John Flynn made his point well last June as the keynote speaker at the 10th North American Masonry Conference in St. Louis. Flynn, the president of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, focused his talk around a simple question. He asked, “Where would the masonry industry be without a ready supply of skilled bricklayers?”

The room quieted for a moment. He had posed a simple, yet brave, question. Flynn's audience that day was engineers, university professors, and consultants. Flynn knew that for the next three days, many of these same folks were about to present some of the world's best papers on masonry design, repair techniques, and innovative materials. His purpose was to remind them that no matter how proper the engineered solution or design, it takes a mason to build a wall.

Flynn's question is a necessary reminder to all about our industry's impending skilled worker shortage. Since many engineers rarely visit a project any more, it's hard for them to witness something that every contractor knows. We need more young, skilled masons.

Over the last few years there's been a concerted effort to address this problem. For example, MCAA has a program promoting masonry to high schools. And a number of local promotion councils focus hard on recruitment.

But I'm worried about another, perhaps more serious, industry shortage. I'm convinced that we are nearing a point where we are about to lose a number of even more irreplaceable skilled positions – our masonry instructors.

Unlike other industries where learning can be accomplished through computers and/ or textbooks, masonry instruction requires a hands-on, even personal, approach. And just as importantly, since quality and productive mason practices require a skill set, our industry also relies on these instructors to weed out those who will never be able to lay a straight course or plumb a wall.

It's a tough job to find the individual who can do and teach a skill. And with the job market so tight, many of these experts opt to remain on the wall. I've heard about a number of vocational programs that have closed because there is no masonry instructor. Even more worrisome are those instances in which a vocational program has dropped the masonry portion because their instructor doesn't have an interest and spends the time teaching carpentry or some other trade.

I think it's time for a fresh start in our industry's approach to its support of vocational training. And it doesn't require a lot of effort to accomplish a whole lot of good.

Let's select Wednesday, September 26, as take your masonry instructor to lunch day. It's an opportunity to share some time with the folks who are training our future.

Finding your local instructor is easy. We have a list of all the vocational facilities on our Web site, under the Training and Development tab. The MCAA also has a list on its Web site. And if you're still stumped, check out the National Masonry Instructors Association's Web site,

For the cost of a sandwich, you'll get to meet a great person, and let the instructor know of our industry's support. Be sure to take along your camera, and send me a photo of your meeting.

Rick Yelton,

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