Education and Training: Apprenticeship
Salary: Median—$15.10 an hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Cement masons smooth and finish poured concrete. They work on foundations of buildings, in highway construction, and on sidewalks, driveways, and patios. They help make concrete beams, columns, and panels. Cement masons are needed wherever a finished surface of concrete is poured. They also apply latex and epoxy to floors. Cement masons can create colored surfaces by applying tinted cement.
Many cement masons work for general contractors in charge of constructing highways and large buildings. Some work for concrete contractors. A small number of masons work for firms that do their own construction, such as public works departments. Others are self-employed and work on small jobs, such as driveways and patios.
Masons use wood or plastic forms to shape the concrete and hold it until it is set. First the masons check the forms into which the concrete is to be poured to be sure they have been placed at the right depth and angle. Under the mason's supervision, laborers pour and spread the concrete. Then they level the concrete, using tools such as floats and screeds to smooth high spots and fill depressions. Sometimes they use machines that vibrate the concrete to remove air pockets.
The masons then go over the cement with a trowel to create its final texture. A power-operated trowel can be used on open areas, but corners and edges must be finished by hand.
Cement masons must also smooth any rough surfaces that remain when the pouring forms have been removed. They usually have to prepare the rough surface with a hammer and chisel and rub any high spots with a brick to smooth them. A rich mixture of cement is then rubbed in with a sponge-rubber float or with burlap. This operation is called finishing.
Cement masons sometimes use chemical additives to slow or speed up the setting time. To prevent defects, masons must know what effects heat and cold have on the concrete.
Education and Training Requirements
A three- or four-year apprenticeship program is the best way to train to become a cement mason. A high school diploma is usually not necessary, but anyone who wants to enter a formal apprenticeship program should take a high school math course. Blueprint reading and mechanical drawing courses are also helpful. Apprentices have to be at least eighteen years old, in good health, and able to work well with their hands. Masons work alone or as part of a team.
During the years of on-the-job training, apprentices work with the materials and tools of the trade and learn finishing, layout, and safety procedures. While working on the job, apprentices attend school. They must have at least 144 hours of classroom instruction during the year. In these classes, apprentices learn drafting, mathematics, and basic science. They study local building codes and learn to estimate material costs. They also learn to read blueprints. Some cement masons learn their craft while working as helpers for experienced masons.
Getting the Job
Those interested in a job as a cement mason should contact a local contractor or union office and inquire about the apprenticeship program. Another good way to gain knowledge and experience is to get a job at a construction site working as a laborer and assisting cement masons. Some vocational and technical schools offer training in cement masonry.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
A small percentage of cement masons open their own contracting businesses. These masons usually specialize in sidewalks, patios, curbs, and driveways. An experienced mason can also become a supervisor or, in some companies, an estimator. Estimators figure out the duration and costs of labor and materials before jobs are begun.
About 182,000 cement masons have jobs in the United States. The employment outlook for cement masons is good through 2012. As the population and economy grow, cement masons will be needed to build and repair highways, bridges, and other structures. However, increased productivity is expected to offset this growth. Skilled cement masons will have the best opportunities.
Cement masonry is strenuous work. Masons must stoop, bend, and kneel all day. They often have to wear protective gear. Much of their work is outdoors, and, as in all the building trades, some work time is lost due to poor weather; however, since the introduction of heated plastic shelters, the amount of work time lost has been reduced. Overtime in cement masonry is frequent because once the concrete is poured, it must be finished regardless of the hour. Higher wages are paid for overtime hours. Layoffs may occur during slow seasons. Masons sometimes travel from construction site to construction site to keep working. Many cement masons belong to labor unions.
Where to Go for More Information
Mason Contractors Association of America
33 S. Roselle Rd.
Schaumburg, IL 60193
United States Department of Labor
Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services
200 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20210
National Association of State and Territorial Apprenticeship Directors
Earnings and Benefits
The median wage for cement masons in 2004 was $15.10 per hour. Some made as much as $25.89 per hour. Wages vary from one part of the country to another, and union workers usually get paid more than nonunion workers. Apprentices start at fifty to sixty percent of the rate paid to experienced workers. Union workers generally receive paid holidays, life insurance, and hospitalization and pension plans. The number of vacation days they receive depends on the number of days they work each year.