The State of the Masonry Profession: Why the Workforce Issue Exists 

Some of the world’s most significant architectural achievements have been built by masons. The Egyptian Pyramids, the Colosseum in Rome, India’s Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China are all significant architectural achievements masonry professionals have built throughout history. And bricklaying’s most important tools – a trowel, bucket, line, and wheelbarrow – haven’t changed much over centuries. 

But in recent years, it’s become painfully clear that in the world of masonry, something has to change. For the first time in history, the outlook for the masonry profession has changed – largely due to the fact that there aren’t enough people pursuing a masonry career.  

The outlook for the profession is quite promising. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the masonry profession is expected to grow at a rate of 12% between 2016 and 2026, which is a faster than average growth rate.  

However, this enthusiasm is being tempered by the fact that the worker median age is currently 54, meaning the majority of the current masonry workforce will be retired within the next 10 years. Furthermore, a survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders reports that nearly two-third of bricklaying contractors are struggling to find workers, and it can take three to four years before a person with no experience can become a journeyman bricklayer. 

“Our members have consistently expressed that workforce development is one of the main issues facing the industry as a whole,” stated Jeff Buczkiewicz, MCAA president.  

MCAA Workforce Survey 2018 

  • 81% are experiencing difficulty finding skilled talent with only 6% struggling to retain skilled talent  
  • Over the next 18 months, 66% of respondents expect the rate of employees retiring or transitioning to another job to increase, but only 4% of respondents expect that rate to decrease. 
  • 79% said their company has current job openings with only 17% not having any current job openings.  

Where are the workers? 

Since the start of their generation, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) have been changing the economy. Post-World War II, Americans wanted to establish families, secure the economy, and quite literally rebuild America. At that time, Boomers were the largest generation in history.  A 1958 story in Life magazine declared the population boom a “built-in recession cure.” As adults, Boomers were credited with beginning the urban sprawl, which led to another economic boom.  

In the years that followed the Baby Boom, Generation X was born (1965-1981), and it became immediately apparent this generation of 48 million Americans was considerably smaller – by 30 million people! — than the Boomer generation.  For decades a retirement wave was predicted, but few companies prepared for it. Today, the retirement wave is in full force. An estimated 10,000 Boomers retire every day in the United States, and because it wasn’t prioritized, there isn’t a skilled workforce available to replace them. 

Some workers are retiring, others are choosing different careers. 

In the 1980s Career Technical Education (CTE) took a backseat to college education. Technology was emerging at this time, which introduced entirely new career opportunities and skillsets. Between 1990 and 2009, earned high school CTE credits dropped 14% according to The Brookings Institute.  

As new career paths emerged and college became the go-to path for high school students, a stigma around masonry – and the trades in general – began to form. The pressure to attend college increased with increases in wage disparity. In 1979, a high school graduate earned 77 percent of what a college graduate earned; today, a high school diploma will get you 62 percent of what a college graduate earns. This disparity in economic outcomes has never been greater, and it’s presented an obstacle to attracting talent.  

What – and who – is coming next? 

The past 10 years have been referred to as the most disruptive in our nation’s history. The masonry profession is threatened by a retirement wave and the expansion and diversification of careers. It’s equally challenged by changes in weather patterns which is creating more natural disasters, urbanization, and the building boom in both residential and commercial construction.   

There’s much to think about and prepare for – but when a labor shortage is evident, nothing else matters. First and foremost, masonry companies must understand how to engage employees – especially considering the impending loss of so many Baby Boomers. Retaining and engaging young talent is critical to the industry’ success.    

As with all the challenges listed thus far, masonry companies are facing the unprecedented challenge of managing a workforce made up of four vastly different generations, the majority of whom have been raised in a post-Industrial, technology-driven world. Awareness of these workforce shifts is the first step in establishing effective employee engagement strategies.

Generation X 

Born 1965 – 1981 

  • Grew up right after the women’s and civil rights movements. 
  • Mostly raised in two-parent working households or single-parent households before childcare programs were prevalent.  
  • Known as a generation of “latch-key children 
  • Xers tend to be self-sufficient and independent thinkers. 
  • As adults, they prioritized family time, becoming known for pioneering the idea of a work-life balance.  

As Employees 

In a rapidly aging industry, Gen X employees are highly valuable. Their years of experience and their desire to see the positive impact of their work perfectly position them to lead and mentor younger employees.   

Generation Y 

Born 1982 – 1995 

  • Known as the Trophy Generation, Gen Y, or Millennials, this generation is the largest (80 million Americans) and most studied in history.  
  • First to be raised using technology. 
  • First to be rewarded for participation and not achievement. 
  • First generation of children to have an equal voice in the household.  
  • Conditioned to appreciate attention and frequent feedback.  
  • Gen Y views lack of feedback as suspicious.  

As Employees 

Stereotypical attributions assigned to Gen Y – such as not being hard workers – are harmful to all organizations. In fact, Gen Y does want to work, they simply see work and want to do it differently. Recognizing and appreciating this generations love for variety in their work is an asset to all industries. Cross-training and skill diversification is an excellent strategy for Gen Y engagement.  

When given the freedom and opportunity, Millennials will act on their strong ideas and opinions to strive to improve the workplace. This leads to process improvement and enhanced employee engagement.  

Generation Z
Born 1996-2009 

  • Sometimes referred to as the Connected Generation because they have never known life pre-Internet.  
  • Creative and entrepreneurial  
  • Embrace problem solving, often with social causes and specific purposes as driving forces 
  • Constantly creating and sharing ideas with a sense of realism 
  • Terrorism and school shootings are the reality 
  • To them, the “American Dream” seems to be just a dream 
  • Cautious and pragmatic 

As Employees: 

Gen Z tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed. Having been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession and having watched Millennials become the most debt-ridden generation in history, their employment approach is taking a new path.   

For example, in a recent study conducted by XYZ University, 66% of Gen Z respondents cited financial stability as the most important job factor to them. And 71% of Gen Zs currently have a job for which they are being paid – an astounding statistic given the fact that the oldest of this generation just turned 22 this year.  

About The Authors And Researchers

Sarah Sladek 

CEO, XYZ University 

Sarah Sladek is a best-selling author, speaker, and CEO. Since 2002, her life’s work has been dedicated to helping organizations engage future generations of members and talent. As a leading researcher of generational insights, she has authored five books and several research papers. Her latest book, Talent Generation: How Visionary Organizations are Redefining Work and Achieving Greater Success (2017), identifies the core strategies essential to engaging today’s talent. As the founder and CEO of XYZ University, Sarah has grown a future-focused company comprised of researchers, presenters, and strategists helping organizations worldwide engage younger generations of members and talent. 

Heather Thomton-Stockman 

Director of Research + Strategy + Training, XYZ University 

Heather Thomton-Stockman brings solution-centered strategies to her work at XYZ U, drawing upon her leadership background in strategy, marketing, education, and training. She excels at both strategy development and implementation, successfully guiding clients through change management initiatives. She also plays a key role in the development and delivery of XYZ U’s workforce training initiatives. 

Words: Sarah Sladek and Heather Thomton-Stockman
Photos: XYZ University, Zinkeyvch, PeopleImages, FatCamera