Johnson's masonry students are regulator participants in the annual SkillsUSA  national competition.
Johnson's masonry students are regulator participants in the annual SkillsUSA national competition.

Bud Johnson has been turning out well-prepared and award-winning masons for 15 years. Under Johnson's tutelage, his students have piled up state, national, and international awards before going on to successful careers in masonry.

The masonry program at Northeast Technology Center (NTC), Afton, Okla., began in 1975, but the winning streak started in 1996 when student Jesse Wright earned championship honors at the national competition in Kansas City, Mo. He moved on to compete in the International Youth Skills Competition in St. Gallon, Switzerland, where he represented the United States.

“There are some very successful masons who have graduated out of the NTC masonry program,” Johnson said. “They are earning a good living, but more important to the program is that these students set the bar high for those who followed.”

The program at NTC is active in Skills-USA, and Johnson's students have represented Oklahoma in the national masonry contest for the past 11 years in a row. In 2006, Johnson's students placed first, second, and third in the state competition.

“I usually take four brick masons and four tenders to the state competition every year,” Johnson reported, “and it's not unusual for all of them to have jobs on the ride home.”

“Our success in contests has become self-fulfilling,” explained Johnson. “I'm proud of all the kids' awards, and I display them for a reason. Our medals and trophies send a signal to the students we are recruiting. These awards say ‘This is a successful program.' I've found that most kids want to be a part of something successful – on a winning team, so to speak.” Johnson continued, “That's the same reason I park my Corvette in the driveway of the shop during the week the sophomores come to visit. I've heard those kids say, ‘Wow. How can I have one of those?' I have the answer.”

Johnson's 2-yr, 1050-hr program teaches the skills necessary for his students to acquire a good paying job in a vocation for which there always seems to be demand. His 25 - 30 students per year are typically high school juniors and seniors who are in class three hours a day. The program is open to adults as well.

After 788 hours of classroom and lab work, the program moves to supervised on-the-job training. Students have participated in live work projects such as signs, concession stands, baseball dugouts, and other tasks for municipal parks and facilities. Students also work on campus projects. Their training often evolves into full time employment after graduation.

In spite of his success and despite the fact that his program has 14 feeder schools, Johnson says he cannot take recruiting for granted. “It's the lifeblood of the program. I go to numerous scholastic sporting events and talk to prospective students one-on-one. Recruiting is one of the two most important ingredients of this program.”

The other is motivation. Johnson sees himself as an instructor, and sometimes a coach. “I talk to the potential students about life, making a living, and being a responsible person. I often tell them more what not to do rather than what to do,” Johnson stated.