Words: MASONRY Magazine
Photos: Grant Helms
Editor’s Note: For this month, MASONRY sat down with Grant Helms, 2021 Third-Year Apprentice Masonry Skills Challenge Winner and mason at Helms Masonry Incorporated in North Carolina. Grant works for his dad’s company and has a history in industry competitions starting from a young age of 16. He has been surrounded by masonry his entire life and continues his passion in the industry. We’d like to thank Grant for taking time to talk with us, and Masonry Cosmetics for sponsoring this series.
MASONRY Magazine: Tell us a bit of yourself.
Grant Helms: My name is Grant Helms, I’m from Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, and I’m 20 years old. I work for my dad — his business name is Helms Masonry Incorporated in Concord, North Carolina. I recently got my contractor’s license when I was 19 years old. I have my own business that I work in the evenings and weekends, but I work full-time for my dad.
M.M.: Did you have an apprenticeship, or did you take any masonry courses in school?
G.H.: I took masonry courses in high school (West Rowan High School) under instructor Rodney Harrington, and had an apprenticeship through my dad’s company (Helms Masonry Inc.)
M.M.: Is that how you got into the industry?
G.H.: Well, I’ve been around masonry my whole life with my dad’s company, but I never really took much interest in it until I got to high school. As a child, I was around my dad and tinkered at laying brick. When I got to high school, I started learning about the competitions and, I fell in love with it. I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I started laying brick. I knew exactly that’s what I wanted to do.
M.M.: Other than your dad, do you have any other family members in the masonry industry?
G.H.: Yes, my grandfather on my mom’s side layed brick for 50 years and grandfather on my dad’s side was in the masonry supply business for 50 years. My uncle, my dad’s brother Keith, also works with my dad’s business. I’ve been around a lot of different great masons. Ryan Shaver has been a great mentor. I give lots of credit to my masonry instructor, Rodney Harrington, he pushed me to do my best.
M.M.: Can you tell us a little bit more about some of the masonry courses you took in high school?
G.H.: We learned about things on a jobsite, teaching you the fundamentals of how to lay brick and safety, how to lay brick with a level and lay to the line. It’s just the basics just to get you ready, so when you come out of high school, you could be able to get a job, possibly lay brick somewhere. That’s kind of the way our program was in school, to help get you to where you could be able to lay brick when you got out of school.
M.M.: What was your experience competing at the state and national levels?
G.H.: My sophomore year, I won the local masonry 1 competition and decided to compete in another competition in Level 2 and placed 2nd. This was the beginning of my competition career. I won the NC State Fair Apprentice contest at the age of 16 and competed in another local competition and placed 1st. I went to Las Vegas and placed 2nd in Skills Challenge. In 2019, my junior year, I won the NC Skills USA Masonry competition with 0-point deduction (NEVER been done before) and then went to National Skills USA in Louisville, Kentucky where I won. In 2019, I decided to skip competing in Bricklayer Jr. 500 and competed in NC Regional Bricklayer 500. I just turned 18 and asked Rodney Harrington (my instructor from West Rowan) to tender for me. We placed 4th. Then, in 2020, I graduated, and COVID-19 canceled all local and state level competitions. In 2020, I competed in NC Regional Bricklayer 500 and asked my dad to tender for me, we placed 2nd. I competed in Sam McGee Apprentice competition and won with another 0-point deduction project (NEVER been done before). This allowed me to compete in Las Vegas for the Masonry Skills Challenge (I chose to compete in Level 3) and won. In 2021, I competed in NC Regional Bricklayer 500 and placed 3rd. My plans are to continue competing in Bricklayer 500 competitions.
M.M.: What would you say was your favorite competition that you’ve done?
G.H.: To be honest with you, my favorite one is the Bricklayer 500®. When I lay brick, I like to make sure things are done right, but it’s fun to be able not to do that in this competition. Just open up and see how fast you can lay brick, and you don’t have to worry about it. My goal is to win NC Regional Bricklayer 500 and win Bricklayer 500 in Vegas.
M.M.: Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?
G.H.: I want to take over my dad’s company. Now that I have my Contractor’s License, I want to start building houses soon, and I want to get more experience in things like that.
M.M.: As you move forward in the masonry industry, what will keep you interested in the industry?
G.H.: Everything you do is interesting because every job is different. For me, say four years ago, I can say, “Look, I built that.” That’s what keeps me interested in it— to see what you’ve done. One day when I have kids, I can show them stuff I’ve done as my dad showed me stuff that he did when he was my age, which will be fun for me to do when I get to his age. That’s why I like laying bricks, I’ve always been a hands-on kind of person, and I’m not the kind of person that wants to sit at a desk all day and be inside. I want to do something outside, and I like to do stuff with my hands. Another thing that I enjoy is projects where I’m laying stone. It’s kind of like a puzzle because every piece is different. You have to cut the stone and chisel it to make it fit.
M.M.: How is it working with some of the older guys in the industry?
G.H.: Most of them are good to work with. The ones I’ve worked with are super great guys and they teach you things and show you what’s right and what’s wrong. It has been a good experience for me. I couldn’t ask for better guys to work around, and I cannot complain about that.
M.M.: What does your daily routine look like?
G.H.: I get up in the morning, and I come to work. I’ve run a few jobs for my dad in the last year. In the summertime, we start between seven and 7:30 a.m. We usually take a break around 10 a.m. for 15 minutes, and then we’ll eat lunch around 12:30. We usually end up leaving the job around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m., somewhere around there. We try to work a little bit longer during the week so that we can get off a little bit early on Fridays. I work most Saturday’s weather permitting.
M.M.: Tell me a little bit more about some of the projects you’ve been involved in?
G.H.: We do lots of commercial jobs like Fire Departments. Last summer was my first commercial job when I was a foreman. We did some pretty cool projects for a client with a bunch of pavers, like a whole brick driveway. Last summer, we did a bunch of work and laid herringbone brick pavers there and just great lattice walls and stuff like that. They built a moon gate, which was pretty cool. I just recently completed a 9000 square-ft house with white split faced rock brick.
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone interested in getting involved in the masonry industry?
G.H.: I think it’s great, especially for somebody who likes to do things with their hands. I enjoy it and I think a lot of people would enjoy doing it. They better be willing to work because it is hard work, but it pays off at the end of the day. Laying brick is very rewarding!
M.M.: Do you have anything else to add?
G.H.: I want to thank my dad and Rodney Harrington for making me the brick mason I am today. If it wasn’t for them, not sure where I would be. Also, Fred Campbell, owner of Creative Masonry out of Limestone, Tennessee, is another great mason who has helped me. Fred is a three-time world champion in the Spec Mix Bricklayer 500. He has shown me multiple tricks that I have used in the Bricklayer 500.