Brick by Brick: Developing the Masonry Workforce

Words: Dan KamysAugust 2015

Workforce Development

By Amy Saxton

[caption id="attachment_10423" align="alignnone" width="605"]Shown are participants in the Arizona Masonry Tender Training Program. Shown are participants in the Arizona Masonry Tender Training Program.[/caption] According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the masonry industry will need 35 percent more masons by 2022, which is 5 percent more than what was predicted in 2012. Numbers like these show the industry’s workforce shortages only continue to worsen, and the masonry field must elevate its commitment to recruitment and training. As the accrediting body of the construction industry for training and credentials, NCCER offers standardized curricula and assessments for more than 70 crafts, including masonry. [caption id="attachment_10428" align="alignright" width="305"]Shown are participants at Southern Arizona Construction Career Days. Shown are participants at Southern Arizona Construction Career Days.[/caption] To create its masonry training programs, NCCER works closely with subject matter experts from the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and with numerous chapters across the country to develop their existing workforce and promote masonry careers. In addition, MCAA represents masonry on NCCER’s workforce development committee. In an effort to connect employers with future masons, NCCER has sponsored the national SkillsUSA masonry competition for the last three years. The competition tests the skills needed for successful entry-level performance in masonry and showcases career options as well as training opportunities available in secondary and postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) programs. [caption id="attachment_10429" align="alignleft" width="305"]Shown are Gonzalo Galindo of CEMEX (left) and Patrick J McLaughlin, Concrete Masonry Education Council former executive director. Shown are Gonzalo Galindo of CEMEX (left) and Patrick J McLaughlin, Concrete Masonry Education Council former executive director.[/caption] Contestants are judged on accuracy, ability to read and interpret blueprints, workmanship, and the proper use of tools and materials. The competitions are planned and executed by industry representatives through a national technical committee and a national education team. Each year, MCAA participates on the national technical committee and MCAA member Florida Masonry Apprentice & Educational Foundation participates on the national education team. In addition to assisting NCCER with the national SkillsUSA masonry competition, Florida Masonry Apprentice & Educational Foundation is also an NCCER Accredited Training Sponsor. To promote masonry careers in the state of Florida, the foundation hosts a regional competition with 35 students from seven area high schools in north central Florida. The competition lasts about five hours, and the top three finishers move on to the state-level SkillsUSA competition. More than 200 spectators turn out for the event, including parents and politicians. A trophy is even presented to the superintendent of the winning team’s county. NCCER attends the event each year to support masonry CTE programs and provide items such as safety glasses for all participants, sets of NCCER Core Curriculum and Masonry training guides for winners, hardhat decals, carpenters pencils and lanyards. “All the students have a great day,” says Al Herndon, apprentice coordinator for Florida Masonry Apprentice & Educational Foundation. “I’ve had former competitors approach me and say how much they love their careers and how successful they have been.” [caption id="attachment_10426" align="alignnone" width="605"]Florida concrete producers gather to sign participation agreements for the Concrete Masonry Education Act. Florida concrete producers gather to sign participation agreements for the Concrete Masonry Education Act.[/caption] Last year, the foundation expanded their efforts to promote masonry careers by helping to pass legislation to increase funding for training. The Concrete Masonry Education Act of 2014 was passed unanimously in Florida by the House and Senate, and on June 23, 2014, it was signed by Gov. Rick Scott. The bill is a voluntary program in which concrete block producers invest one cent per concrete block into a special account for masonry education and research. Upon signing up for the account, producers must commit to investing in the program for a minimum of one year. So far, more than 70 percent of the volume concrete block producers in the state have signed up for the program. To put into perspective how much funding can be raised for training and research, in 2014, there were 200 million blocks made in Florida, and prior to the recession, there were around 500 million blocks made each year in the state. Numbers like this show the impact this bill can have on the industry. “Now we can do more with education and research in the industry,” says Pat McLaughlin, executive director of the Florida Masonry Apprentice & Educational Foundation. “Contractors, suppliers and producers all worked together for five years to pass this bill, and we wouldn’t go away. I’ve never met a group of contractors who were so dedicated to making this happen. If you don’t have training then you don’t have an industry.” Through the Concrete Masonry Education Act came the Concrete Masonry Education Council. The council is made up of a 13-member board of directors, and it is required to plan, implement and conduct programs of education in the concrete masonry field, as well as determine which groups receive funding. As of now, schools do not currently receive funding, but entities that work closely with schools can receive funds. McLaughlin adds that current construction activity in the state of Florida is only at about 60 percent to 65 percent of normal levels. As construction increases to more normal levels, having an adequate labor supply is essential. “Labor is critical to the economic development in Florida,” McLaughlin says. “It’s a job producer, and it allows our employees to feed their families. It is crucial.” On the other side of the country, the Arizona Masonry Contractors Association – another MCAA member – uses NCCER training in its apprenticeship program to prepare future masons. The program takes three years to complete and teaches NCCER’s Core Curriculum and all three levels of masonry. While the association’s apprenticeship program has been around for 20 years, it began using NCCER training two years ago to streamline the instruction process and make organizing classes and materials easier. A major focus of the Arizona Masonry Contractors Association is its high school outreach program. The association donates blocks and materials from members. It also sends volunteers to schools to help students understand the opportunities in construction and masonry and what type of training is needed to start a career. This summer, the Arizona Masonry Contractors Association collaborated with NCCER and its publisher, Pearson, to host a training session for high school construction technology instructors interested in learning the NCCER process. Nearly 20 instructors learned about instructional projects and how to set up classrooms, teach NCCER modules and conduct administrative tasks for students to receive NCCER credentials. The training promoted masonry education to instructors who do not already teach it and encouraged more schools to teach masonry to their students. Another training program the association began this summer was its Masonry Tender Training Program for individuals without industry experience looking for entry-level positions in masonry. Individuals applied to be in the six-day program, which is funded by members and free for attendees. Once accepted, participants received OSHA 10 training and learned jobsite safety and how to stock masonry materials, mix mortar and build scaffolding. After completing the program, participants were matched with contractors and required to participate in follow-up training on more advanced skill areas during the first 90 days of employment. If both parties are happy and the mason contractor feels the participant is ready, then he or she can apply for the association’s apprenticeship program and receive NCCER credentials. The Masonry Tender Training Program acts as a feeder program for the apprenticeship program. [caption id="attachment_10427" align="alignright" width="305"]A block producer signs the Concrete Masonry Education Council producer commitment agreement. A block producer signs the Concrete Masonry Education Council producer commitment agreement.[/caption] “We are coming out of the downturn, which is why we started the tender program,” says Lisa Prichard, executive director of the Arizona Masonry Contractors Association. “As an industry, we need to shift our focus and energy to training those individuals who have no experience because – for the most part – everyone with experience is already working. Our high school outreach and adult training programs are helping to bring new entrants into the industry. Many of our members are spread too thin to do the training themselves in house, so our tender program helps with that.” Numerous workforce development programs are currently in place throughout the country as a result of the dedicated efforts by MCAA, its members and NCCER. However, the construction and masonry industries must continue to elevate their commitment to utilize available training resources before the current workforce shortages become unmanageable.
Amy Saxton is communications manager for the NCCER,

Association News

MC&MCA Tackles Workforce Development Head On

Minnesota construction industry trade associations form workforce development working group

Gary BotzekBy Gary Botzek

The Minnesota Concrete & Masonry Contractors Association (MC&MCA) participated in an organizing working group meeting on workforce development, hosted by the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, in late-May. MC&MCA board member Christa Seaberg of JE Dunn attended, representing the Association of Women Contractors. Executive Director Gary Botzek represented the MC&MCA. Employee shortages in the construction trades is universal, thus the desire and strategy for a number of association leaders to meet to discuss what they are doing to recruit employees into their portion of the industry. The group discussed options for joint or shared messaging and other strategies to encourage, recruit, train and retain workers in the construction industry. Some of the trade groups in attendance included the Associated General Contractors (AGC), Associated Builders and Contractors, North American Remodeling Industry-MN, Minnesota Electrical Association, The Builders Group, Association of Women Contractors, Northwest Lumberman’s Association, Aggregate and Ready Mix Association of Minnesota, Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, and the Builders Exchange of MN. According to the AGC, the construction industry added 273,000 jobs during the last year, including 17,000 in May. Construction employment is the highest it has been since February 2009. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added 8,500 jobs since April and 149,300 jobs in the last 12 months. Commercial construction contractors, including building, specialty, trade, heavy and civil engineering firms, netted 8,600 workers for the month and have gained 124,000 jobs since May 2014. Obvious threats to future construction growth are tight labor markets and political gridlock that could curtail public-private section construction spending. Unemployment rates in Minnesota stood at 3.8 percent in May, compared to the national average of 5.5 percent. The Minnesota workforce stands at 3,036,950 workers, which is 70.8 percent of the population. Competition for construction workers in Minnesota is tight and tough. The group agreed that planning for growth and reductions needs to be done in good and bad construction times. Planning, recruitment and training will be the key to regular, steady recruitment into the construction industry. Advancement in job responsibilities and pay grade will continue to be paramount. The organizations shared details of the past, current and future plans to attach and recruit workers into their aspects of the construction industry. The group talked about the value of scholarships; the need for a speaker’s bureau to get a strong construction message out, targeting certain age groups and audiences with specific messages; involving parents; and increasing the use of school visits and career fairs. The attendees also discussed the need for a strong partnership with state agencies in the promotion of the construction industry. Future meetings are expected.
Gary Botzek is executive director of the Minnesota Concrete & Masonry Contractors Association. He can be reached at
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