Words: Nick Vaccaro
Photos: sturti, xavierarnau
The world of masonry is a significant component that makes up the construction process. Much like other specialty trades, the work of a mason is very much an art form that has been passed down from one generation to the next. In many scenarios, a bricklayer’s son has joined the business, and then his son, and the process continues down the line. As the world has developed, the masonry lineage has women entering the trade.
Although the lineage of masons is exciting and carries a certain level of romance, some do take this career path, having never been exposed to this trade previously. With no grandfather or father selecting this as a vocation, the current newcomer must take an alternate route.
Through training and placement assistance, an individual interested in a masonry career can successfully master the craft and avoid the hazards of poor choices early in a career. Like any career path, however, mistakes can present themselves along the way to sabotage an exciting commitment to the trades. Mastering an introductory course of action can help to avoid those potential mistakes.
The recommended first step in pursuing a masonry career is to take advantage of a robust training program. According to Ryan Shaver, Workforce Development and Training Coordinator with the NCMCA, a requirement should be fulfilled before enrolling in any training programs.
“Give some thought to if you like working with your hands and not being in front of a computer screen all day,” said Shaver. “Consider if you like the idea of seeing something you built at the end of the day.
Although it is not the sole means of learning how to become a mason, Shaver suggests a hands-on approach through an apprenticeship. The benefits include building something each day based on what you learned and earning an income.
“It is a learn-while-you-earn process,” said Shaver.
One of the attractive features of an apprentice training program is that wage increases respectively as the individual’s skillset increases. Shaver indicated that this model reigns quite successfully.
“It is very enticing for a young person to start with the pre-apprentice program,” said Shaver. “The pre-apprentice hours in North Carolina can convert into your apprenticeship hours.”
Shaver compared the process to banking hours towards an apprenticeship while in high school or working over the summer break. As a result, the individual gains high school credit and another credit for working in the pre-apprentice program during the summer.
“The apprenticeship model contains depth instead of just telling people to show up on the job and do the best they can,” said Shaver. “We have a model and a system to increase that student’s skill set and wage as they progress in the apprenticeship.”
While the NCMCA website can provide information on apprenticeship programs, Shaver suggested seeking a company directly active in the apprenticeship program that provides the best results.
“Getting involved with a company that is enrolled in the program ensures you are following the correct model,” said Shaver.
Masonry careers are showing increasing popularity, and as a result, many resources are readily available and can help guide the career seeker to success. According to the NCCER, various resources and networking capabilities can catalyze career placement.
While knowledge of the masonry craft can carry an individual well into the career, a higher level of understanding and skills retained can catapult a mason further up the masonry career ladder. Like all trades, management is a potential in the masonry world and includes running large-scale projects and managing multiple teams of professional masons. As a result, one can start in the field mixing mortar, graduate to laying bricks and blocks, and eventually channel that experience and knowledge into a well-respected management position.
Obtaining this type of placement within one’s career can be difficult but is quite realistic. The NCCER recommends finding a mentor. Seasoned construction professionals can provide a level of guidance not found elsewhere. A mentor can also share networking and growth opportunities that fuel career progression.
The NCCER recognizes that career development in any field can bring severe stressors. Starting a new career and learning a new craft, especially one as independent as the masonry field, can invoke an intense bundle of stress that should be managed effectively. The organization recommends adapting to a healthy balance between work and play.
Having a mentor can be a great way to manage that stress through weekly conversations on a career path and general advice. Additionally, that masonry apprenticeship program can relieve some of the stress by serving as a guideline for career accomplishment. It can eliminate doubt and questions.
Before career placement can be deemed successful, an individual must be granted the job, which stems from a successful interview process. A proactive place to start is with the cover letter. Highlighting strengths and credentials, the cover letter can be the foot in the door for the extensive interview.
In a world where measurements do not always add up, and blueprints can contain discrepancies, it is vital to communicate to the interviewer that the individual harnesses good problem-solving tactics as the job seeker. These need to be tied to the masonry industry, and offering potential areas where this knowledge is valuable would be a great display in showing a high level of understanding.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
When entering a masonry career, bad habits developed early on can be the downfall later. According to the NCCER, detrimental and inefficient habits can cause severe issues for the young mason who finds promotion in a management role. The entire operation can ultimately suffer from those simplistic poor habits.
Setting out on a masonry career path can be overwhelming, with persistent shortcuts attempting to wreak havoc. While time must be conserved and funds used responsibly, young masons-to-be should rationalize the need for equipment, such as personal protective equipment. While it might be attractive to forego its use, the resulting hazard can potentially end a career in the infancy stage.
A new tool might be expensive; however, its use could eliminate hours of labor. This would end up rearing savings for the masonry contractor, so if it is affordable, its purchase could allow for an increased earning. On the other hand, if the new tool purchase devours the buyer’s entire savings or operating capital, it would probably be better. It is better to identify the need, consider its costs, and develop a game plan that compliments the budget.
As is life, masonry is rooted in continuing education. As new products and procedures are introduced into the trade, masons should recognize their value and continually seek further information, improved ideas, and continuing education courses. A mistake of enormous consequence is failure to admit you do not know the answer to a crucial question.
One should never rule out the power in peer fellowship; as a professional, lean on the experience and knowledge of your peers of the trade. Helping each other leads to increased learning and a better understanding of accomplishing complex tasks. This tends to serve as a much better approach than hoping that an underdeveloped skill will eventually become learned with time.