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Cement masons and concrete finishers perform specialized masonry work with poured concrete (concrete finishers) and finished concrete (cement masons). The jobs are usually outdoors on construction sites and may be physically demanding. Seasonal work is common in colder climates. Required skills are similar across the country, but building codes and the weather have an impact on local working conditions. Knowledge of the properties of cement is essential, including how variable weather conditions may affect the pouring, leveling, setting and finishing processes. Cement masons doing decorative finished work employ design, color and visual skills. Commercial projects can take years and demand more specialized skills, while residential projects may require only a few days.
Concrete finishers pour wet cement into various forms and tend to work on foundation slabs, sidewalks, roads, curbs and other ground-level projects. Cement masons then work with the finished cement forms and mortar to erect walls and other above-ground structures. "The cement mason's work begins where the finisher leaves off," says Al Herndon, who oversees masonry training in Florida for the Florida Masonry Apprentice and Education Foundation. Some masonry projects, particularly smaller residential jobs, require one mason to do both cement and concrete work. But at larger, commercial jobs there is more likely to be several masons. Cement masons need to be able to follow detailed directions to make complex building components. Concrete finishers must know how to work quickly and effectively to pour and shape concrete. "You have to do it correctly the first time," Herndon says. "You don't get a second chance with cement."
Job opportunities are directly linked with economic growth and building activity. After several very lean years, the pace of both residential and commercial building work is picking up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth of about 29 percent between 2012 and 2022, and 41,700 jobs will need to be filled. There were 135,200 employed cement masons and concrete finishers in 2012, and this number excludes self-employed contractors.
Cement masons and concrete finishers had median earnings of $35,760 in 2012, or $17.19 an hour, according to the BLS. The best-paid earned $64,080, while the lowest-paid earned $23,380. Experienced journeymen can earn more if they can perform multiple masonry skills. Apprentices earn about half the salaries of basic journeymen. Employment sectors that pay well include hospitals and architectural and engineering firms. The top-paying metropolitan areas are Nassau, N.Y. and Redding, Calif.
Entry-level masons often enter the industry after high school and receive on-the-job training. As they gather experience and perspective, they tend to seek apprenticeship training in their early 20s after deciding to make a career in masonry, Herndon says. Roughly half of all cement masons and concrete finishers complete apprenticeship programs sponsored by unions and contractor associations, which entitle them to higher pay and more advancement opportunities.
Masons can work for both union and non-union contractors and can access job opportunities through either employment channel. Personal contacts and word-of-mouth opportunities are common entry points into the profession, usually after high school. Increasingly, specialized construction trade programs at high schools seek to interest future masons and provide them with the skills they will need. Willingness to travel may help, as some masonry contractors bid on work projects across a large geographic area. Solid math skills are also a growing priority for the industry.
|Upward Mobility||fair Average|
|Stress Level||poor Above Average|
|Flexibility||poor Below Average|
Last updated by Emily Brandon.