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Apprenticeship Works: Hard Work Leaves Lasting Landmarks

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This article was originally published in Issue No. 43, Spring 2023 of MN Apprenticeship Works newsletter. Full newsletter can be found here.

Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Build Foundations, Floors, and More

Like other union trades, bricklayers and allied craftworkers are struggling to find their ideal candidate: someone with energy, strength and the right skill set. It’s a tough sweet-spot to hit.

“We’re trying to recruit everywhere we can,” said John Slama, who has been in the trade since 1984. He has taught new members in their registered apprenticeship program through the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 since 2016. 

Fewer young people get exposed to trades and hands-on skills in schools, and fewer are learning skills with measuring, calculating and building with basic tools at home. The pay is good, but many schools tend to drive students to technology now. 

Over the past decade, a renewed focus to introduce and emphasize career and technical education (CTE) to students has highlighted what is needed to be successful in programs like the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Registered Apprenticeship Program. Curriculum was developed that emphasizes skills needed in CTE occupations such as construction mathematics, measuring and much more. Today’s CTE occupations are highly advanced and cuttingedge computer programs and technologies are a part of every industry and occupation. 

It is hard work, but it’s the kind of work that builds or restores community landmarks such as the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, Allianz Field (Minnesota United FC), Huntington Bank Stadium (home of the Gophers) and the National Sports Center in Blaine. The work often lasts for generations. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction is expected to grow by about 6% through 2030 — a gain of about 400,000 new jobs. At the same time, there is a wave of union members preparing to retire. 

Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 has close to 3,000 active and retired members with about 2,100 of them still actively working. “One hundred people retired last year, and a big part of our membership is in the 52- and 53-year-old range,” Slama said. “There will be a lot of new openings even without more work.” 

To help introduce prospective members to the trade while also scouting for promising candidates for the apprenticeship Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 are recruiting a new generation of apprentices to the trades.  (Photo from program, the union usually offers a six-week preapprenticeship training each spring. It’s an introduction of skills such as tape-measure math and hand-eye coordination and a look at the wide-ranging skills needed for what’s nicknamed the trowel trades. 

Pre-apprenticeship participants get a feel for the different specialties within the wide-ranging trade. Brick- and blocklayers often build the foundation or first floors of a building, usually working outdoors and sometimes on scaffolding. Tile f inishers and terrazzo specialists, who work with a poured composite material, are more often working indoors. Pointercleaner-caulkers (PCC) specialists remove and restore mortar in the joints that hold together brick and stone walls. 

The pre-apprenticeship also is a chance for contractors to find new hires for the season. They look for candidates who show up early, are willing to learn, and can be dependable. Those who are hired become apprentices with starting pay ranging from $43 to $51 an hour that includes a benefit package, depending on the specialty. 

“Eight-five to 90% of those participants who finish [the preapprenticeship] will get hired,” Slama said. 

Apprentices also need to attend a minimum of 144 hours of annual skill-building, known as related technical instruction, at the training center. Finishers, tile setters and terrazzo specialists have about two years of training, while bricklayers need up to four. 

Classes can include overviews about how to read blueprints and work with a job foreman to dial into specifics of the specialties. Apprentices who live in greater Minnesota or the Dakotas can complete their required classes via remote learning or through multi-day trainings in the slower winter work season. Once classes and onthe-job requirements are met, craftworkers advance to the journeyworker level and higher wages. 

New technology is helping to make some of the work easier with troweling machines, laser measurements, forklifts, mobile scaffolds, 3D project models, better and quicker troubleshooting, and even maximizing workday efficiency thanks to weather radar apps. 

In all construction occupations, innovations have been brought forward that assist craftspeople to work more efficiently and safely. One such innovation is the up-and-coming Masonry Unit Lift Enhancer (MULES), which takes much of the weight of materials off a person’s shoulders, back and hips. 

Slama said the most successful candidates look beyond the trade’s income and benefits and embrace the chance to be outdoors and doing physical work all day. He’s seen college graduates and second-career candidates in his classrooms after they found out they didn’t like passive or desk-bound work. Many discover the more hands-on, tangible tasks of allied crafts to be more satisfying at the end of the day. 

“There are a ton of opportunities,” he said. “You have to work for it, but it’s a great living.”

Click here for more information about Apprenticeship Minnesota at the Department of Labor and Industry.

Click here for more information about the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local Union 1 Minnesota/North Dakota Apprenticeship Program.