Cement masons and concrete finishers construct and finish off concrete designs. Concrete is made up of Portland cement, gravel, sand, and water. Cement is the binding agent and concrete is the final product.
A mason or finisher often begins a project by conceiving how the concrete will be laid out and ends his work with the final concrete product being poured and set. Masons and finishers are often involved with foundation work, patios, and sidewalks. Their duties can also cover beams, columns, and walls.
Among construction specialists, masons and finishers are well-compensated due to the importance of their work. A solid foundation is the key to ensuring a safe and stable building. Masons are often among the first workers on a construction site.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects masons and finishers to experience a slightly above average rise in the need for their services over the next decade.
The salaries of masons and finishers may vary by geographic location, experience level, and union or non-union status. Typically, urban masons and finishers earn significantly more than their rural or suburban counterparts. This is likely due to the larger scale of concrete projects in urban environments. Masons and finishers who belong to a union almost always earn more than non-union workers.
The median hourly wage for masons and finishers was $16.87. The middle 50% earned between $13.46 and $22.71. Masons and finishers in the bottom 10% earned below $11.02 an hour, while those in the top 10% earned more than $30.30 each hour.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Similar to other hourly construction trades, masons and finishers may be occasionally reduced due to inclement weather or other construction showdowns. An apprentice mason or finisher will typically begin at 50% of the hourly wage of an experienced worker. Apprentices will receive periodic performance-based raises. Overtime may be frequent. Once the concrete pouring begins, a building must be finished to avoid damage to the concrete.
Training and Education Requirements
A mason or finisher has several routes available to gain their qualifications. In an informal apprenticeship, an unskilled construction laborer is gradually taught through examples and small jobs. The complexity of their tasks will gradually increase until they have a firm grasp of the job details. This kind of apprenticeship is generally going out of style as laborers may move between companies and jobs frequently.
Formal apprenticeships combine practical learning with classroom time. At least 144 hours of classroom instruction is recommended. A formal apprenticeship may take 3-4 years and cover applied mathematics, blueprint comprehension, cost estimation, and layout work among others. Applicants to a formal apprenticeship may need to complete a physical examination and a written examination. Prior experience as a construction worker is recommended.
A technical or trade school can offer coursework in masonry. The fees and requirements will vary by school. Some construction companies will waive apprenticeships for workers with a masonry school education.
Job Description and Outlook
The work day for a mason or finisher is typically fast-paced. Masons and finishers will almost always be working outdoors in a number of weather conditions. They need to be relatively strong to carry, lift, and maneuver equipment. A 40 hour work week is common, but construction deadlines may increase the amount of hours. Inclement weather may delay or halt construction work completely. Union masons and finishers may have rules governing their number of hours per week and overtime. About 17% of masons and finishers have a varying schedule each week rather than a set number of hours and shifts.
Masons and finishers should expect working conditions that may be dirty, dusty, and muddy. A hard hat, knee pads, safety goggles, and work boots may be mandatory depending upon the construction site.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) believes that cement masons and concrete finishers will experience about a 13% increase in employment from 2008 to 2018. The BLS cites infrastructure replacement such as buildings and roads as providing a certain level of need for masons and finishers. The growth rate may increase beyond 13% if construction levels are high.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
The National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) offers a number of voluntary certifications. NCMA certifications cover a variety of aspects of concrete masonry and finishing including installation, maintenance, and sales. Certification requirements may vary. Most are open to all applicants. A written examination and a fieldwork test will be necessary to receive certification.
Depending upon the state and project, licenses may be required from the state.
The National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) was first founded in 1918 to advance the science of concrete masonry and represent its practitioners. Today, the NCMA promotes higher safety standards for concrete masonry. The NCMA also creates certification standards for concrete masons.
The Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association (OPCMIA) was started in 1864 to represent cement masons, concrete finishers, plasterers, segmental pavers, and terrazzo workers. The OPCMIA is a trade union focused upon workers in the construction industry who deal with concrete. Workers seeking assistance with their trade, finding work, or locating an apprenticeship are encouraged to contact the OPCMIA.