Words: Ashley Johnson
Masonry is a trade that extends far back in time. It represents the past and the future. For centuries artisans have designed, constructed, and renovated buildings in a multitude of styles.
Mason traditions, skills, and techniques have evolved, been passed on, and adopted by modern masonry masters. Today, masons have the opportunity to leave their footprint, a relic of the past and their present for future masons similar to the buildings still standing today that are visited by tourists, serve as residences, and operate a business.
For prospective masons passionate about working with their hands and driven by seeing the results of their efforts and enthusiasm, masonry is an excellent career choice. Masons are critical to the integrity, character, and endurance of the buildings that we call home and work.
In this article, we look at what it takes to become a mason with regard to training and apprentice programs geared toward prospective masons.
Masonry requires highly trained, skilled, analytical, logical, patient, diligent workers to accomplish and complete the necessary work. Not everyone can or has the capacity to perform this work. It is not something that can be watched and learned by video on the internet.
To be successful as a mason, the right amount of education will need to be combined with extensive training and hours of practice.
A good place to start a career in masonry is in high school. Very often high schools offer trade courses. It is essential that candidates perform their due diligence in researching the proper available training or apprentice programs. Having the right education and academic background in masonry is important for quality, safety, and integrity.
In order to become a working mason, it takes students about one to four years starting with formal training and continuing on with an apprenticeship. Typically students will undergo a structured training program followed by an apprentice program designed to give them hands-on, real-world experience.
A good place to begin researching different training programs is through Mason Contractors (https://www.masoncontractors.org/find-a-masonry-training-program/), which allows students to search for programs in their states.
In addition to Mason Contractors, the International Masonry Institute (https://www.imiweb.org/training/) offers technical support, education, and information about the different specialties and the industry overall.
Similar to Mason Contractors, the IMI also offers a variety of certifications that further validate a mason’s passion, education, and experience.
Masonry teachers are adept in their field and possess years of experience they can share with students before being hired as teachers.
The Center for Applied Technology North offers a career program in masonry that prepares students to make the transition from classroom training to the worksite. A work coordinator will ensure employers are in compliance and that students move forward to a safe work environment.
Starting in their junior year, students begin building a portfolio of work in the masonry program. This portfolio includes all work, awards, certifications. Students also are engaged in mock interviews with local contractors who are themselves graduates of the program.
In addition to learning standard masonry techniques and a variety of skills, students are also prepared for life on the job site, protocols, good ethics, and work habits.
Other educational training programs for masons involve lectures, shop exercises, and work projects on campus to reinforce information and knowledge. Teachers will train students with skills like laying brick, block tile, stucco, concrete, glass, and other materials.
Many programs teach students advanced and complex techniques like designing and building fireplaces, arches, decorative embellishments.
More advanced masonry programs go beyond skills to include just as necessary functions like cost estimation, foremanships, site layout, general contracting, business and logistical situations.
Williamson College of the Trades (https://www.williamson.edu/education/trade-programs/masonry/) offers an Associate in Specialized Technology degree. Students are prepared for a field in residential and commercial masonry. This program focuses on turning students into leaders at different levels in the construction industry, such as journeyman mason, job site foreman, construction superintendent, project manager, and even owner of a contracting firm.
The courses under this degree include basic, intermediate, and advanced masonry skills. Students will learn basic skills like mixing mortar, stacking block and brick, spreading bed joints, reading blueprints, moisture control. At the advanced level, students learn how to take off material quantities, including labor costs, build profit into estimates, look at concrete reinforcement, layout, and construction of conventional and heat-circulating fireplaces.
Students also will be involved in considerable practical experience, restoring campus buildings and improvement projects as well as off-campus masonry projects.
Apprenticeships in masonry are designed to establish and reinforce the formal training and knowledge they have acquired. They do so on job sites and real-life situations. An apprenticeship can take up to three or four years of hands-on training.
Most apprenticeship programs are sponsored by unions or employers. As a student progresses further into the program, wages will increase and so will opportunities, benefits, and incentives. A typical starting salary for a mason runs around $46,000. The possibilities to branch out and expand a career are endless though.
Certifications in Masonry
A variety of certificates in different specialties of masonry improve a mason’s integrity, opportunities, job prospects, and ability to safely complete work.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers a Concrete and Masonry Course that is completely online. This course informs students about topics like reinforcing steel, post-tensioning operations, personal protective gear, cast-in-place concrete requirements, and other subjects.
Another valuable certificate offered by the International Code Council (ICC) provides masons with a structural masonry certificate that explores reinforced steel in masonry, reinforcing steel specifications, structural masonry plan reading, structural plans, and more.
The IMI offers a Historic Preservation Certificate Program that gives integrated knowledge of historic masonry preservation. This certificate program allows workers to establish themselves as preservationists by learning traditional and contemporary masonry techniques.
The masonry field will continue to grow and with it will come the need for skilled workers who not only possess the experience and knowledge but also are passionate about the different attributes necessary to preserve and safeguard the buildings and structures of the future.