Brick by Brick

Rock-solid careers in concrete and masonry

Any professional mason will tell you that hard work and skill form the foundation of a career in concrete and masonry. In that respect, masons share the worldview of Henry Ford, the American industrialist of some renown who said, “If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability.”

DCTC Concrete and Masonry Instructor Paul Geisler looks back with fondness on his time as a mason actively working in the industry. Geisler laid brick and block at project sites all across the country, learning along the way that working with his hands brought him not only competence and a good living, but total job satisfaction.

“You have to love physical work to be a mason,” he said. “You also have to love working outdoors in all sorts of weather. Masons have a lot of fun on the job and take more than a little pride in their work.”

That pride shines when masons step back and look at the structures they build, from multimillion-dollar schools, hospitals and office buildings to single-family homes in master-planned neighborhoods.

“Twenty years after a project you can take your family to the site and show them what you built with your own hands,” Geisler said. “I think that has to be one of the best things about being a mason. You get to create something that lasts and makes a difference.”

Students in Geisler’s Concrete and Masonry program are experiencing hands-on learning by constructing a concession stand and media center for the college’s new three-field soccer complex, destined to be the most modern and complete soccer facility at any small college in the upper Midwest.

“Working on the two-story structure gives my students the chance to tackle a real-world project,” Geisler said. “They are working with decorative rock-faced block in different colors with matching mortar. They are also learning how to handle jobs in winter conditions by building and working in a heated, cold-weather enclosure.”

Geisler mentioned that his students are trained to work with the industry’s hottest products. “Cultured Stone is big right now—especially with high-end builders,” he said. “That’s cast concrete that resembles stone or brick and works like a veneer. We also work with colored, stenciled and stamped concrete, which produces some amazing designs for driveways and patios.”

One of the top lessons Geisler teaches his students is the enthusiasm he brings to concrete and masonry, an enthusiasm that signifies success and satisfaction in their future profession. All they have to bring to the mix is a strong work ethic and the desire to learn.

“As a mason, you get to work at a huge variety of job sites on all kinds of projects,” he said. “You’re never stuck in an office or on an assembly line in some factory. And in all the years I worked in the industry, in states from Minnesota to Florida, I never once had trouble finding a job.”

Chips Off a Powerful Block

The Concrete and Masonry program prepares students for careers as brick layers, block layers and concrete finishers. Students also learn to read blueprints and understand the math related to concrete and masonry projects.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job options for brickmasons, blockmasons and stonemasons are expected to be very good through 2016. Masons with a degree or diploma from a technical school will find more opportunities than masons without a college education.

ISEEK, the go-to source for education and employment info in Minnesota, lists the following salary data for the seven-county metro area:

Cement Masons and Concrete Finishers

  • Average wage: $25.09/hour
  • Top earners: $33.77/hour