Spreading the Word About Masonry
By Paul Cantarella
A few weeks ago, I got a message from a former neighbor who lived a few streets away when we were growing up. Sometimes, when I see that out-of-town area code appear that late in the day on my work cell phone, I know there’s a 50-50 shot it’s a salesman. I rolled the dice, and I didn’t answer.
This friend was calling to ask for my help in showing his son what real work with your hands was all about. He said his son is 21 years old and has decided that college is not the path that he wants to take. As any caring parent would, he wants to get him out there in the real world so he can see what being in a trade would be like. He seemed to be at a crossroads regarding how he could give his son a taste of the construction industry.
After listening to the message, I sat in my office wondering how I could help. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had no good answer for him. This really got my mind spinning. How do you expose someone to the masonry trade?
All the construction projects that we work on require workers to have OSHA 10 cards. And most insurance companies probably would hesitate if you called and asked if the guest worker would be covered under your insurance in case something happened. Trying to get someone on a jobsite just to walk around is not an easy task. Another option would be to sign the person up for the BAC apprentice school, but that’s a major commitment to something without ever trying it.
Last year, we held our first job fair. We were nervous and didn’t know how it would go. We brought one of our young masons who had just finished his apprenticeship and was already working his way up the ladder with us. We set up a little bench, mixed up some mortar and let the kids lay some bricks.
To our surprise, many kids tried laying a few bricks. This really opened my eyes to the notion that there is no exposure of our trade to the younger generation. The sad part is that we really need to get to the kids at a younger age. I felt the younger group of kids seemed more interested in talking about things they could do when they get out of school. The majority of high school seniors, at that point, probably had made up their minds about the paths they were taking. I think most of us are realizing this and are trying to get the kids involved at a younger age.
We are thinking of adding another job fair this year. We have enough on our plates, but if no one does anything, we will not have the workers to keep our doors open. I have heard some contractors talk about adopting a vocational school and trying to hold a class. This seems like another great idea that we are looking into.
I also know that I could do a better job promoting the trade. I used to use the saying, “I am only a dumb mason.” It was my father’s line when I was growing up when someone would ask him a question unrelated to masonry but wanted his input. Needless to say, I have wiped that saying out of my head.
It’s been three weeks since the call and I still don’t have an answer that I am happy with. My best reply will be to go down to the local masonry supply company and get some of the names off the board (most places have business cards of local masons for potential customers) and try to get their hands dirty that way. Then, they can decide if this is a route they would like to take in life. On my end, I need to figure out how I can close the loophole so that potential craftspeople can be exposed to our trade easier. Line up and safety always.
Paul Cantarella Jr. is president of Cantarella & Son Inc./Corporate Secretary C&S Co. Inc. and vice president of East Coast Air Barrier & Restoration, based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He also is the MCAA Massachusetts State Chairman and a member of the South of 40 and the Safety committees.