Some 30 years ago, Scott Cam kickstarted his trade career as a carpenter. He never dreamed it would lead to TV stardom, let alone land him a Logie collection. But as an Australian Ambassador for Apprenticeships, it’s much more than fortune and fame for The Block’s inimitable figure head. Roving reporter Matt Reynolds discusses the importance of apprenticeships, the future for the trade industry; money and advice on taking advice with the man himself.
MATT REYNOLDS Hi Scott, you recently teamed up with the Australian Government to become an Ambassador for Apprenticeships, what exactly does the role involve?
SCOTT CAM It’s crucial to make sure school age kids are aware that apprenticeships are a viable and rewarding alternative to university.
I don’t think young people realise there are over 400 different types of apprenticeship available. It’s my responsibility to outline the benefits of trades and encourage young people to investigate them. It’s an attractive prospect to get paid while you study and learn the skills of a new job. There’s a shortage of tradespeople at the moment and that’s only going to get worse. In ve to ten years’ time, a trade is going to be the gun job.
MR Do you anticipate that wages will be higher in the future because of the predicted shortage?
SC Absolutely. There are many tradespeople out there now but they’re like me, in their 50s and 60s and set for retirement in the next few years. It’s time to get the kids involved. Some of my old apprentices now get paid up to $90 an hour, which is not bad coin! It’s a lucrative job that will always be in demand.
MR Do you have any financial advice for tradespeople?
SC A lot of tradies I know are stressed out about chasing money and paying wages. It shouldn’t be the case, but that’s the reality. Most businesses get paid when they do the work; tradespeople get paid often two weeks or a month later. Due to this – and all the other factors, stress for tradespeople running their own business is quite high. But if you want to live in a nicer home and have a better life you have to run your own business.
MR Do tradespeople have a responsibility to pass on their skills to the next generation?
SC Yes, I think they do. There’s an unwritten obligation to keep the trade alive and moving. The other part of my role is convincing people about the value of taking apprentices on and what it can do for their business. I’ve met with the federal minister to discuss incentives and subsidies to encourage more of it. Take companies like Boral for example, they’re worried that in ten years there will be no one to lay their product because brick laying is a dying trade. We need to reinforce the great life of being a tradesperson; working hard, getting out and about, creating something and at the end of the day cracking a beer and feeling fantastic about your achievements.
MR The Block can give home owners an unrealistic expectation of some of the time frames involved with renovation work. What are your thoughts on this?
SC With home improvement shows on TV every night, perceptions of what is feasible in terms of timeframes and attainability have been shifted. Tradespeople come up to me and tell me that people expect their new bathroom to be built in a week. Sure, we do that on the show, but if someone thinks that the building activity on The Block will be a reality in their own home, they need to get a handle on things! You’re not going to get 30 people all working in your house at the same time and a bunch of other tradies all standing by ready to jump in. In the real world, tradies have other jobs on. You might have to wait three days for a job even to be started. As far as advice for home owners goes, know your limitations, know your budget and minimise your variations. Variations are the biggest cause of heart ache between client and tradie. It’s all about managing expectations.
MR What’s the biggest plumbing disaster you’ve had on the show?
SC Everything is tested and certified on the show and if it’s not right it gets ripped up and done again. But accidents still happen. Like when there is no fall on the bathroom floor and the surface water runs right out the door. I’ve seen it so many times and still don’t get why it happens.
MR What’s the worst advice you her given to tradespeople?
SC I’m not an advice person, I don’t seek it and rarely give it unless I’m asked, my apprentices excluded. My theory is that really, advice only suits the person giving it. You’ve got to learn to make your own decisions about how you live and how you work.
MR I know you don’t like to give advice, but since I’m asking, can you suggest anything for young apprentices?
SC Work really hard and march from A to B. Don’t drag your feet when you walk. When you get home from work as a first year apprentice you should need to lie on the lounge room floor for two hours and sleep like I did. Then get up and eat as much as you can. That’s where you should be at if you’re working hard, nothing less than that. If you put
110 per cent in you’ll get so much more out of life, whatever your profession.
MR One of your biggest career achievements has to be that Gold Logie win. Was it a big surprise?
SC I’ve watched the Logies all my life and never believed I would end up winning the silver and the gold. My wife and I had a good laugh about how surreal it all was. What was probably even stranger was the fact that we decided to turn the Logie into a stubbie opener. I routed it into the underside. My son had his 18th birthday party a couple of years ago and it got handed around all night.
MR Scott Cam... it’s been a pleasure. Thanks again for doing this.
SC Really nice interview mate, I’ve enjoyed it. Cheers!