Industry Training at a Crossroads
Apprenticeship and journeyman training is one of the most important activities of our association. Your association has contributed money, time, technical support and overhead for the promotion of apprenticeship training. Many of our members have volunteered to serve on apprenticeship boards, as trustees and instructors, provided on-the-job training and contributed their own company funds to support apprenticeship training.
Our organization's member firms have contributed and continue to contribute millions of dollars and time to apprenticeship training. It is a simple fact that half of our members are signatory contractors who contribute hourly benefits to both local and national training funds. Also, many of our non-signatory contractors have established registered training funds to support their needs. As only one of the many examples of our commitment to training, in the Boston, Massachusetts area, the signatory masonry contractors paid to the apprenticeship training fund approximately $900,000.00 in the year 2001. There are approximately two hundred fifty apprentices in Boston area four-year training program, and for the year 2002 an additional sixty new apprentices have been accepted.
The Mason Contractors Association of America seems to be the logical leader in building our future workforce. Nearly fifty-seven years ago, many in our industry turned to the MCAA to spearhead the effort to expand our workforce. And armed with a modest budget, we laid the groundwork for much of the success that we enjoy today. We began our efforts five years ago by elevating training into the consciousness of mason contractors who for decades left our industry's recruitment efforts to someone else. Secondly, we established a high standard of training and developed a three-year curriculum for training future journeymen. We established Masonry Career Days that galvanized our industry into action to get into the nation's high schools and begin talking to future workers. We encouraged the establishment of local training programs and today we have established a strong database of local masonry training programs. We expanded our industry's efforts in vocational training through Skills USA and we hope to expand masonry classes in our nation's high schools which are a prime source for our future labor. What better way to convince a young person to join our trade than to give them a taste of masonry in a high school class? We even raised our industry's excitement and commitment to training through our Masonry Skills Challenge which is an international contest between Canadian and U.S. apprentices. The excitement continues to grow from mason contractors over training, and rightfully so since it's the mason contractor that must take the lead in this effort.
As contractors we must continually improve our efforts in this endeavor. We must do a better job of committing to a full training experience for our apprentices: first by committing to hire one apprentice to every five journeymen on the job site, and second, committing to a minimum of four hours per day of actually laying the masonry product. Too often, a contractor will hire an apprentice and then have him/her cut on a masonry saw or install metal ties. In addition, we must commit to providing sufficient training facilities all across the United States and Canada to train our work force and expand our training curriculum to include classes on quality, knowledge of codes and production. We also must teach the concept of the masonry team and even provide cross training for our apprentices and journeymen so they can keep a steady job throughout the years in our industry. Providing apprentices and journeymen with quality education will give them the skills to achieve advancement into foreman or superintendent capacities for career advancement. And lastly and more importantly, we must establish a strong mentoring network so that the journeymen that are assigned to teach our apprentices actually covet the job of training instead of dreading the responsibility.
However, our industry is at a crossroads of sorts. The MCAA lacks sufficient resources to spearhead an industry-wide recruitment campaign. Too much money is spent by industry groups in an attempt to recruit our masons without any coordination or guidance from the MCAA. The industry is too splintered with groups duplicating efforts competing with each other for bragging rights over who is working hard at recruiting. Is this money well spent? I don't believe so since this has been the band-aid approach that we have employed for decades. It may make many in our industry feel good that they may be doing something to solve our labor issues, but long term we are destined to fail.
Two years ago, we set forth a $750,000 proposal to deal with everything from surveying our progress to establishing "Train the Trainer" courses. We set a goal to contact every high school in the U.S. and get masonry career material into every guidance counselor office in every high school. What better way to impact our future labor force than to have career materials in the 18,000 high schools throughout the U.S. Unfortunately, the MCAA was unable to raise the resources to fund this effort and as a result, as an industry, our recruitment activities are still splintered and unsuccessful.
At our Midyear meeting in September, the MCAA Board will reevaluate our association's role in recruiting and training our industry's labor force. As an association, we will debate long and hard whether or not we need to spend our resources to recruit and train our workers or should we reallocate those resources to other programs and let other organizations spend their resources to recruit and train. It seems logical that our industry's efforts should be focused through the Mason Contractors Association with strong financial assistance from our suppliers.
Both the signatory and non-signatory apprenticeship training funds require substantial amounts of money to achieve our goals. At the present time MCAA and other organizations each contribute to their own funds for training. The fact is that we are the individuals who must guarantee the end product and therefore the MCAA must be a major facilitator for the guideline standards for training.
About the Author
William McConnell is the owner of Architectural Paving & Stone, Inc. He has served as President of the Mason Contractors Association of America and on the Board of Trustees for the International Masonry Institute. McConnell was a recipient of the 2005 C. DeWitt Brown Leadman Award.