Shop Talk: Workforce Development- Your Call To Action

Words: Joel Guth Workforce development is a hot subject that generates conversations at every level in the masonry industry.  There are facts, figures, ideas, suggestions, and many more resources available to guide the industry in developing the masonry workforce. However, the struggle to find and train good talent is still a growing problem.  If you’re like so many other masonry contractors and business owners struggling to find new recruits to bring in to your organization and work them up through the ranks like we all did, you are not alone. Let me summarize an article I reread today. It is from another masonry contractor, he is sharing his top three concerns facing the masonry industry.    (1) “Strong national economy”  (2) “We must lower the average age of our craftsmen” “the success of our business depends on our people. If we are not careful, we will become a dead industry.”  (3) “Having and maintaining a safe workplace for our employees”.  Note: Who was the wise contractor quoted? Mackie Bounds. The article was published in this magazine in March 2002, seventeen years ago.  Mr. Bounds knew it then and it is true today. Our challenge to recruit and train craftsmen for our industry is bigger than ever.  Recruiting and training what can you do?  Remember no one started at the top in this industry: you don’t go to college to learn how to be the best mason, masonry foreman or contractor. You can certainly learn things through high school and college that can be applied to your career, but the reality is that working in masonry requires on the job training. In addition, enrolling in a pre-apprentice or apprenticeship program is another great path to learning our trade.  It’s up to US who have already been down this road to recruit the new generation. Ideally, we need to recruit young people who have ambition and reasonable intelligence. You don’t need to be a scholar or qualified to be a mason, but you need to have another type of intelligence— good common sense. Many of us in the construction industry have been blessed with good common sense: the ability to evaluate a situation on our feet and find a solution.  So, what can we do as an industry to recruit these young, ambitious, intelligent people to pursue a career in masonry? Any and everyone in this industry can help make a difference. Contractors and their employees, block and tool manufacturers, associations, and countless others all can take action to bring about change.  But where do you start? Personally commit two hours per week, just two hours.  Local Research  The first thing you can do is find out what is happening in your area. What type of training or recruiting is happening locally that you may not be aware of? Contact your local, State or National masonry contractors’ associations. Ask what programs can they refer you to? Ask around to the regional industry leaders, chances are there know of or are directly involved in training at some level. Some contractors have stated their own in-house program. This should only take you a couple of hours.  Get Involved  Once you have learned what resources are available, pick up the phone! You can only begin to help after you know what is needed. Some programs may need tools or materials donated, a guest speaker to help educate students or even a local company who is willing to hire these apprentices who have finished the apprenticeship program. You know other mason contractors, get them off their butts to join you.  Learn about the masonry curriculum being taught in your area. Typically, there is a three-year training program to bring a mason from an apprentice to a journeyman. Our national masonry association MCAA was integral in crafting a comprehensive training program that can be used nationwide. Find out who the teachers are.  You may already know them. Sit in on a class, talk with the educators, and find out what the students are learning. I guarantee that you will see things you want to add to the class and you will learn some personal teaching skills.  Get Personal  Once you know where the programs are, the curriculums being taught, and you know who the teachers are, then you can get your hands dirty. Enroll your employees or potential employees in the training program. Investing in your people instills loyalty and employee retention. If you find there’s an excessive number of students looking for employment, you can put some of these apprentices to work to give them on the job training.  You’re an expert! Use your knowledge and become a guest speaker. Your expertise in the industry is invaluable to these students who need real-world application for what they are learning.  Whether it’s how to become a foreman or superintendent and the responsibilities required, tips and tricks, new products and their application, there is no shortage of information that will benefit this up and coming workforce.    Sharing this real-world information at both the high school and college level is a great motivator for the students, gives the teacher a fresh perspective, and reinforces the education these students are getting. Being a guest speaker is not only fun, but it’s a great way to engage with the students and perhaps find talent for your own company. When they see that you are involved and care about the industry, then you have a better chance to secure that talent and helping them continue to grow.  If you have the desire or know someone who has the time, and knowledge, to become a teacher. Great Students come from great, passionate teachers. How do you qualify? If a community college or high school is funding the program it may require a teaching credential or proof that you are working towards your credential. If the program is funded by the industry, then a credential is not normally required. Whether you are credentialed or not, there are opportunities available to educate and share your experiences with the masons of tomorrow.  Get Rid of the What-if’s  What if there aren’t any training associations near me? Reach out to the regional and national associations to find out what is available. What if I get turned down? You won’t. So much is needed out there that you might hear a jaw drop on the other end of the line when you offer your assistance.  What if there aren’t any high school or college programs near me? Start one. Network with high schools and find out what trades they currently offer such as woodworking or auto shop and see if masonry would fit into their program. Propose a program at your association meeting. Talk to block and tool manufacturers about donating their products to a local program. There are so many what-ifs, but consider the alternative; what if we do nothing?   As one of the founders of the Masonry Industry Training Association (MITA), I can personally speak to the success of personal involvement. We had to start just like you. When I say we it was a passionate group of contractors and industry related people who cared enough to set aside time to Get Involved. In California when we started there were few scattered training programs in the area.   We were fortunate to have great support from the block producers in our area. There was always companies willing to donate products and tools, and other resources to help an existing masonry class or start a new class.  I am very proud of what we accomplished it, at one time we had over 1000 students learning masonry skills in the MITA workforce development programs.  Time Allocation  You might be thinking, I don’t have time for all of this, but we all know that zero effort reaps zero results. But think if you invested two hours a week to the call to action. What about the other tens of thousands of subscribers to Masonry Magazine and countless others who read this article and commit to two hours a week.   50,000 masonry industry professionals dedicating two hours a week to workforce development equals 5.2 million hours per year in building and sustaining our workforce. That number is staggering and what an impact that would have on the masonry industry.  If you have questions, send me an email at and we will be happy to help get you on the right path. Visit the MCAA website at or MITA at as a starting point to get information.  My challenge to you – start today. Countless opportunities abound if you only have the willingness to look for them. Get excited! Together we can do this. Just think, by giving two hours a week, you can be an integral part of ensuring the future of masonry.  Words: Joel Guth and Stephanie Civello   ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- About Joel: Joel Guth is an Inventor and Business/Safety consultant. The founder of and past president of iQ Power Tools. A third-generation mason by trade and contractor for 30+ years, Since 1995, Joel has been a student of job site safety, always looking to find ways to improve efficiency and safety together with a focus on silica awareness.
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