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July 13, 2005 8:34 AM CDT

BAC Irish Exchange Program


David White (right) from Kilkenny, Ireland, made an even exchange when his colleague from Szabo Masonry, Mike Randall (left), went off to Ireland in May. Andy Gasca (center) from the BAC/IMI District Council Training Center in Illinois, helped them both.
That is certainly true for a lucky group of apprentices from America and Ireland, who were chosen to launch the U.S.-Ireland masonry apprentice exchange program of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC).

In the summer of 2004, two American BAC apprentices, Brett Gierak from BAC Local 1 MI and Brian Karas from Local 21 IL, kicked off the program by spending three months in Dublin, under the auspices of the Building and Allied Trades Union (BATU), which is dominated by the masonry trade.

This spring brought two Irish apprentices, Brian Walsh from Dublin and David White from Kilkenny, to the U.S. Walsh is working with Leidal & Hart Masonry Contractors in Livonia, Mich., under the supervision of BAC/IMI Training Coordinator Jack Love. White is working for Szabo Masonry in Des Plains, Ill., under the supervision of Andy Gasca at the BAC/IMI District Council Training Center.

The program coordinator is IMI New England Training Director Pat Murphy, who learned his trade in Cork, Ireland. The biggest difference between the two countries' apprenticeships, says Murphy, is that Irish bricklayers spend a more intense 36 weeks in school and on-the-job training, compared to 12 weeks in pre-job training followed by on-the-job training in the U.S. With masonry the predominant building material, "there is a tremendous amount of work."

For the Americans in Ireland, "there was quite a bit of difference," says Gierak, who was a newly minted journeyman when he went. "It's a slower pace of life over there," he notes. Wages are considerably higher, sometimes reaching six figures for bricklayers. Gierak says it made him appreciate what he has, and inspired him to be more involved in his BAC local. Karas, too, appreciated the slower pace, and the absence of jurisdictional disputes.

Brian Walsh from Dublin (center) on his first day on an American job site, here with Leidal and Hart Mason Contractor's foreman Leo Crandall (left) and Safety Director Walter Kyewski (right) on a large high school project. He will experience other types of projects as well. The exchange program "gives our guys a different perspective, too," says Vice President Brad Leidal.
Not surprisingly, the most noticeable difference for the Irish apprentices is the faster pace of American construction sites. "It's rush, rush, rush," says Walsh, who has wanted to come to America "ever since I was a little boy."

Also, in Ireland, Walsh did not work with flashing, hydraulic scaffolding, grouting or hollow core block ? only solid units.

"He's had to make a lot of adjustments," says Ryan Harmon of Leidal & Hart Mason Contractors. But, he notes, "Laying to the line and spreading mortar is universal."

For White, whose experience is historic stone restoration, the more production-oriented brick and block work on his current job site has been the biggest adjustment. "I am learning new stuff every day, and picking up tips," he says.

Both apprentices started their American sabbatical by quick immersion in OSHA regulations and other workplace practices. Walsh worked directly with Leidal & Hart's onsite safety director, while White studied with Gasca, who also takes him to other job sites to get a variety of experience, plus gentle critiques by other IMI instructors.

With another BAC apprentice just off to Ireland and a fourth packing his bags, BAC President John Flynn is optimistic about what the program can achieve.

"This is a program that can benefit both our union and the Building and Allied Trades' Union in Ireland," says Flynn. "There's always something to learn from our neighbors on the other side of the ocean, and our first two participants are already sharing what they learned with their fellow craftworkers to the betterment of our union and crafts."

About the Author

Masonry, the official publication of the Mason Contractors Association of America, covers every aspect of the mason contractor profession - equipment and techniques, building codes and standards, business planning, promoting your business, legal issues and more. Read or subscribe to Masonry magazine at


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