Education and Training: Apprenticeship
Salary: Median—$20.07 per hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Bricklayers build walls, chimneys, fireplaces, and other structures made of brick. They also work with concrete and cinder blocks, tile, marble, and terra cotta. Terra cotta is a ceramic material used for decoration. Bricklayers can do both construction and maintenance work. In construction, they build walls and partitions in private homes and public buildings. In maintenance, they repair existing structures, such as the brick linings in industrial furnaces, kilns, and fireplaces.
To build a brick wall, bricklayers construct the corners of the wall first. Then they stretch string from one corner of the wall to the other. This line is usually called a gauge or course line. It is used as a guide so that the bricklayers build the wall straight. The bricklayers move the string up the wall with each row of bricks laid. Before bricklayers put the bricks in place, they spread a bed of mortar with a trowel. A trowel is a flat, pointed tool made of metal. Mortar is a kind of cement. They place the brick on the mortar and tap it into place. Bricklayers cut the brick to fit around doors, windows, and other openings. While they usually use steel supports for openings in the wall where windows and doors will be installed, they sometimes create openings with brick archways that make a building distinctive.
Bricklayers use many tools, including trowels, brick hammers, chisels, levels, and rulers. Helpers do the heavy work, such as carrying materials and mixing the mortar. These helpers are known as "hod carriers." Bricklayers read blueprints and other specifications to be sure their work is accurate. They constantly check for both horizontal and vertical straightness with a mason's level. Masons also build walls out of other materials, such as concrete block. Many masons specialize in one kind of construction material.
Education and Training Requirements
The best way to become a bricklayer is to complete a three-year apprenticeship program, which may be sponsored by a union or a contractor. A high school diploma is desirable, especially for those who want to become apprentices. Apprentices should be at least seventeen years of age. They should also have a good eye for straightness and a certain degree of manual dexterity. The three-year program combines on-the-job training with at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year.
On the job, apprentices work as helpers. They learn to mix and spread mortar, build scaffolds, and handle the tools of the trade. By observing the qualified craft workers, the apprentices soon learn to build walls and partitions and to lay, point, and set bricks and blocks. In the classroom, they are taught to read blueprints, sketches, and layouts. They are also taught measurements. Apprentices learn welding and the relationship of bricklaying to the other building trades.
Many bricklayers learn their trade while working as helpers for experienced craft workers. This type of informal training is equivalent to an apprenticeship but usually takes much longer.
Getting the Job
Prospective bricklayers should apply for an apprenticeship program with a local contractor, trade association, or union office. The apprenticeship is usually a three-year program that includes on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom instruction annually, covering such subjects as mathematics, blueprint reading, and layout work. Applicants must be at least seventeen years old and in good physical condition. A high school education, with classes such as mechanical drawing and shop, is preferred.
Those who do not choose the apprenticeship should check with local contractors for jobs as helpers. Helpers who do not join apprenticeship programs must wait for openings before they can become qualified craft workers.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Fully qualified bricklayers are already at the top of their craft. However, experienced craft workers can become supervisors. They can also become estimators. An estimator computes the duration and cost of labor and materials for projects. Bricklayers can become building inspectors for city or county governments. These workers supervise work on large construction sites. Bricklayers can also become construction superintendents.
The employment outlook for bricklayers is good. They will be needed to do decorative brickwork on building exteriors and to restore old buildings. As with most jobs in the construction industry, employment opportunities depend on fluctuations in the economy. However, with the expected retirement of many experienced bricklayers in the next decade, the demand for new craft workers may increase.
Bricklayers do maintenance work in close quarters, usually in cramped positions. The work area is usually dusty or ash-filled. Bricklayers who work in construction generally work outdoors. In cold climates, work time is lost because of bad weather. Bricklayers spend most of the day on their feet in hot or cold weather. They sometimes work above the ground on scaffolding and lift heavy, sometimes bulky materials. Bricklayers supply their own hand tools. Contractors supply the power equipment, scaffolding, and ladders. Most bricklayers work forty hours a week. Many belong to labor unions.
Earnings and Benefits
In 2004 the median income of bricklayers was $20.07 per hour. Many people in the craft work in nonresidential construction, which is more highly paid.
Where to Go for More Information
Brick Industry Association
11490 Commerce Park Dr.
Reston, VA 20191-1525
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen
1776 I St. NW
Washington, DC 20006
Mason Contractors Association of America
33 S. Roselle Rd.
Schaumburg, IL 60193
Wages vary from one part of the country to another. Most bricklayers receive time and a half for overtime work and double their wages for weekend and holiday work. Beginning apprentices earn at least fifty percent of the qualified craft worker's wage and receive periodic raises. Union members generally receive paid holidays, life insurance, and hospitalization and pension plans. Vacation days are determined by the number of days worked each year. Other benefits are negotiated separately for each contract.