GEN NXT: The Next Generation of Masons

Words: Cass Stern

MASONRY Magazine had the opportunity to speak with father-son duo Mike Kern, Sr. and Mike Kern, Jr. Mike Kern, Sr. is a recently retired Masonry Instructor at Burke’s Career and Technology Center in Pennsylvania, and his son, Mike Kern, Jr. has stepped up to fill his father’s shoes as a Masonry Instructor in his father’s former position.

MCAA: How did you get into the masonry industry?

Mike Kern, Sr.: My brother actually went to a career center for masonry. Then he went into business, and I worked for him as a kid. I went to the Career Center as well. Initially, I couldn't get into masonry; it was full. So, I took architectural drafting my first year, and I got into the school. Then I could transfer right into the program the following year, which worked out well. I figured I'd learn how to read prints first.

Mike Kern, Jr.: Well, my dad was the masonry instructor at Burke's Career and Technology Center. During the summers, he had me working with him since I was around 14 or 15. I liked it, so I decided to join his shop in the masonry shop. That's how I got into masonry, and then I found a job in the field.

MCAA: When did you become a masonry instructor, and what was your favorite part about teaching masonry?

Mike Kern, Sr.: I became a master instructor in '92. What I enjoyed most was observing the transformation in the students' skills and watching them succeed over the years. It was fascinating because they would come in quite inexperienced and unsure of themselves. But as they progressed and learned, it was gratifying to see their confidence grow and their enthusiasm for building develop. Witnessing their journey from uncertainty to confidence was truly rewarding.

Mike Kern, Jr.: I was working, and knowing my dad was retiring, I saw an opportunity. I basically thought, 'I'm gonna go for it.' And I applied and got the job. The transition from working in the field to teaching has been quite different, but it's been enjoyable so far.

I find working with the kids to be a lot of fun. It's rewarding to watch them develop their skills, and it's exciting when they finally grasp a concept they've been struggling with.

MCAA: How did you react when you learned your son had been hired in your place? Was this something you had always hoped for your son?

Mike Kern, Sr.: It's funny, I didn't even know he was applying for my job; nobody told me. I actually recruited two guys to take my position, not knowing that my son applied for the job. But you know, it didn't really matter. I had asked him numerous times before because I had been planning on retiring maybe a couple of years before.

I asked him, 'Hey, would you be interested in this position?' He was still a little young, you know, considering the field, and he enjoyed it, so I thought he would be good either way. But I thought it would be a good job for him, given the steadiness of it, especially since he was starting a family. I think it was a really good move for him. I'm really happy that he got it, and I'm super proud of him for that.

MCAA: What was your father’s reaction to you taking his place?

Mike Kern, Jr.: He was really excited for me. I originally didn't even tell him that I was applying for the job. When I told him I was applying, I had my second interview. He said, “I didn't even know you had a first interview”, but he was very excited, and I think he was happy for me. He also liked being able to know what I was going to teach because he was a teacher here for years. So, I think he was excited that he knew who was coming in and making sure that what he left behind wasn't going to be a crazy change.

MCAA: Since you are now a retired Masonry Instructor, can you talk about Masonry Education and what, if anything, has changed since the time you were in masonry school?

Mike Kern, Sr.: We might be more focused now with the curriculum and skill level development. In the past, it wasn't as structured as it is now.

MCAA: What are your plans for the future?

Mike Kern, Sr.: I'm going to continue to contract and I'm still a part of the Masonry Instructors Association out here in Pennsylvania, but I think it's the Mid Atlantic Masonry Instructors Association. We are all connected, and we have meetings. I'm going to continue to go to the meetings and we're always a soundboard for the new guys coming up.

I love seeing the new kids in the field coming into positions. With the masonry instructors Association, we are all connected throughout the state. It's great because I know everybody across the state, and it's just a great thing to do. It's kind of nice to have connections and I don't ever plan on losing that. I was always able to be involved in the masonry field of some sort, in some way.

Mike Kern, Jr.: It's my first year, but I still enjoy it. I plan on staying here and even working in the field during summers. I like it, and it’s a good job.

MCAA: What would you say to someone who is on the fence about joining the Masonry Industry?

Mike Kern, Jr.: It's hard work, but it's rewarding work. You're going to work hard, but at the end of the day, you get to look up and you get to see what you did. It's rewarding to see that finished product and knowing that you did it.

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