Future Demand for Craftsmen is So Strong that Expanding Masonry’s Workforce Means Tapping into New Channels

The Department of Labor says the US needs to create 31,400 more masons by the mid 2020’s to replace mason retirement attrition and to meet increased demand for qualified masons. Which begs the question, from where will the masonry industry find newly qualified masons? The short answer is they must be recruited and trained.

How does that opportunity occur? For masonry the answer is expanding communication to a wider audience of potential students, and just as importantly to their support groups—peers, parents, and academic advisors. By creating educational partnerships between the student stakeholders and the masonry trade we can achieve the goal of expanding masonry apprenticeship training programs in North America.

What Does it Take to Become a Qualified Journeyman Mason?

In general masonry training in North America today is a combination of classroom and on-the-job apprenticeship training covering four or more years to produce a journeyman mason. To train, most masons enter a masonry certificate program (2 to 4 semesters long) or pursue an apprenticeship (3 to 4 years long) with an experienced mason.

Since the 1970’s in North America, vocational skills training has been challenged by a cultural belief that only a four-year college degree is a pathway to economic success. The result: vocational student numbers became fewer over the passing years resulting in masonry training programs being cut back or dropped altogether by the schools because of a lack of students.

Today the pattern of increased demand for qualified masons combined with declining masonry student enrollment has created a “perfect storm.” But the good news is there are several organizations actively working to help fill the gap.

Building Masons in Iowa

The Masonry Institute of Iowa (MII) has partnered with industry members to offer high school students the opportunity to explore careers in masonry through a program called, High School Masonry Days. MII hosted its first HS Masonry Day in the fall of 2018, and because of its success, planned six more for the spring of 2019. This fall, MII hosted four HS Masonry Days with five additional locations in the works for this winter and next spring.

Students interested in the masonry profession are encouraged to visit www.iwanttobeabricklayer.com to learn more. MII also works to promote the BAC (Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers) Local 3 apprenticeship and mason support programs as the BAC3 has the only masonry training program in Iowa.

Last year nearly 450 students from forty schools participated and MII anticipates that number to double for the 2019/20 school year. Last year, one location – Cedar Rapids only had 25 students participate. This year 200 RSVP’d for the event in Cedar Rapids and 170 participated.”

Jennie Stephenson, Masonry Institute of Iowa Executive Director

“You can’t imagine how many compliments I got from your masonry day. That was a big hit! The East Marshall counselor told me that day was the best day he’s ever seen as far as taking students out of school. And he’s been there for 20+ years,” said Neysa Hartzler, Iowa Workforce Development.

To take the high school workforce development initiative one step further, MII along with the BAC3, offered a professional development course for industrial tech instructors last summer with 37 teachers in attendance.  This 15-hour workshop taught the basics of bricklaying and how to implement a masonry unit in their curriculum. It’s programs like this that are starting to change the equation.

National trade associations support getting the career message out to students and young adults and can provide advice, education

and training support in partnership with vocational schools. The National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) supports and encourages new careers in the building trades with their Build Your Future (BYF) youth program. The Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) represents mason contractors and is heavily involved with masonry education and training through a variety of programs.

Tapping Into The Armed Forces

These branches of the US and Canada armed forces have technical masonry training education that support their construction units with masonry construction specialists. The specialist titles and training length varies from branch to branch. Typically, this specialist training occurs right after basic training and can run between 10-24 weeks. 


After a veteran’s service is done there are non-profit veteran focused, civilian organizations who assist them in making a smooth transition into civilian workplace. Many of these organizations have employer and educational connections that assist veterans in finding the right training that turns students into employees.  A fine example of a national organization of this kind focused specifically on the construction trades would be Helmets to Hard Hats (H2H) – A national, nonprofit program that connects National Guard, Reserve, retired and transitioning active-duty military service members with skilled training and quality career opportunities.

The Helmets to Hardhats program has been a great avenue to bring well qualified, regimented individuals into the masonry industry. The Veterans that we have recruited come to us with the attitude, leadership skills and work ethic needed to excel in a career in the masonry trade.”

Bob Arnold, NCCER, National Director of Apprenticeship Training and Education

They see to it that the training is provided by the trade organizations themselves at no cost to the veteran. No prior experience is needed; in fact, most successful placements start with virtually no experience in their chosen field. All participating trade organizations conduct three to five year earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship training programs that teach service members everything they need to know to become a construction industry professional with a specialization in a trade craft such as masonry.

“Masonry is a Great Career” – A Message for Everyone

Mason contractors who employ a diverse labor force often are more competitive because they offer many potential benefits to GCs and project owners through meeting federal, state and local government contract regulations.

Founded by tradeswomen in 1981, Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) exists to improve women’s economic equity by increasing their participation in high-skill, blue-collar occupations. Originally established as a support network, CWIT addresses the barriers that prohibit women and girls from entering and succeeding in male-dominated industries by creating opportunities and promoting equitable workplaces and conditions.

The challenge, on an individual level, was how to connect women, most of whom had little or no experience in the industry, with apprenticeship programs and contractors. The answer was the Technical Opportunities Program (TOP), a 12-week curriculum that educates women about opportunities in the trades and prepares them to be competitive applicants and successful apprentices.

Over the years, many of the agency’s participants have fallen in love with the craft and built successful careers in the industry. One of them, Lily Calderon, a mason and CWIT board chair, along with Jackie Townsend, is the lead instructor for the Technical Opportunities Program.  These successful women, now role models for those that follow, are living proof that these careers are open to women and as this group grows, so does the number of female applicants and mason contractors giving them a chance.

Our industry, and our city, is stronger when we come together to address barriers to entry and help pave the way for the next generation of builders.”

Michael Meagher, Senior Vice President at James McHugh

Another Chicago trade organization, Chicagoland Associated General Contractors (CAGC), are on a mission with their 360HIRE Program that encourages both individuals and businesses to start filling a need for a diverse workforce.

CAGC has been on the forefront of construction industry issues since 1906. Addressing important issues that contractors face is something they take seriously. And there is no more important issue facing the industry than workforce development and the need to introduce more minorities and women into this industry.

In the last 18-months the CAGC has played a key role in coordinating an industry wide discussion on the shortage of minorities and women in construction.

HIRE360 will enable greater access to employment opportunities for community residents in manufacturing, construction, hospitality and professional services with recruiting, training and placement assistance. It will also provide continuing education and skills training and mentoring for those currently employed.

Mike Meagher, Vice President of the Chicagoland Associated General Contractors and HIRE360 board member said, “With the commitment each of our partners brings to this project, there’s no limit to how many people and organizations we can support.” Through localized mentorship, direct investment and specialized services, HIRE360 will strengthen the participation of underrepresented populations in the Chicago area.

US Dept. of Corrections & Masonry Training

The Federal Bureau of Prisons may seem like an unlikely avenue to source new workers for the masonry industry, but many facilities have existing masonry training programs that make them a prime partnership opportunity for state and regional masonry associations. Consider the potential in the US Department of Corrections (DOC) alone, where there are 1.5 million inmates spread out over 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities. Given those figures it makes sense the masonry industry starts building an alliance with federal and state penitentiaries to support their mason training efforts with educational resources, masonry tools, materials, and ultimately an opportunity to work on a job site.   

A specific example of the potential of such an alliance is the partnership of the Florida Dept. of Corrections and the Florida Masonry Apprentice and Educational Foundation (FMAEF). Currently, the FMAEF runs nine masonry programs in correctional institutions with approximately 200 inmates taking masonry as a Career and Technical Education Adult Program.

 The results of innovative partnership efforts like this suggest that participants in these programs report statistically significantly lower rates of recidivism and have provided higher rates of employment post-release with obtaining stable, well-paying careers in masonry allowing the individual to help build society rather than tear it down.

When you look at all these dramatic examples of building successful student response there is a clear pathway ahead. The reality is the masonry career story has to be communicated to every student across North America; not only to them, but to those all-important peers and stakeholders who can influence the student’s choice of a career as well. We can clearly see that building those partnerships is what produces results and moves the needle toward finding the new trowels we need to make a difference.

Communicating with these groups leads to the strategic partnerships necessary to connect masonry students to their future employers. With all parties working together they can advance the trade and generate the number of qualified craftsmen needed to meet the demand and get the job done in North America, now and in the future.