Irish apprentices Karl Deegan (left) and Barry Ward came from a massive residential  project near Dublin to work on an equally ambitious high school jobsite  in Chicopee, Mass.
Irish apprentices Karl Deegan (left) and Barry Ward came from a massive residential project near Dublin to work on an equally ambitious high school jobsite in Chicopee, Mass.

International relations between the United States and Ireland have had a masonry theme since the launch of this effort by the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC).

This innovative exchange program started in 2004 when American apprentices Brett Gierak, BAC Local 1 – Michigan, and Brian Kara, BAC Local 21 – Illinois, traveled across the Atlantic and spent three months in Dublin working under the auspices of the Building and Allied Trades Union (BATU), which is dominated by the masonry trade. “It exposed our members to different work cultures and different people,” explained BAC Executive Vice President Gerald O'Malley.

In 2005, Michael Randall, BAC Local 21 – Illinois, and Nathan Nestor, BAC Local 1 – Michigan, took a turn in Ireland, while Irish apprentices Brian Walsh from Dublin and David White from Kilkenny came to the states. Walsh worked with Leidal & Hart Masonry Contractors, Livonia, Mich., while White was employed by Szabo Masonry, Des Plaines, Ill.

This year brought two Dublin apprentices – Karl Deegan and Barry Ward – to experience American masonry. They worked for Sullivan & Narey Construction Co., Holyoke, Mass.

Irish learn the differences

The Irish apprentices started their American sabbatical with a quick immersion in OSHA regulations and other workplace practices. Their orientations included visiting several worksites and reviewing techniques with training officials.

None of the exchange apprentices knew what to expect, since for all but Ward it was their first visit to another country. IMI New England Training Director Pat Murphy, who learned his trade in Cork, Ireland, and serves as the program coordinator, said the differences begin with the apprenticeships. Irish bricklayers spend a more intense 36 weeks in school and on-the-job training, while BAC/IMI apprentices spend 12 weeks in pre-job training followed by on-the-job training.

Another key distinction in Ireland, pointed out Murphy, is that “everything is masonry, including the houses, right down to the inside partition walls. They build to last.”

Once on the U.S. jobsite, the Irish apprentices agreed that their biggest adjustment was the prevalence of reinforced masonry, compared to the solid units that prevail across the Atlantic. But, said Ward, “You get used to the hollow walls.”

For the young bricklayers in both countries, two other points jumped out: pace and pay.

“The pace is much slower there,” said Michigan's Nestor. “And since they are paid by the piece, they make their own hours. They are more laid back.”