“As an instructor, my job is to teach the students what they need to know, show them how to apply what they have learned, and have them practice doing it. Then, I help them get placed in the trade,” said Randy Schutjer, a mason for over 30 years. He has been the masonry instructor at the South Central Career Center, West Plaines, Mo., for the past 14 years.
Schutjer is a successful instructor in many ways. For each of the past six years, one of his students has represented Missouri in the SkillsUSA national masonry contest held in Kansas City each June. The school's administration has such confidence in his students that they are encouraged to build projects on the campus. And, most importantly to Schutjer, he has “many former students in the area who are supporting their families well based on the skills learned in his classes.”
“I still have rapport with most of them. When they come back to tell you ‘thanks,' that means a lot,” Schutjer proudly stated.
“One of my favorite stories is about a former student who was not a particularly good one. I didn't even know if he would get into the trade. Well, he did. And now, he's running work as a foreman in Springfield,” Schutjer said. “Kids often surprise you.”
The curriculum at South Central Career Center is a two-year program. Each day consists of two, three-hour blocks with approximately 10 students in each. Most are high school juniors and seniors, but adults can double up their efforts and complete the program in one year. Although the school actively recruits adults, West Plains High School and about ten other secondary schools in the area “seed” Schutjer's program.
“I have been blessed to have students who seem to have the ‘knack' to do the job,” Schutjer commented. “It's kind of like natural athletic ability in sports. I know that all my students can master masonry – some more easily than others. It's a ‘touch and feel' vocation. I teach them the fundamentals, then it's simply repetition,” he went on.
Schutjer is definitely a hands-on instructor. He teaches the trade and then applies it. “We have a technology segment and a math segment. We figure (estimate) each job as a class. We do a lot of school projects, which really help the program,” he said. “Each year we team up with the carpentry program to build a house. It's a great experience for our students.”
Schutjer has incorporated competitive contests as part of his program. “I value contests and encourage my students to participate. Most of the guys are naturally competitive, and take pride in their work. If they take an interest in competing, it means they practice extra projects,” explained Schutjer. “As an instructor, I like that part.”
“Competition brings out the best in people,” the instructor continued. “But success in competitions doesn't necessarily predict success on the jobsite. There are other factors important to building a successful career.”
Local support of his program is a key ingredient to its success. Schutjer reported that Acme Brick and Natinger Block provide almost all the materials his students need.
“They have been great,” said Schutjer, “especially David Barton of Acme Brick. We always get the product we need, whether it's for class work, a project, or a competition.”
Locally, both non-union and union shops are supportive. Local #15 in Springfield, Mo., provides an apprenticeship program for Schutjer's interested graduates.
The teacher added a cautionary perspective. “I don't mean to be an alarmist, but in my opinion, masonry is a dying trade. It's not a lack of work, but a shortage of people wanting to do the work. It's a hard job, and I don't know if future generations are going to be willing to do that,” he concluded.