The Florida Masonry Apprentice and Educational Foundation (FMAEF) are making strides in the effort to develop skilled workers for the masonry industry in Florida. The FMAEF has Registered Apprenticeship programs throughout Florida. They have a mutually beneficial working relationship with the Florida Department of Education and with Secondary and Post-Secondary Career and Technical Education schools. Although these programs are doing well, they cannot meet all the growing demands for our workforce.

Moving forward after the Great Recession, Florida is enjoying major growth in the construction industry. The Florida tourist industry also continues to grow. We have become the third largest population in the nation. The demand for more and more skilled construction workers has become an increasing concern.

The Florida Masonry Apprentice and Educational Foundation explore all avenues to find workers for the masonry industry. One group that we have begun to work with more closely is the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC). FDC is the third largest state prison system in the country. It consists of 148 institutions including 50 major institutions. The Florida Department of Corrections houses approximately 98,000 inmates. 95 percent of these individuals currently in our correctional system will return to society and will need a job.

 

The FDC met with the FMAEF, the Masonry Association of Florida (MAF), and the Florida Concrete Masonry Education Council (FCMEC) recently. They determined that they could work together to provide a pathway to work for those inmates who wish to learn a trade. Currently upon entering prison, inmates are given a questionnaire to determine eligibility for a training program. Those who are interested are screened for a Career and Technical Educational program for multiple trades. Length of sentence and potential release date must also be considered. Next, the inmates are given the TABE Test to determine their grade level. An eligible inmate is then placed in a program when an opening occurs. The masonry program requires that the student must have a 9.0 or higher in reading and math to receive a Florida Department of Education Certificate of Completion.

The Florida Department of Corrections has established a highly effective Career and Technical Education system in their institutions. The FMAEF has a great working relationship with the eleven FDC Masonry Training Programs throughout the State. They played a key role in establishing the NCCER Masonry Curriculum as the curriculum taught by the FDC. These 11 masonry programs have an average of 25 students all year. This means that at any given time there are well over 200 inmates receiving masonry training. Classes are six hours per day. Participants receive both classroom and hands on training and they begin the process to obtain their OSHA Ten Cards and NCCER Blue Card and Credentials.

FMAEF provides Industry Speakers who give presentations to the inmates to inform them about our trade. The FMAEF offers additional education and training to the masonry instructors through a Train the Trainer Workshop. The FMAEF has also certified the FDC masonry instructors to be masonry judges and they help judge the Fastest Trowel, Brick 500, FMAEF Apprentice Contest, and the annual Florida Skills State Masonry Contest.

In September of 2016, Robert Melgaard, a third-generation mason and the instructor at Baker Correctional in Sanderson, Florida, worked with the FMAEF to host an Open House for Mason Contractors and Suppliers. The purpose of this event was to demonstrate what the masonry program teaches and give them an opportunity to meet the inmates in their classroom and work area. This was the first time an event of this kind has taken place inside the wire. The contractors spent over four hours inside. They saw and heard what the inmates do as they learn their masonry skills. The inmates heard directly from the contractors which skills they require in a worker and what they would expect from them on the job. The contractors had the opportunity to observe the projects the inmates were working on and critique their work. An engaging question and answer session followed. Jerry Painter wrapped it up with a presentation on what it takes to be a mason. The Florida Department of Corrections provided the contractors with lunch and we discussed ways the Masonry Industry and the FDC can continue to work together to provide future workers for the trade. Everyone was pleased with the results of this collaboration.

The Florida Masonry Apprentice and Educational Foundation staff work very closely with their area FDC institutions and encourage local masonry contractors to hire the masonry students once they are released. The success of this first Open House was soon evident. We successfully placed seven of Mr. Melgaard’s students with area contractors. The FMAEF and FDC are planning Open House events at the other ten institutions that have masonry programs.

FMAEF is in contact with over 200 inmates who are taking the FDC Masonry courses. Beyond this, we want to identify other inmates who may not be in the program, yet may have worked in construction and possess skills that make them employable in the masonry industry.

The FMAEF and the Florida Department of Corrections now hold weekly meetings to explore ways they can help provide an opportunity to an adult inmate who has served his time for his mistake and who has taken advantage of the opportunity to learn a trade. They want to assist him in becoming a productive member of society upon release.

The Florida Masonry Apprentice and Educational Foundation, the Masonry Association of Florida and the Florida Concrete Masonry Education Council are also working with the Florida Department of Corrections, Department of Juvenile Justice, and Youth-Build to develop Pre-Apprenticeship programs for youth offenders. We all know that if we encourage these young people to learn a skill and provide the training that prepares them for a job after release, they will be less likely to enter the Florida Corrections System as an adult.

The Masonry Industry will continue to need more skilled workers. The Industry must be willing to look for a readily available source of employees through our Registered Apprenticeship System, Secondary and Post-Secondary Schools System, and through the Florida Correctional System.

In the very near future you will be hearing more stories about what we are doing to identify and assess inmates who have a real desire to learn masonry. You will also hear about how we are working to ensure that they are trained in the proper skills to become a successful skilled mason upon release.

Words: Al Herndon, FMAEF
Photos: FDC