Reflections of a Mason

It’s time for reflection.

Life has been good in the masonry world, but the business world we lived in just 10 years ago is always on my mind, as it is with any of us “old salts”. I began my venture into the world of business in the early 80s. Times were not so great then either. Fresh with my college degree, I could not find work. I had worked my way through school as a mason and swore that I was going to break the family tradition.

When things were tough, and college graduates were not even getting entry level jobs, I fell back on a trade that is one of the oldest professions of humankind. I called upon the company that I had worked for while in school and they brought me back on. I was working again! I had a trade…a skill. It allowed me to eat. The revelation that came to me during this period of my life kept me in the trade. I have never left it. I have not swung a hammer or pushed mud in the wall for several years now, but I am a mason. Occasionally, when I visit a job site, I will pick up a trowel and start slinging mud into the wall for about an hour, just to show the boys I can still do it, then smile and hand the trowel back. What they boys don’t see is me, back in the truck rolling my neck, arm and shoulders knowing the ache that is coming. These are the iron men. The tradesmen.

The trades are alive, but shrinking. They took a major hit during the recession, as construction is usually the first industry hit and the last to recover. Many people left the trades during that time and we have not recovered yet.

There is some good news though. There are a lot more women in the trades than when I was a beginner. Also, it is still the place where many first-generation immigrants come into the work force. Typically, the immigrants are very hard workers. They are the next generation of skilled craftsmen.

For those young folks that think construction is not a tech savvy profession, you would be surprised with the number of digital devices that are in a worker’s tool bags.  At the very least they have a smart phone. Usually a tablet as well and sometimes a lap top. Not only do they have to understand digital communications, but also spread sheets, digital plans and take-offs as well as numerous other tech applications.

The bad news is, with the lack of supply of skilled tradesmen, wages are up, which means that prices are up. It also means that there is a general drop in quality across the board due to the lack of skill in the market. With the amount of work out there, that means there are a lot of “warm bodies” out there swinging a hammer, and they might not know what they are doing. For the most part, the skill level you get on your project is exactly the skill level you pay for.

I am looking forward to years of strength and growth. Let’s all work together to get there.

By Marty Smith, Vendor Member