At Transizion, we specialize in helping students enroll in the college of their dreams – but we want to help all young people as they transition to life as an adult, whether or not college is the right path for them. In this series of articles, we’re exploring a wide range of rewarding professions that don’t require four-year degrees.
Today’s post focuses on how to become a mason. We’ll cover education, working conditions, salary, job outlook, and more. Let’s get started.
What Do Masons Do?
Traditionally, masons constructed buildings using stone blocks. Eventually the term came to encompass brick buildings as well, and then also concrete blocks and man-made stones. Today, masons are construction workers who specialize in using any of these materials to build walls, walkways, buildings, and other structures.
Many masons specialize in building with a particular type of material. Bricklayers specialize in crafting and repairing structures made of brick, including fireplaces and walls. Bricklayers who specialize in fire-resistant materials to be used around boilers or furnaces are called refractory masons. Cement masons and concrete finishers spend their days pouring, leveling, and finishing concrete. Terrazzo masons specialize in decorative floors and walkways. And then there are stonemasons, who still work with the original masonry material.
Depending upon their specialty and their current project, masons will often:
- Read blueprints or drawings
- Calculate materials needed and place orders
- Use a special hammer or diamond-blade saw to cut stone
- Mix mortar and use it to set materials in place
- Clean excess mortar with trowels
- Align walls and structures using levels and plumbs
- Clean and polish surfaces with power tools
- Build and repair walls, fireplaces, and other structures
Of the 267,400 masons counted by the BLS in 2021, the common specialties were distributed as follows:
Cement masons and concrete finishers 187,700
Brick-masons and block-masons 66,200
Terrazzo workers and finishers 2,700
The largest employers of masonry workers were:
Poured concrete foundation and structure contractors 31%
Masonry contractors 21
Construction of buildings 11
Heavy and civil engineering construction 7
Self-employed workers 6
Most masons spend their days on job sites, often outdoors, doing strenuous labor. Cuts and other injuries are common. Workers protect themselves with steel-toed boots, safety glasses, helmets, and other safety apparel. Most masons work full time, and working overtime to meet construction deadlines is common. The work can be exhausting, moving heavy materials all day or crouching over floor tiles hour after hour.
How to Become a Mason
Most masons learn on the job after earning their high school diploma or GED. Many begin with general construction work and find journeyman masons who are willing to take them on as apprentices. Prospective masons who are unable to find an apprenticeship or other relevant work may choose to begin with technical school in order to learn enough basic skills to increase their hire ability.
If you want to become a mason, you’ll need to be willing and able to accomplish strenuous labor day after day. It’s a good fit for people who love being active all day and find fulfillment in building things. Many masonry workers use scaffolding, so you should be comfortable with heights. If you want to work with decorative patterns as a terrazzo mason, color vision is important.
Here are some other important qualities to foster:
- Physical strength: You should be able to lift at least fifty pounds. This work requires you to lift heavy materials, tools, and equipment.
- Dexterity: You must be able to place bricks, stones, and other materials with precision.
- Physical stamina: You’ll need to keep up a steady pace while lifting heavy bags, mixing grout, setting bricks, and more.
- Hand–eye coordination: You should be able to apply smooth, even layers of mortar, set bricks, and remove any excess grout before it begins to dry.
- Math skills: You’ll need to be able to calculate materials needed and cut them at precise angles.
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Many technical schools offer masonry programs, and many of these programs include or lead into apprenticeships. Beginners must complete apprenticeships before becoming journey workers who are permitted to work on their own.
Williamson College of the Trades offers an Associate in Specialized Technology Degree in Construction Technology – Masonry Emphasis. All Williamson students attend on full scholarships that covers tuition and textbooks, and they are provided free room and board on Williamson’s 220-acre campus in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Skills accrued during this program include:
- Safe workplace practices
- Plan reading
- Scaffold building
- Mixing mortar and concrete
- Stocking block and brick
- Moisture control
- Concrete reinforcement
- Ceramic tile installation
- Construction of chimneys and fireplaces
- Finishing floors, sidewalks, and patios
- Construction work on campus restoration and improvement projects
The International Masonry Training and Education Foundation offers training at their International Training Center in Bowie, MD. Their large two-story training center includes dormitory rooms for students, a dining hall, and recreational facilities. They also have a network of over sixty training centers across the country. IMI offers a wide range of programs to help masons further their careers, such as the Historic Masonry Preservation Certificate Program and their Online Foreman Training.
The Maine School of Masonry is a private non-profit masonry school that opened in 2005. It’s located in Avon, ME. This school offers a 1,200 hour certificate program that can be completed in nine months. Students build projects at the school workshop and on location in the community. The school offers job placement to graduating students. It runs from September to the end of May each year and costs ten thousand dollars. Housing is available for an additional five thousand dollars. Scholarships are available too.
Arizona also has a school dedicated to masonry: Phoenix Masonry School offers a Basic Bricklaying Certificate Program, an Advanced Bricklaying Certificate Program, Basic and Advanced Blocklaying programs, and a Stonelaying Certificate Program all on a flexible schedule. They offer financial aid to their students. They also help with job placement after students finish with their program(s).
The Connecticut Technical Education And Career System (CTECS) offers a masonry program at three locations: Hartford, Bridgeport, and Danielson. These are all technical high schools, which provide high school students with the opportunity to learn a trade. The program includes “use of materials such as mortar and bonding agents, the related hand and power tools of the trade, laying and aligning brick, block, and tile, the building of archways, fireplaces, chimneys, wall works, and interior finishing.” It includes real-world experience in the form of off-campus construction projects.
Pikes Peak State College in Colorado Springs also has a masonry program. The Masonry Technology Pathway within their Associate of Applied Science degree in Building and Construction Technology program provides students with all of the relevant skills that they’ll need and ends with an internship or capstone construction course. This comprehensive program prepares students for a wide range of jobs in the field with more general courses such as CAD for Architecture, Print Reading Residential/Commercial, Field Engineering, and Psychology of Workplace Relationships. The program is self-paced and can be completed in two years. Tuition varies according to a number of factors; you can find more information here.
Fort Scott Community College in Kansas also offers a masonry program that provides students with the opportunity to earn a certificate in masonry. The program can be completed for $3,840 (less for residents of Bourbon County). Scholarships and tuition waivers are available. Coursework includes Masonry Installation Techniques, Advanced Masonry Laying Techniques, and four consecutive levels of Masonry. Additional electives such as Tile Setting and Stone Laying are available for $360 each.
The Texas Masonry Council helps people find masonry internships and apprenticeships.
For more training programs by location, the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) has a directory available here.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Mason?
If you know someone willing to take you on as an apprentice, you can begin work as a mason immediately, doing the grunt work as you learn the necessary skills and tools of the trade. Apprenticeships may last three years or more before you’re fully qualified to work on your own as a journeyman mason.
If you choose to go to school to acquire the necessary skills, you can expect that to take anywhere from nine months to two years.
Career Outlook for Masons
Employment of masons is projected to decline slightly in the near future, but the BLS still expects to see an average of 23,300 job openings each year as workers change trades, move into management positions, or retire.
How Much Do Masons Make?
Masons earned an average of $48,040 in 2021. This was higher than the national average of $45,760 and the construction trade average of $47,860.
Averages vary by specialty, with brickmasons and blockmasons earning the most:
Brickmasons and blockmasons $59,340
Terrazzo workers and finishers $48,680
Cement masons and concrete finishers $47,340
Wages also vary by industry:
Masonry contractors $54,350
Construction of buildings $48,630
Heavy and civil engineering construction $47,890
Poured concrete foundation and structure contractors $47,190
The lowest ten percent earned less than $33,590, and the highest ten percent earned more than $78,810. In states with a higher cost of living, masons typically earn higher wages. The top-paying state for brickmasons and blockmasons is Massachusetts, with an average wage of $90,360. The top-paying state for cement masons and concrete finishers is Hawaii, with an average wage of $76,580.
Once masons gain experience as journeymen, they may be able to earn more money by becoming foremen, supervisors, superintendents, or independent contractors.
Working as a Mason: An Overview
A career as a mason can be worthwhile and rewarding. It has the potential to pay well, and there’s room to move up within the construction field. Though it’s not a growing field, there will be plenty of job openings in the coming years.
You may be well suited to a career as a mason if you love building things, enjoy working with your hands, and want a job that allows you to be active all day long. The work is hard and the pay is only slightly above average, but many masons earn good money and enjoy the satisfaction of creating something new brick by brick each day that they work.
Here are some pros and cons to consider:
- Above average salary
- Active work keeps you strong
- Creative and satisfying occupation
- Apprenticeships allow you to earn a living wage while learning a trade
- Higher chance of injury than many jobs
- Physically demanding
- Some areas have less work available in winter months
If you’re interested in this profession, consider contacting local masons to ask about the possibility of interviewing or shadowing them to learn more about this line of work.
Stay tuned for upcoming articles on how to become a welder, realtor, or carpenter.