Student bricklayers building own futures Opportunity: A new training program promises to save money for employers while attracting newcomers to the masonry trade.


Facing a work force approaching retirement, unionized masons have teamed up with management in a new training program designed to attract students and cut costs for contractors.

A training center on wheels, which rolled into Baltimore two months ago, selected two dozen students -- 12 from the city and a dozen from Norfolk, Va. -- for the program, which is funded by the International Masonry Institute, a joint labor-management trust.

"This program gives students the training we were giving them on the job, where they were absolutely nonproductive," said Frank Campitelli, owner of Baltimore Masonry.

Typically, trainees serve a three-year on-the-job apprenticeship, during which they attend classes once a week for a year. For the employer, however, the first year is wasted entirely on training, said Campitelli.

The program condenses that first year into a 12-week course. As a result, graduating students are given credit for a total of 15 months of an apprenticeship, which includes the year's worth of training and the three months spent at the program, said Charles R. Driscoll Jr. vice president of Local 1 Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers in Maryland.

On the wage scale, that means a starting salary of 60 percent of the full wage with benefits, compared with the 50 percent that other starting workers receive. And after three months, the students receive 70 percent. The national average wage for masons is $23.40 an hour, including benefits, said Butch Rovder, president of Local 1 in Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

But, despite good wages, masons are a disappearing breed, workers and employers say.

"The average age in our trade now is 51 -- and it's 55 in Maryland," said Clarence Nichols, IMI's national training coordinator.

Contractors such as George Strunge, owner of Dana Masonry in Baltimore, attributed the decline to the nature of the work, cutbacks in the construction industry and seasonal factors, which mean that workers are employed for only about 1,500 hours a year.

That's where the mobile training center comes in.

Decreased interest often means there aren't enough students to make teaching the one-year course worthwhile. In Baltimore, there have been no classes for the past five years, since the unions can't afford to hire an instructor for seven or eight students, said Driscoll of Local 1, who said there used to be as many as 40 students per class.

With the mobile center, IMI brings classes to a region in response to demand from the local, which specifies its needs and guarantees jobs to the students trained. Baltimore is the program's sixth location since it began in 1995.

In Virginia and Maryland, where the applicants were too few for the locals to hold classes, IMI combined the states' students and is training them from a truck at the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus.

For Stephen Winder, a 19-year-old from Baltimore, the program will allow him "to earn more money, save and then build and sell my own homes."

Winder, who attended a vocational school for bricklaying, spent the last year completing a real estate course.

And 39-year-old Carolyn Davis said the job promised to her at the end of the program gave her the confidence to buy a house.

Davis was a member of Step Up, a city program that exposes public housing residents to different aspects of construction. After trying bricklaying, Davis, who has painted her helmet with the words "a star is born," liked the trade and the wages so much that she applied to IMI's program.

In Maryland, union firms receive about 25 percent of contracts, which translates to a higher percentage of revenue since most union work is done on commercial projects, Nichols said.

Pub Date: 8/15/96

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