Editor’s Note: This month we had the opportunity to talk with 2017 SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500® winner Matt Cash. Matt is a Masonry Supervisor at Huntley Brothers Masonry Company in North Carolina. It was a pleasure talking with him about his views on the workforce development and competitions. We’d like to thank Matt for his time, as well as JAG Clamp for continuing to sponsor this important series.
MASONRY Magazine: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Matt Cash: I work for Huntley Brothers Masonry Company in Mint Hill, North Carolina. I’ve been working for them for six years and have been in the industry for 20 years. I started in high school and got pretty good at it so I continued in the industry; and I have a 10-year-old son.
M.M.: You mentioned starting in high school. Did you go through a masonry program and do an apprenticeship?
M.C.: Yes. I did a vocational program in high school, and then I did my apprenticeship through McGee Brothers after I got out of high school. I completed that. I was considered a journeyman apprentice at the time.
M.M.: Is anyone else in your family in the masonry industry?
M.C.: No, it’s only me.
M.M.: What do you do at Huntley Brothers?
M.C.: Right now, I’m one of their masonry supervisors, I used to run crews for them, but I’m working more with the young guys, teaching them how to be foremen. I’m basically training my replacement on the wall. Since I still run crews, my day-to-day operation consists of me having three to four jobs that I’m exclusively over. We have our foremen on jobs in Greensborough, NC. and a couple in the Charlotte area. I have about four crews I’m running right now. I lay brick, but not as much as I used to. I do more training and supervising now.
M.M.: You won the SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500® in 2017, tell me how you prepped for that.
M.C.: I practiced my tail off. I’d work all day and see, I had just recently been moved up to supervisor so when I was getting ready for the competition, I was still laying brick every day. After work, I’d go and practice for an hour and lay another 700-800 bricks. As much practice as I did, I ended up laying 10-15 thousand extra brick after work on Saturday’s practicing for this competition. On top of working 8-10-hour days on the job, so I put in the effort and it paid off.
M.M.: Have you competed since then?
M.C.: I went back this past January to defend my title and I took third place. I lost by a half inch. I was struggling with a few things but a half-inch cost me to win it again.
M.M.: You feel a bit strongly about this loss.
M.C.: Yeah [laughs], I seem kind of heartbroken about it. I’d rather get beat, versus beating myself, and that’s what I did dealing with the issues I had during the competition. They won’t let me compete this year because if you compete for two years in a row and lose you have to take a year off. If I had won the competition I could have come back and competed. I’ll come back next year in 2020 and I’ll be ready, I’m not holding anything back.
M.M.: How’s your experience been working with younger guys in the industry?
M.C.: Honestly, it’s not like it was when I was growing up. When I was coming up the idea was what you could do to get a raise. You showed your self-worth, now it’s kind of the other way around. It’s more the way of paying more to get it out of them. It’s sort of like football. Most guys that play football don’t get a big contract in the first couple of years. They prove themselves to get a big contract. They build a big following to earn that contract. Now it’s completely the opposite football players want a big contract to work as much as they can instead of pushing themselves. That’s the mindset of the generation today and specifically how people are brought up. I was brought up working on a farm, picking up hay in the summertime, just working all the time.
That’s not how our kids are raised these days. It’s gotten to the point where we don’t want to work as hard as we used to. But you really have to if you want to make it in life. 95% of the time nobody is going to give you any money without any sort of output. But when I go back to the high schools and watch the guys in the masonry programs, I look for someone like myself at that age. I call them “getters,” someone that goes out there and gets it done. I’ll set an example for them as well, the reason I did the competitions for the clout behind my name. People pay attention to those who have done things. Well, I’ve done something so they’ll pay attention when I walk into the room. Being able to show them this is a path for you to take and be just as successful as me.
M.M.: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your career?
M.C.: My family didn’t come from this industry, most of the masonry companies are all family owned. It’s sort of like I’m on the outside looking in. I have to do things 10 times better to be acknowledged. I used to work with the McGee Brothers and I owe a lot of my success to them, but I chose to go with the Huntleys because I had room to grow. I chose the better of the two and it’s worked out better for me. My biggest obstacle is being acknowledged, so I work 10 times harder for that to happen.
M.M.: How did your family feel about going into the industry?
M.C.: When I was 17 years old in high school, I had terrible grades. I was an idiot at that point in time I called it. So, I quit school and went right to work, and I love my parents to death. But my dad said I’ll never make it, and I used that as fuel to my fire and from that point on I set reachable goals. I’ve always set goals in life, short-term and long-term goals. If somebody tried to hold me back that’d just make me want to work harder towards that goal. I use the negative words and being held back as a motivator to keep me on track and determined to reach my goal.
M.M.: Has your success in the industry changed their opinion?
M.C.: Absolutely, back then my dad only knew my character and track record while I was a teenager. I wasn’t a terrible kid, I just wasn’t doing the things I was supposed to. So, how was he supposed to react? Maybe he said those things to drive me to work harder. I didn’t really have the best track record back then, but now I have a great one. You can take that two ways, a lot of the guys today blame a lot of their problems on their parents and their experience in life. I’ll say right now, I didn’t have a great experience growing up, so I could’ve chosen to have gone down the wrong path or the right one. Everybody has a choice, you can choose to do it the right or wrong way but you can’t blame that on anybody else but yourself. I don’ t blame anything on anyone else, I just use it to drive me and I still do it to this day. I try to be the best dad and role model I can be for my son.
M.M.: Is there anything you wish you knew before going into the industry?
M.C.: Not really, this work isn’t for everybody but it is for me. Everyone has a purpose in life and sometimes it takes a long time to find that purpose. Luckily for me, I found it earlier on.
M.M.: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into this industry?
M.C.: Yes, next week we have our workforce development program, the Masonry Education Day here in North Carolina. We have 610 masonry high school students will be coming out, the event is wrapped around the SPEC MIX North Carolina Regional. That’ll be a demonstration as well, we set up different stations, take the students around to them, and they have the opportunity to talk to all sorts of people in the industry. Not just brickwork, but everything that involves masonry, and there’ll be groups of 50 or so. We’ll rotate these groups through the stations and show them different things related to masonry. We’ll show them the tools that are used to lay brick, along with how to lay brick and block. (This interview took place prior to the NCMCA Regional Event mentioned by Matt Cash. While the event has already occurred, we still want to highlight its significance for the industry and have kept Matt’s references in the finished interview.)
M.M.: Yes, we talked with Ryan Shaver and Kent Huntley and they mentioned this event and the huge turnout you guys have this year. We did a story on this event last year and were so happy to see such a large turnout this year.
M.C.: It’s going to be crazy, it’ll be overwhelming but it’ll be awesome. We have a lot of help this year as well. I don’t have a problem in the world doing these kinds of events. We need help in this industry and we’re not doing something to get it, you can’t complain about not having help.
M.M.: So you’ll be at that event too? Will you be demonstrating or anything?
M.C.: Yes, I’ll be there. The foremen and I will have mini walls set up that we’ll have students doing labor on. I’ll also be guiding 50 or so students around. I’ll be floating around throughout the competitions as well. I’ll be and do whatever is needed of me on that day.