Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons (or, simply, masons) use bricks, concrete blocks, and natural and man-made stones to build fences, walkways, walls, and other structures.

Duties

Masons typically do the following:

  • Read blueprints or drawings to calculate materials needed
  • Lay out patterns or foundations using a straightedge
  • Break or cut bricks, stones, or blocks to their appropriate size
  • Mix mortar or grout and spread it onto a slab or foundation
  • Lay bricks, blocks, or stones according to plans
  • Clean excess mortar with trowels and other hand tools
  • Construct corners with a corner pole or by building a corner pyramid
  • Ensure that a structure is perfectly vertical and horizontal, using a plumb bob and level
  • Clean and polish surfaces with hand or power tools
  • Fill expansion joints with the appropriate caulking materials

The following are examples of types of masons:

Brickmasons and blockmasons—often called bricklayers—build and repair walls, floors, partitions, fireplaces, chimneys, and other structures with brick, precast masonry panels, concrete block, and other masonry materials.

Pointing, cleaning, and caulking workers repair brickwork, particularly on older structures on which mortar has come loose. Special care must be taken not to damage the structural integrity or the existing bricks.

Refractory masons are brickmasons who specialize in installing firebrick, gunite, castables, and refractory tile in high-temperature boilers, furnaces, cupolas, ladles, and soaking pits in industrial establishments. Most of these workers are employed in steel mills, where molten materials flow on refractory beds from furnaces to rolling machines. They also are employed at oil refineries, glass furnaces, incinerators, and other locations with manufacturing processes that require high temperatures.

Stonemasons build stone walls, as well as set stone exteriors and floors. They work with two types of stone: natural-cut stone, such as marble, granite, and limestone; and artificial stone, made from concrete, marble chips, or other masonry materials. Using a special hammer or a diamond-blade saw, workers cut stone to make various shapes and sizes. Some stonemasons specialize in setting marble, which is similar to setting large pieces of stone.

Work Environment

Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons (masons) held about 85,100 jobs in 2012, of which 54 percent were employed in the masonry contractors industry. About 20 percent were self-employed. Many self-employed contractors work on small jobs, such as residential patios, walkways, and fireplaces.

Although most masons work in residential construction, work in nonresidential construction is growing because most nonresidential buildings are now built with walls made of some combination of concrete block, brick veneer, stone, granite, marble, tile, and glass.

As with many other construction occupations, the work is physically demanding. Masons  often lift heavy materials and stand, kneel, and bend for long periods.

Because they usually work outdoors, poor weather conditions may reduce work activity.

Injuries and Illnesses

Brickmasons and blockmasons have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. Common injuries include muscle strains from lifting heavy materials, as well as cuts from tools and falls from scaffolds.

Work Schedules

Although most masons work full time, some work longer hours to meet construction deadlines. However, because they primarily work outdoors, masons may have to stop work in extreme cold or rainy weather. Nonetheless, processes and materials have been developed that allow masons to work in a greater variety of weather conditions than in the past.

Self-employed workers may be able to set their own schedule.

Education and Training

Although most brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons (masons) learn through an apprenticeship, some learn their skills on the job. Others learn through 1- or 2-year mason programs at technical schools.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is required for all masons. High school courses in English, mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop are considered useful.

Many technical schools offer 1-year programs in basic masonry. These programs operate both independently and in conjunction with apprenticeship training. The credits earned as part of an apprenticeship program usually count toward an associate’s degree. Some people take courses before being hired, and some take them later as part of on-the-job training.

Training

A 3- to 4-year apprenticeship is how most masons learn the trade. For each year of the program, apprentices must complete at least 144 hours of related technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Apprentices learn construction basics such as blueprint reading; mathematics, including measurement, volume, and mixing proportions; building code requirements; and safety and first-aid practices. 

In the coming years, the focus of apprenticeships is likely to change from time served to proven competence. This may result in apprenticeships of shorter duration.

After completing an apprenticeship program, masons are considered journey workers and are able to perform tasks on their own.

Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school education or equivalent
  • Physically able to do the work

Some contractors have their own training programs for masons. Although workers may enter apprenticeships directly, some masons start out as construction helpers.

Important Qualities

Hand-eye coordination. Workers must be able to apply smooth, even layers of mortar, set bricks, and remove any excess before the mortar hardens.

Math skills. Knowledge of math—including measurement, volume, and mixing proportions—is important in this trade.

Physical stamina. Brickmasons must keep a steady pace while setting bricks all day. Although no individual brick is extremely heavy, the constant lifting can be tiring.

Physical strength. Workers must be strong enough to lift blocks that sometimes weigh more than 40 pounds. They must also carry heavy tools, equipment, and other materials, such as bags of mortar and grout.

Visualization. Stonemasons must be able to see how stones fit together to build attractive and stable structures.

Pay

The median annual wage for brickmasons and blockmasons was $46,440 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,980, and the top 10 percent earned more than $77,950.

The median annual wage for stonemasons was $37,350 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,210, and the top 10 percent earned more than $63,330.

The starting pay for apprentices is usually about 50 percent of what fully trained workers make. They earn pay increases as they learn to do more.

Although most masons work full time, some work longer hours to meet construction deadlines.

About 20 percent of masons were self-employed in 2012. Self-employed workers may be able to set their own schedule.

Job Outlook

Employment of brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons (masons) is projected to grow 34 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Population growth will result in the construction of more schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, and other structures, many of which are made of brick, block, or stone.

In addition, masons will be needed to restore a growing number of brick buildings. Although expensive, brick and stone exteriors should remain popular, reflecting a preference for low-maintenance, durable exterior materials.

Building code requirements in hurricane-prone areas also will increase the demand for durable homes that use brick, block, or stone.

Job Prospects

Overall job prospects should continue to improve over the coming decade as construction activity rebounds from the recent recession. As with many other types of construction jobs, employment is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy. On the one hand, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

The current masonry workforce is growing older, and many workers are expected to retire over the next decade, which will create some job openings. However, job openings from employment growth is expected to be much greater.

Workers with a good job history and with experience in masonry and construction should have the best job opportunities.

For More Information

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities for brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local contractors or firms that employ masons, or local union-management apprenticeship committees. Information on apprenticeships is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s toll-free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627, and Employment and Training Administration.

For information about training for brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons, visit

International Masonry Institute National Training Center

Mason Contractors Association of America

National Association of Home Builders

For information about training, including obtaining a credential in green construction, visit 

NCCER

For general information about the work of bricklayers, visit

Associated General Contractors of America

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.