Build a solid career foundation with a masonry apprenticeship

Jamie Buck has been involved in construction all her life.

“My father was a contractor, so there’s not too much I can’t do. When you grow up in the business, you learn to understand the ups and downs of it,” said Buck, apprenticeship training director for the Masonry Association of Georgia.

When she talks to high school students and people interested in masonry careers, she doesn’t downplay the impact the recession has had on construction. There have been fewer building projects and many jobs lost in the last few years, but Buck believes it will pick up.

“When it does, these are skills you can put in your back pocket and go anywhere,” she said. “Now is the time to invest in your education. Our work force is aging and we are going to need new people.”

The Georgia Masonry Association of Georgia has educated new apprentices at its training center in Decatur since the mid-1980s. Applicants must be at least 18, have a high school diploma/GED equivalent or have completed the 10th grade, and be physically able to do the work.

The apprenticeship program, which is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, consists of 432 hours of classroom work and 6,000 hours of on-the-job-training. Most apprentices are sponsored by their employer or find an employer with the school’s help by their second semester.

High school students can enroll in the pre-apprenticeship program, learning skills and earning credits for their high school diplomas.

There are six semesters of training, and classes meet one night a week. Working apprentices earn on-the-job credit hours and a salary. Apprentices start out at about $9 an hour, with $1-per-hour pay increases each time they pass one of the eight stages in the program.

“They’ll pass three stages in the first year, two in the second year and two in the third year, so when they graduate most are making $18 an hour,” Buck said.

Apprentices begin by learning about construction safety, tools and equipment, mortar mixing and basic brick-laying. They move on to study measuring, reading plans and specifications, grout, metal work, advanced laying techniques and moisture control. By the third year, they master masonry in high-rise construction, specialized materials, reading commercial drawings, estimating and learning how to repair and restore masonry structures.

During each stage of the program, students complete increasingly complex projects that are judged by contractors working in the field.

“The ideal student is energetic and likes to work outdoors with his hands,” Buck said. “If he has a passion for the trade and is willing to apply himself, the opportunity for advancement is great and he can make some good money.”

Masons serve three years of apprenticeship to become journeymen, and then can be promoted to estimators, foreman, project supervisors and senior project managers.

Tuition for the apprenticeship program is $650 per semester. The program is approved for funding through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Workforce Investment Act.

The center will register new apprentices for its next class starting in August. For information, call Jamie Buck (678-873-1097) or go to

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