Training, Certifications, Skills, Advancement: Brickmasons, Blockmasons, and Stonemasons

Most brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons pick up their skills informally, observing and learning from experienced workers. Many others receive training in vocational education schools or from industry-based programs that are common throughout the country. Another way to learn these skills is through an apprenticeship program, which generally provides the most thorough training.

Individuals who learn the trade on the job usually start as helpers, laborers, or mason tenders. These workers carry materials, move scaffolds, and mix mortar. When the opportunity arises, they learn from experienced craftworkers how to spread mortar, lay brick and block, or set stone. As they gain experience, they make the transition to full-fledged craftworkers. The learning period on the job may last longer than an apprenticeship program. Industry-based training programs offered through companies usually last between 2 and 4 years.

Apprenticeships for brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons usually are sponsored by local contractors, trade associations, or by local union-management committees. The apprenticeship program requires 3 years of on-the-job training, in addition to a minimum 144 hours of classroom instruction each year in subjects such as blueprint reading, mathematics, layout work, and sketching.

Apprentices often start by working with laborers, carrying materials, mixing mortar, and building scaffolds. This period generally lasts about a month and familiarizes the apprentice with job routines and materials. Next, apprentices learn to lay, align, and join brick and block. They also learn to work with stone and concrete, which enables them to be certified to work with more than one masonry material.

Applicants for apprenticeships must be at least 17 years old and in good physical condition. A high school education is preferable; and courses in mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop are helpful. The Associated Builders and Contractors and International Masonry Institute (IMI), a joint trust of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers and the contractors who employ its members, operates training centers in several large cities that help jobseekers develop the skills needed to successfully complete the formal apprenticeship program. In order to attract more entrants, IMI has expanded these centers in recent years to recruit and train workers before they enter apprenticeship programs. In addition, the IMI has a national training and education center at Fort Ritchie, MD. The national centerís programs teach basic job skills for brick, stone, tile, terrazzo, refractory, and restoration work, as well as safety and scaffolding training.

Bricklayers who work in nonresidential construction usually work for large contractors and receive well-rounded trainingónormally through apprenticeship in all phases of brick or stone work. Those who work in residential construction usually work primarily for small contractors and specialize in only one or two aspects of the job.

With additional training, brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons may become supervisors for masonry contractors. Some eventually become owners of businesses employing many workers and may spend most of their time as managers rather than as brickmasons, blockmasons, or stonemasons. Others move into closely related areas such as construction management or building inspection.