got a pretty good lifestyle.

An important life lesson came to me after I separated from my ex-wife and met Maeve.

Apart from having my daughter, meeting Maeve has been the best thing I’ve done.

Before the separation, my ex-wife used to manage all our money, I wasn’t that interested. So as a result, I lost track of my finances, didn’t know where I was at. Once I realized we were in some trouble, it was too late.

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Maeve helped me grow up a bit, turned my life around. Now, I’m in full control of my financial planning, I know everything that goes on, I plan ahead. And I love that Maeve trusts me with it. We’ve got similar ambitions, we are focused on the important things.

Which is why we got into property.

Housing is a good way of investing money if you do it right. We bought a second property last year, and I’m doing a lot of renovation works on it myself, so that’s a big saving.

My parents helped me with my first place. I have a daughter from my previous marriage; I am planning to have more kids with Maeve. I’d love to be able to give each kid a house, or money to help buy one. Realistically, it can be very expensive when they are older, so I’m trying to lay the groundwork now.

You know, if I had a chance to change something in my life, I actually would have left school earlier.

The last two years of high school did nothing for me. I wasn’t going to pursue more advanced education, like university or TAFE. I have too short an attention span. I should have left, done an electrical apprenticeship, and by my early twenties  would have had a house and a stable career. It’s not really an option now, I just couldn’t afford 4 years on apprentice’s salary.

  My current trade has the benefit of longevity.

When I did the rendering work, I was a lot more physically fit, but it was hard on my body, especially on the back. I find concrete patching a lot easier, not as physically demanding. I can do this job forever, though I would like to retire early. I’m not fussed with ambition, status. I don’t need to make big dollars and buy flashy things. I’m happy with a great lifestyle, family, freedom to live as I choose.




This post first appeared on What I Did / What I Do | Personal Experience Stori, please read the originial post: here

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