Words: MASONRY Magazine
Photos: April Ruiz
Editor’s Note: We sat down with April Ruiz, an apprentice with Ramirez Masonry in Azusa, California. April competed in the 2020 Masonry Skills Challenge at World of Concrete and has been working in the industry since 2016. She is currently working on completing her apprenticeship to be a full-time mason. We would like to thank April for talking with us, and JaGClamp for sponsoring this series.
MASONRY Magazine: To get started, tell us about yourself.
April Ruiz: I’m a 22-year-old mother, and I come from Ontario High School. I’m a MITA (Masonry Industry Training Association) apprentice at Ontario High School in San Diego, CA. I joined MITA in May 2016, right after high school. At my graduation ceremony, I was wearing work clothes because I was at work before the graduation ceremony. While the other girls had on heels, their hair done, and were all dressed up, I was actually wearing work boots and a highlighter color shirt.
Masonry changed my life. I was a troubled kid. My mom pulled me out of high school in the ninth grade because I wasn’t doing well, and she put me to work in the house. I decided to go back to school in my sophomore year, and I joined the masonry program. It kept me busy and out of the streets with my other friends. I started dedicating my time to masonry, I stopped hanging out with the people who would get me in trouble, and I have to thank masonry programs a lot for getting me out of that lifestyle.
M.M.: That’s awesome. Tell us a little bit more about your apprenticeship.
A.R.: I have an on-training apprenticeship, so I go to work during the week and night school in the evenings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I’ll continue to do this until I grade up. The more work that is put into the classes, the quicker you finish your apprenticeship.
M.M.: You mentioned masonry saved your life. Can you tell us more about how you got into the masonry industry?
A.R.: During my sophomore year in high school, I thought masonry was ceramics. So, I said, “Yeah, I’m going to try masonry out and make plates and all that.” I walked into the classroom, and it was nothing but boys and blocks, and I decided to stay. I ended up liking the class and falling in love with the industry. I continued to take masonry classes in my junior and senior years. Since I was doing so well, I ended up making up all the credits I missed during my freshman year, and I had masonry, fourth period, and was the teacher’s assistant. I continued to do the competitions and was hired right after high school. They wanted me the day after graduation, May 16, 2016. I’m the only woman that has gone into the masonry field here.
M.M.: What are your experiences being a woman in the masonry industry?
A.R.: It’s not easy; I can say that much. You have to have the right attitude and love what you do at the end of the day. You’re not there for people to love you. You are here because you have a job to do. It’s hard because it’s a man’s world, and we’re stepping into that world. I don’t expect people to change just because I’m there. When I’m at a jobsite for the first time, everyone stays quiet because they don’t know me and are afraid to say anything that may offend me. I appreciate that, but I also want them to be comfortable while they work because I’m there to work. I’m there to get my 40 hours a week and get home. I have a family myself, I’m a mother, and a wife, so I’m fortunate enough to do what I love, and I don’t take that for granted.
M.M.: Do you have any family in the masonry industry?
A.R.: I don’t, I’m the only mason in my family. My dad is a carpenter. When I was younger, my dad would do custom kitchens. Now he does custom sheds.
M.M.: Did you take any other masonry courses in high school?
A.R.: I was fortunate to join ORP, an after-school program, to get credit for school. It was the same class, but at night from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Right after school, I would go back to masonry class and doing every all over again.
M.M.: To switch gears a bit. You participated in the 2020 Masonry Skills Challenge in Las Vegas during World of Concrete. Have you competed in other masonry competitions?
A.R.: Yes, during my junior year in high school, we competed at the Boys Republic in Chino Hill, CA, and we were a group of girls that took first place. We were recognized by the school board. It was pretty good. I continued to compete during my first and second years as an apprentice, and I’m still competing while in my third year as an apprentice.
M.M.: Do you plan to compete next year?
A.R.: No, I’m going to work on my speed and be a little faster so that I can have a better chance at winning. It’s hard out there, they’re good! I think I’m going to work on my work ethic, get faster, and I’m looking forward to competing just not at this moment.
M.M.: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
A.R.: I’m glad you asked that question, I see myself doing the same thing being a journey mason. I’ll be journey-ed out of my apprenticeship in a couple of months. Once that happens, I’ll continue to do masonry work. I do want to go back to school and learn more about block, concrete, and rebar. Hopefully, I can start my own little custom business, but I want to stick to what I love.
M.M.: What’s going to keep you interested in the masonry industry?
A.R.: I feel really secure in the career field I chose. I’d like to see more females getting into the industry. Since I’ve competed at World of Concrete, I’m seeing more females laying brick and block, and that makes me really happy. I honestly thought I was the only one, but now that I see more women in the industry, I’m looking forward to continuing my career in this industry.
M.M.: How is it working with older guys in the industry?
A.R.: Initially, they’re quiet, but once they get to know them, you really get to know each person’s personality. When some guys whistle, because I’m usually the only woman on a jobsite, I brush it off. Once you get to know them, they’re good guys who want to teach me the trade. I’ve won over the guys who think a woman should be barefoot and in the kitchen with my work ethic. I’ve had some say that I work better than their sons or the other guys on the jobsite. As a female, you have to prove yourself, and it kind of sucks that we have to do that. But if that is what it takes to do our jobs, and do it the best you can.
M.M.: What is it like being a mother and working in the masonry industry?
A.R.: It’s a handful, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. My daughter is the reason I work so hard now. I’ve had guys on a jobsite tell me I should be at home with my daughter, and I tell them I’m working for her. She’s my motivation. I want to show her she can do anything she puts her mind to and be whatever she wants to be when she grows up no matter what people say.
M.M.: What other challenges have you faced thus far?
A.R.: The hardest challenge is dealing with the men that don’t respect women in the industry. They can be really rude. You have to have thick skin and know that their words shouldn’t affect you. You have to have the right attitude and mindset.
M.M.: What is your greatest success?
A.R.: Being a mother and not letting it stop me from being who I want to be in the masonry trade. I’m able to continue to grow within the trade while being a mother. I do what I can for my child and for my career. That is my greatest success.
M.M.: What does success look like to you?
A.R.: Being comfortable without struggling. I’ve witnessed that growing up with my parents. They’ve worked hard my whole life. Not having to worry about anything, and being able to provide for my family is what success looks like to me.
M.M.: How do you overcome daily challenges?
A.R.: With a positive attitude and energy, you can overcome anything.
M.M.: Tell us about your mentor.
A.R.: My masonry teacher Kennie Ott, he’s retired now, but he’s my mentor. He helped me get my head out of ass. He taught me what’s important and helped me to get on this career path.
M.M.: Are there any female masons that inspire you?
A.R.: After going to World of Concrete and seeing some women in the industry, I would say yes, but before then, no, because I didn’t know there were other women in the industry.
M.M.: What is your dream work project?
A.R.: I would like to work on a refractory project. I’ve worked on school projects, prison projects, and they’ve been cool, but I’d really like to work on a project that has some refractory work.
M.M.: What does your day-to-day look like?
A.R.: I wake up at four in the morning, get my daughter ready and drop her off with my mom, and then I go to work. Work right now is usually in the L.A. area, and traffic is really bad. I get off at 3 p.m. and get home around 5 p.m. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I get home at 5 p.m. and have to be at Ontario High School from 6–8 p.m. My husband is very supportive and just joined the trade as a truck driver, and he loves it.
M.M.: What advice would you give someone looking to get into the masonry industry?
A.R.: Don’t give up and keep your head in the game. Don’t let bad comments stop you. That should drive you to do better.