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Cement Mason and Concrete Finisher Career, Job and Employment Info

Career and Job Highlights

Job opportunities are expected to be good for those entering the industry in the next few years. Most workers gain skills from observing and working with experienced workers, often through apprenticeships or trainee programs. The construction industry is notoriously sensitive to variations in the economy, and so employment may not be steady during recessions or downturns. The nature of the project-based work means that cement masons may work overtime to complete jobs.

Cement Mason and Concrete Finisher Career Overview

Concrete is one of the most popular construction materials. The mixture of sand, water, gravel, and Portland cement is durable, inexpensive, and versatile. It is used in many different areas of construction, from foundations, floor, verandas, sidewalk in residential houses; to miles of highways or dams weighing tons.

There are many different jobs that work with concrete.

  • Cement masons/Concrete finishers: Their main job is to install and finish concrete. This might involve different things. They might make beams, plates, or columns of concrete; or make decorative finishes like colorization. Some masons perform the entire procedure from beginning to end on their own. Before applying concrete masons must first attach and line up the forms that hold the concrete. They then direct the workers to shovel or pour the concrete smoothly and correctly. The next step is to “screed” the surface, which consists of leveling the top of the concrete using a flat tool and straightedge. When the concrete is uniform the concrete mason uses a tool called a “bull float”, a long, thin tool that buries the rough parts of the concrete and raises a fine, full paste of the cement to the top. After this step is complete the concrete finishers take over. They use an edger to create founded and smoothed edges between the forms of concrete. This makes the concrete more durable by preventing flaking or cracking. Another way of preventing cracking is to use a “groover” that scores the concrete into smaller sections. After this is done they use a flat smooth tool called trowel to make the surface completely uniform.

    To complete the process, they trowel the surface a second time to make sure it is completely smooth or make different finishes. Different jobs require different surfaces. Sometimes masons need to create a rougher surface to prevent slipping. To achieve this, they use a broom or brush with still bristles to score the surface. Other times they place small stone chips or gravel into the concrete, called aggregate, and then wash away the excess concrete to achieve a pebble finish. Sometimes masons use concrete that is premixed with coloring for certain colored finishes. When making ceilings, pillars, or wall panels where the concrete will be exposed after the frames are removed, masons chisel away loose concrete, patch up any gaps or dents with a paste made out of Portland cement, and use carborundum stone to create a uniform surface. To finish they cover the entire area that is exposed with a rich blend of Portland cement and use tools or cloths to smooth the concrete.

    Cement masons have to take into account the complex ways in which the environment affects concrete. Warm or cool temperatures, wind, and weather can all make the concrete warp or crack. Masons have to know how the concrete responds to different changes, predict problems, and take preventative measures.

  • Segmental pavers: They install panels made of compressed brick or concrete. These panels are called pavers and are used in constructing walkways, verandas, playgrounds, steps, driveways, and many other things. Pavers come in many different textures, colors, and shapes that can be designed to form decorative patterns. Those who lay pavers begin by clearing and leveling the area to be covered. They then lay and compress the base material, which is a compressible grainy material. Then they can lay the pavers, beginning with the center and trimming the pavers on the end so the fit neatly. To finish they lay bordering materials to hold the pavers in place and fill in the joints between pavers with sand.
  • Terrazzo Workers: They construct paths, floors, verandas, and wall panels in decorative ways by making cement walls with surfaces of aggregates, or small stones, of marble or other materials. Installing terrazzo is very much like installing concrete. The procedure involves installing three layers of different materials. To begin, workers create a sound, 3-4 inch thick foundation of concrete. They then remove the forms from the concrete foundation and put in another layer, about an inch thick, of sand concrete. While the sandy layer is still damp workers insert divider strips made out of metal into the concrete in the pattern of the terrazzo. The third layer is a blended, sometimes colored mixture of marble chips which is sprinkled onto the concrete and pressed down with a light roller.

After the terrazzo is set, workers use a terrazzo grinder, which is a kind of heavy floor polisher. After polishing, the marks left by the grinder are filled in with a matching spackle and then smoothed with a trowel. To finish, the workers scour, polish, and apply sealant to the surface until it shines.

Cement Mason and Concrete Finisher Training and Job Qualifications

Most workers in this industry gain their skills on the job, beginning as assistants and working their way up, or by completing an apprenticeship that usually lasts three to four years. Many start out by being construction laborers.

When evaluating prospective cement masons, finishers, segmental pavers, or terrazzo workers, hirers usually look for a few things. Being a high school graduate isn’t required but it is extremely helpful, as are courses in reading blueprints, math, mechanical drawing, or science. Applicants also need to be eighteen or older, physically fit, and hold a driver’s license. Masons often work in teams and so the ability to work well in a group is important.

Many employers offer training programs that involve both practical and classroom instruction. Trainees learn about materials, how to operate machinery, and how to use tools. They start out doing only simple tasks like edging, leveling, and troweling. As they gain more experience they will be given more responsibility and advance to being able to finish and then install.

Apprenticeships are usually sponsored by individual contractors or local unions. They usually take three to four years and provide very thorough training. They work with experienced workers to learn practices and tools. They also are required to complete 144 hours of classroom instructions where they are taught safety procedures, math, and how to read blueprints. They might also learn specialized skills like estimating cost and layout work. Other workers gain skills by completing programs at vocational schools.

Some personal attributes will also contribute to becoming good cement masons, concrete finishers, terrazzo workers, and segmental pavers. They should enjoy doing detail-oriented work, be independent workers, like doing intense, short-term projects, and find satisfaction in craftsmanship.
As workers gain experience and skill, they will be eligible for more advance positions. They could advance to supervisory positions for masonry contractors. Some start their own businesses where they work in management of many workers. Some transfer to associated areas of construction, like construction management, cost estimating, or building inspection.

Job and Employment Opportunities for Cement Masons and Concrete Finishers

Cement masons, concrete finishers, terrazzo workers, and segmental pavers are predicted to have excellent employment opportunities in coming years. There is high demand for their work and little competition as many workers look for employment that is less physically strenuous.

Job growth in this industry is expected to be better than the average for all jobs. There will be a lot of demand for workers to be involved in the building of roads, tunnels for trains, industrial plants, offices, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and many other constructions. Cement masons will also be in high demand for restoration and repair work. Job openings will come both from new jobs being created and as workers move to other careers or industries.

Even though job growth is predicted, this industry, like all areas of construction, is easily influenced by rises and falls in the economy. Thus, work may be unsteady. However, during high levels of construction there might not be enough concrete masons, concrete finishers, terrazzo workers, and segmental pavers and so they will be in extremely high demand.

Historical Earnings Information

The majority of cement masons and concrete finishers earned between $11.50/h and $20.00/h in 2002, with a median of $14.70. The highest tenth on the pay scale earned more the $26/h and the lowest tenth earned less than $9.30.