Success story: Chris Sutherland
Student in the Spotlight
The son of a mason, Chris Sutherland began going out on masonry jobsites around age 8. He worked for his father’s masonry business at night, on the weekends and during the summers. The trade runs deeply in his family as he also has two brothers who are masons. An uncle and cousin are masons as well.
So masonry seemed predestined, but Sutherland’s original plan was to study architecture upon graduation in 1997. It was costly, so he began work with a local mason contractor in Florida. After a year and a half of working as a tender, he began an apprenticeship program at the urging of his employer.
Sutherland is a natural at perfecting the skill and art of masonry. He has won 14 competitions – first place in all of them – including the MCAA Masonry Skills Challenge (three-time winner) and SkillsUSA (gold medal winner). So it’s no surprised that a few years later, the Masonry Association of Florida/Florida Masonry Apprenticeship and Educational Foundation created a traveling trophy in his honor for third-year, first-place Apprenticeship Competition winners to add their names each year.
The foremen at his company took notice of his abilities, and he moved through the ranks rapidly.
“I actually ran my first job toward the end of my third year in the program, before I graduated,” Sutherland says. “After I finished the program, I was the foreman on my first big job.”
He earned the respect of the 65 people on the job under him, including masons who were three times his age. He returned that respect, which is probably why Sutherland is a favorite of many. He learned that the job doesn’t end when you go home. He learned to study prints, complete time sheets and other paperwork, and even repair equipment during the weekends. He learned about the commitment of a foreman.
In 2004, the masonry program coordinator recruited Sutherland as an instructor. He became certified through NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research). When that coordinator retired the next year, Sutherland’s wife filled the position. Sutherland became lead instructor. After a few challenging and unpredictable years, the program is strong. He works in the field fulltime during the week, and part-time as an instructor. He and his fellow instructor, Dennis Hall, are producing competition winners and quality bricklayers.
“Learn how to lay brick and block, and you can go anywhere in the world and get a job,” Sutherland says. “College isn’t for everyone. Learning to lay brick with an apprenticeship gives you an education that you can make a good living with, and you will get paid as you learn.
“There are very few places I can go without seeing a building I worked on,” he says. “It is something to be proud of. Masonry has contributed to the comfortable life that my wife and I enjoy, and I hope to help with the same for others. I never thought I would be a teacher, but I am so glad to be giving back.”
About the Author
J. David Holt, freelance writer and owner of Holt Marketing Group Inc., has been reporting on the SkillsUSA National Masonry Contest since 1994.