In the last few months, we have been hearing a great deal of information about the economic health of the residential housing market. By all measures, the real problem is that there are too many homes available for the people who can afford to buy them.

The reality of the housing market is that sometime soon the oversupply of new homes will be exhausted and the buying/building frenzy will begin anew. The only question is when. Unfortunately, this answer is the gamble contractors take in planning the growth of their businesses. To survive, you must pick the right time frame.

Our industry knows this pattern well. While doing what we can to deal with the somewhat predictable housing cycle, there's another cycle we aren't doing as well with. It's how we are addressing our near-future, available, trained workforce.

What is the current average age of a mason? I have heard estimates that range from 48 to 55. What will this answer be when the peak of the market returns?

How many experienced masons will use this downturn to retire? How many middle-aged, trained craft persons will have to leave our industry looking for steadier work?

But here's the real question: How many young entrants will we lose because there's no training available, now that there is not enough work?

My nephew wants to be a mason. He graduated from a well-respected high school. He tried the college thing and found out it wasn't for him. He loves the outdoors. He has worked hard his entire life in a meatpacking plant for his family business that was recently sold. But when he tried to get into an apprentice program, there were no openings.

No one is hiring in his city. He phoned more than 30 contractors, but no takers. Not because of his ability, willingness, or desire, but there is no work. How is he supposed to be trained? Here's a 23-year old young adult wanting a chance at a good career, and we are about to lose him.

What's wrong here? I don't really know.

Here's what I think, though, and I'm sure you will disagree. We have created a labor supply chain that is built and funded on good times. When there's a slow down, funding for training is the first thing that stops. I think we need to create a sustainable funding system that encourages the continuous training of more young people.

We have been supporters of the SkillsUSA Masonry Committee, but it's time to do something more.

But before we can act, we need real numbers.

I'm calling for a national survey to determine mason demographics. We need real numbers on age groups, along with years of experience and regions in which they work. A comprehensive survey yielding real demographics will enable our industry leaders to develop an action plan to have a ready, trained workforce for the next cycle rise.

Anybody agree? Anybody willing to help?

Rick Yelton
Editor in Chief