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Waco-area students get glimpse of masonry skills in high demand

Waco-area students get glimpse of masonry skills in high demand

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Some Waco-area students spent Tuesday learning how to spread mortar and lay bricks with a few players in an industry eager to hire up skilled workers.

The Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy hosted Masonry Day with the Texas Masonry Council, hoping to give high school students a glimpse of the trade and maybe spark a long-term career interest that the industry needs to sustain its workforce.

“If I had 70 bricklayers walk into my company today, I’d hire every one of them. We are that short on bricklayers,” said Mackie Bounds, CEO of Waco-based Brazos Masonry Inc. and chair of the Texas Masonry Council board.

Workforce development is his biggest issue, said Bounds, whose company employs about 400 people and has done work for Baylor University.

About 41% of masons are expected to retire in the next 10 years, and by 2025, some 31,400 new masons will be needed to replace retirees and keep up with growing demand, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The average age of a mason in Texas is between 40 and 45, GWAMA Dean Dale McCall said.

“These guys are going to be retiring. They need a workforce, new students coming in to work so that they can resupply the masons,” McCall said.

Masonry Day benefits both students, who learn a sought after skill, and business in need of workers, he said.

“They are out there laying brick, putting mortar and different designs on their bricks,” McCall said. “They are learning how to lay bricks, do it quickly, and do it well.”

Other building trades are in a similar workforce situation, and GWAMA’s construction science program teaches students five phases of construction, one of which is masonry.

“We want them to see that part of what that means in building any type of building or home,” McCall said. “We are trying to give our students, through all those five areas, one area that may spark an interest in them and they may want to get a job.”

Bounds said jobs in the field pay well, even for someone still in high school.

“Right now, these high school kids, if they come work for us in the summer, we will pay them $16, $17 per hour,” Bounds said. “That is good money for a high school kid. After they graduate from school, we put them in an apprenticeship program and once they are in that program, they make anywhere between $20 to $25 an hour.”

Bounds, who started working in masonry when he was 16 and opened his company at the age of 32, said the possibilities are endless for someone who is well developed in a trade.

“The opportunities for these kids are huge,” Bounds said. “When you learn a trade, that is something that cannot be taken away. You can always use your hands to build with.”

Mauricio Lara, 17, a student in Mexia, said he has always been building alongside his father, which sparked his interest in GWAMA. He said he wants to pursue a career as a carpenter, and the program has offered him a chance to polish his work and learn more.

“It’s a good life skill really,” said Lara, who recently helped his father level their home. “You don’t always want to count on someone to do it for you. It’s a waste of money.”

He has been in GWAMA three years and said it has solidified his interest in carpentry.

“I want to start doing residential homes and eventually work out to have my own residential home business,” Lara said.

McCall said a goal of GWAMA is to expose students to a path other than college. He said the push in the past 20 years for college education has contributed to the labor issues in the building trades.

“This is what is so great about GWAMA is that we are giving the students an idea that there is a different route,” McCall said. “It doesn’t mean four year college for all. It doesn’t mean two year college for all. You can come out of high school go into masonry and in two to three years you will become a master mason and be making upward of $30 to $40 per hour.”

Bounds also said the industry has not done enough to get the word out about the opportunities it offers.

“We have not done a good job in sharing what the opportunities are,” Bounds said. “Not being out there, letting them know how much money you can make. You don’t have to be a laborer all your life.”

Bounds said there is a group of people who are hardworking and willing to work, but they cannot be legally hired.

“There are a lot of people capable of working. But we are not able to hire them due to the fact that they are not legal, and that is very hard on us,” Bounds said. “They have a lot of talent, tons of talent and they can do the work as well as anybody but they are not available for us to hire and that would be an instant fix, but now we have to look at long-term.”

While organizations such as the Texas Masonry Council work to educate future potential laborers, the current lack of employees across all trades is affecting projects, Bounds said.

“You go out on job sites today, jobs are being built slower because of the manpower shortage in the construction industry,” Bounds said. “When I hear people say ‘I can’t find a job’ that frustrates me. There will be a trade that hires them. I think that what we are doing here today is ahead of the other trades.”

While wages might have at one time been a deterrent, Bounds said current pay is competitive.

“Maybe at one time that was the issue but over the last six, seven years, no,” Bounds said. “Wages that laborers get paid, they really can’t go anywhere else and get that money, not knowing what they are doing. … These kids coming out of high school, they will be making $18 to $20 an hour the first day out of high school.”

Bounds said the average laborer starting out of high school is paid about $42,000 per year, with no college debt to pay off, and that pay increases as years go by, with many superintendents making six-figures a year.

Brazos Masonry CFO Pete Groetzinger said as long as the state of Texas keeps growing, the need for workers in the building trades will grow as well.

“Texas is growing. It has been for 20 years,” Groetzinger said. “Every time you grow, what do you have to do? You have to build schools. Once you build schools you build retail shopping centers and it goes on and on and on. As long as Texas is in a growth mode, construction will be growing with it and you can’t build these structures without people. So we have a constant shortage of good workers.”

McCall said a handful of students have already expressed interest in working during the summer as masons.

“Every one of these kids can achieve what I did,” Bounds said. “I just hope one of these kids one day will either run my company or be one of my competitors. Nothing would make me happier to know they started right here.”

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Hailing from the Chicagoland area, Amaris E. Rodriguez is a 2019 graduate of Northeastern Illinois University and formerly worked the Journal & Topics news organization in Des Plains, Illinois.

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