The Evolution of Apprenticeships


The International Masonry Institute is challenging the notion that being a tradesman is something you are born into

Over the years, our country’s trade infrastructure has broken down, and the sense of pride in working with your hands has been eroded. A disparity between employment demands of the build industry and the shortage of trained, qualified labor is growing wider.

In this three part series we continue our look at the skilled labor shortage and the people and institutions trying to change the way we think about trade jobs. First, we explore how a timeless trade is adapting to modern labor conditions.

Shaking up a centuries old recruitment process

“Now is the perfect time to get into the trades,” says Gavin Collier, Apprentice Coordinator of the Tile Program at the International Masonry Institute (IMI).

IMI located about an hour outside of Chicago, consists of architects, engineers, construction managers, skilled craftworkers and instructors who are combining their shared expertise to offer what no other group can: training experience, craftmanship, design, installation and marketing. It’s mission is to supply the finest trained craftworkers in the brick, marble, plaster, tile, and terrazzo trades.

If it sounds like the place you would have found a young Michelangelo or Antoni Gaudi, that is very much their goal. Find and train the next generation of craftsmen and women.

“I’m actually a fourth generation,” says Collier. “So my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father, were all tile-layers. I think that was more common when I got into the trade. Now, we’re kind of looking outside trying to bring in new people into the trades. People who never really had this opportunity before.”

Stepping out of the box

Outside the box thinking is something that is very much needed in this profession that has spent years focused on bettering the inside of one.

“We need some ideas on how to rebuild our construction skilled labor pool,” says CertainTeed Building Scientist, Lucas Hamilton. “Look at any construction site and you will be hard pressed to find anyone under the age of 40.”

The challenges with the skilled labor shortage are well-documented. The industry has suffered from a decrease in student applicants as more high school graduates opt for college over trade schools or apprenticeships. At the same time, funding for technical education programs has been cut by many states, yet demand is as strong as ever.

“Attracting young people into the industry is definitely something that needs to be addressed,” says Matt Gibson, CertainTeed Vice President of Corporate Marketing. “We need to show them that this is a reputable career. Something where they will not just earn a living but really feel a sense of satisfaction in their day-to-day activities.”

This is not lost on the IMI who has been modifying its recruitment process to help fill that gap. They have found success reaching out to students that perhaps didn’t find college to be the right fit and selling them instead on the opportunity to do something completely different and still make great money.

“Most of my apprentices are 26, 27 years old,” says Collier. “They are people that have done something else and it really didn’t work.”

That’s where schools like the IMI come in. They are grabbing kids on the second chance and showing them there is a different path, one that is just as fulfilling and lucrative.

“I think a lot of people don’t even know these jobs exist,” says Collier. “When I go to job fairs and I walk around, [students]are shocked at how much money they can make. It’s not easy work. It’s hard, but you can make a really good living doing it.”

The skills, they last forever

A life in the trades is physically demanding and it’s not for everyone. There is heavy lifting; standing or squatting for long periods for time; inclement weather. However, the trades, especially those requiring skilled-labor, have something going for them many other professions in the age of artificial intelligence and computer-learning don’t, job security.

“When we teach you a trade,” says Collier, “it’s something you can always make a living at. I don’t care what happens there is always somebody looking for someone to do tile work… and that’s something no one can ever take away for you.”

tile laying international masonry institute certainteed

Watch the entire interview with Gavin and learn more about the International Masonry Institute. Above you can see their beautiful tile mosaic that was the feature of our trade show booth.

Next up the student’s perspective. We take a look at a day in the life of an apprenticeship at a world renown trade school.

Plus, selecting the best drywall type for the job and get to know the best drywall installers – in the world.

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