We caught up with masonry’s newest superstar while she was calmly eating lunch during the 2018 National SkillsUSA Masonry Competition in Louisville, Kentucky. Ashton White, of Rowan County Community College in Salisbury, North Carolina, was competing against dozens of fellow masons from across the country in a contest to determine who could build a pre-designed structure with the most precision.
Looking across the room, White certainly stood out in a room full of her peers. It’s an industry dominated by men, and on this day there was no shortage of male competitors ready to prove their mettle. One of only a half-dozen competing female masons, White deflected the obvious question about being outnumbered by men, “I’m just one of the guys,” she said. “That’s how everybody thinks about me. I don’t think they think of me differently, especially the guys in the high school class… nobody treats me differently.”
For someone so talented at building walls, Ashton White has been equally qualified at tearing them down. Earlier this year she was the first woman to win the North Carolina State Masonry Competition’s postsecondary division. And now, she’s the first woman to win the same title at the National SkillsUSA Masonry Competition.
The most impressive part about meeting with Ashton, wasn’t how she stood tall above her peers, it was her vision for the future. “There’s always a need for work in the industry, so there’s always going to be a job for you. So I think it’s a great thing to get into. As long as you’re doing a trade, you’re going to have a job.”
More and more studies, like this ManpowerGroup study released in June, show how desperate employers are to find skilled workers. According to their findings, 45% of 40,000 employers they surveyed struggled to fill their skilled positions. While that number isn’t exclusive to the masonry industry, it does highlight a growing conundrum. Should the next generation consider learning a trade versus attending a four-year college?
Ryan Shaver, of the North Carolina Masonry Contractors Association, is specifically tasked with promoting the masonry industry throughout North Carolina. A former SkillsUSA competitor himself, Shaver’s enthusiasm for his craft is undeniable. He told us, “I love building stuff with my hands and looking back at the end of the day and saying, ‘I built that.’” Shaver went on to explain how competing propelled him into working in the masonry industry full-time. He expects similar results for many of the competitors at this year’s event. “They can make real good money right out of high school. If they decided to go to a technical school that’s great, but they can be earning while they’re learning. It’s not costing them anything to be learning our trade. We will teach you our trade, and we will make you profitable from day one.”
Shaver’s sentiment could be felt throughout the building. While working in a trade isn’t for everyone, mason’s like Ashton White believe giving it a chance is half the battle, “It’s a great thing to do, even if you’re not too great at it, just go out there, have fun, and try you’re best. Not many people get to say, I built this project by myself.” With women like White carrying the torch, the next generation of skilled workers looks bright.
Ashton White wasn’t the only North Carolinian making news at nationals. Mason Saunders of Mount Pleasant High School took gold in his division as well, bringing the overall SkillsUSA masonry gold medal count for North Carolina to 36.