Words: Adrian Dominguez
Master and apprentice have a special bond that has an important place in passing knowledge down in a direct and intimate way that few other methods can replicate. The masonry industry has long used the apprenticeship model in training its new recruits as the field’s high personal contact and physical demands are well-tailored to a profession with deep roots in traditional one-on-one practical instruction. Naturally, it becomes clear that the notion of Career Day, where newcomers to an area of interest can have direct access to inside experts, serves as the introduction to the masonry world where hands-on work experience from the start can be highly intimidating to the uninitiated.
Providing a safe and comfortable starting point from where engagement can spark life-long interest and facilitate learning sound basics of the trade early is critical. For this reason, industry leaders on career day have the unique opportunity to connect with incoming recruits, providing a kick-start to their journeys with crucial early support and access to a diverse variety of methods to better acquaint one’s self with the field in confidence. MASONRY Magazine spoke to venerated industry experts Curtis Hoover and Ryan Shaver about their own spins on the mentorship bond dynamic and how they capitalize on that concept of career day to bolster their own efforts in giving back to the masonry profession.
The first place to examine when looking at the impact of career days would have to be education. As an instructor with the Center of Applied Technology-North in Maryland, Curtis Hoover spoke about how career day gives him the chance to show the ropes to hopeful future bricklayers by advertising a variety of events and programs in order to promote careers in masonry. Examples of these include his after-school program and outreach events to improve general engagement among the field as a whole. In describing the engagement piece, Mr. Hoover stated that career days are planned out as day trips in advance for eighth-graders to try out a class from four different trades: computers, personal services, automotive, and construction.
This is a common starting point from which many new ears will happen on masonry for the first time and thus a great opportunity to introduce the different ways one can get involved with the industry. There was talk of a summer program for youngsters aged six through eight that grants experience in two of the previously mentioned trades days after school closes for the academic year. One very cool detail is that participants in the summer program are guided towards their own project that can be taken home as students seem to have a strong connection to their first experiences in masonry. Hoover adds that returning students state that “they still have that frog or turtle they’d made” long after completing the program and enrolling their own children! Open houses are mentioned next, used to play off of this momentum, particularly as they vitally serve as a contact that brings potential prospects in using student-made projects to spread the word for further outreach.
Hoover stresses the importance of exposing project work done by current apprentices to prospective recruits, using the early event and resultant feedback to showcase talent, gain confidence, and build word-of-mouth momentum. Kids are given examples and demonstrations on a wide variety of projects from backyard decorations to mini-golf obstacles. “We make reef balls for coastal conservation” added Mr. Hoover, among the different types of projects offered along with opportunities to showcase the work too. “Sometimes we’ll do a miniature putt-putt. Whatever can attract kids” emphasizes the industry veteran, touching on the importance of “selling” the job and how important it is to come from within the field. Mr. Hoover acknowledges that “our biggest recruitment is word of mouth,” highlighting the importance of connecting the experts to the new generation early. This includes bringing in employers and professionals to these open houses in addition to the career days, courting them as much as the future bricklayer. “I really doll the place up” said Hoover as he described his efforts in developing showcase events like career days or open houses to the adults as much as the children. “A lot of people can’t believe… how we transform it.” But without the adults, especially current leaders in masonry, the concept would be missing half of its crucial components, as evident when we spoke to Ryan Shaver.
Subject matter experts always carry significant weight with newcomers of any given profession, this is a given. So naturally, the act of promoting that field should be of prime importance to veterans looking to add fresh talent, and NCMCA’s Workforce Development and Training Coordinator Ryan Shaver recalls his own gateway into the masonry industry at the age of 16 by way of Sam McGee. A mason professional hired to teach the craft to Shaver’s high school class, Sam made it a point to acquaint himself with the cohort of future professionals he was teaching. Mr. McGee made himself accessible to his students twice a month and bonded with the class in a way that gave learners a solid foundation in knowing someone on the way in, making it feel more comfortable. Seeing this beneficial relationship play out and how important it was to his own career saw the essence of this dynamic worked into his vision for the future.
Ryan Shaver’s method of giving back to grow the field has become establishing masonry interest groups at inner-city schools and counties so true training programs can be readily accessed directly from within high schools. Wake County in North Carolina, representing one of the state’s largest and home to the capital of Raleigh, NC lacks this type of support so with some collaboration from the appropriate contacts Mr. Shaver started work at Leesville Road High School to begin the first of an after-school project. Once off the ground in April 2021 after a shaky COVID-delayed start, the extracurricular activity was everything it was anticipated to be; a fully hands-on experience that would translate to real opportunities for work once mason contractors began to hire the students they knew directly.
The program worked out so well that the county of Mecklenburg, which includes the city of Charlotte, is currently being scouted to launch a version of the after-school masonry club next. The core idea of establishing the connections between teacher and student as soon as possible is naturally suited for the high school setting, providing a convenient place to get to hopefuls before they graduate in addition to the opportunity to forge lasting relationships with masonry professionals much earlier. This point is so critical that Mr. Shaver speculates: “after they graduate, it’s just more challenging to find them” as following family or friends into outside fields away from their youthful interest in masonry.
The step to come after is sheer numbers as Mr. Shaver states that, via his work with the Departments of Labor and Public Instruction in North Carolina, he has formed a statewide agreement to teach the practice through ApprenticeshipNC, an apprenticeship program based out of the state’s community colleges. “It really works well because you’ve already got that lined up for them” extolls Mr. Shaver, bringing this level of job support to the state level. Finally, engagement needs to stay consistent; events like Masonry Education Day this coming October keep learning professionals sharp and committed as Ryan puts it: “it’s our job as the industry to engage those students” as no doubt it was once Sam McGee’s responsibility.
These efforts have different approaches but they all lead to the same goal: a bigger and younger talent pool to work with. Inevitably, the next generation will become the current so improving and maintaining that career day to first-day pipeline is a priority every mason will inherit. Career days have a simple and powerful role: connecting the past and future to create a solid ‘present’ in any given job field. The follow-through of this vision over the generations has molded effective and clever initiatives like those mentioned earlier by Hoover and Shaver into exciting new ways to bring that classic practical engagement with current industry professionals. The eagerness to pay forward access to such knowledge sustains the future of this model, open to be further shaped by such growing diversity and scope in a method that is only exceeded in expectations for the next class of incoming masonry experts. Whatever the next generation brings with it, the exciting prospect of more out-of-the-box marketing and hype that new eyes can take in will always be rooted in the simple concept of meeting your heroes on Career Day.