Though I was born and raised in the Chicago area, it never ceases to amaze me how big an area it really is and the amount of places there are to visit-especially in the surrounding suburbs to the north and west of the city. Currently, I live about three hours south of Chicago and I usually make a trip up to the windy city at least once every other month. This column is about a recent visit I made to a training center that I was not even aware of until recently.

Steve Nelms invited me to tour this facility and I took him up on it. I felt you might be interested in what I learned on this tour. I was thinking it might give you an inside look at a training option that may interest you at some point in your career. I also think it's great to meet people in the industry who have a similar love for the plastering trade. With this in mind, the interview I had with Steve follows, along with some pictures and comments about this impressive training location.

Plaster Man: Steve, how did you get involved with plastering? Can you give us a little of your background in the trade?

Steve Nelms: I suppose like many in the plastering trade I was born into it. My father was a plasterer for almost 50 years and my grandfather was a plasterer and plastering contractor before him. I started my formal plastering apprenticeship in the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers Local 56, in 1986, at the Wm. A. Duguid Co., in suburban Chicago. From there I moved on to R.G. Construction Services, where I became a foreman in a few years.

For R.G., I ran crews ranging from upwards of 40 plasterers, as well as the smallest of ornamental restoration projects. The experience at R.G. spanned all aspects of the plastering trade and I value those years. From 1991 to 2001, I served on various boards and committees for the union and in 2001, I was appointed as a plastering representative by the Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers District Council No. 1 Illinois, and was also charged with expanding the plastering apprenticeship and training program that you visited.

P.M.: Your grandfather helped in the writing of a plastering manual. Which one is it?

S.N.: His name was Russell "Buck" Nelms and the book he contributed to was written in the '30s and is titled "Practical Plastering and Related Subjects"-in the trade it is often referred to as the "Dalton Book," as the author of record was named Byron Dalton. I still have my grandfather's working papers and notes used in his submissions for this book. It is still available in used bookstores and I highly recommend it as its plastering content is still applicable today.

P.M.: Were you able to work with him? He sounds like a fascinating person to have known and it's very obvious from his writings that he was very generous in sharing the knowledge he had of plastering.

S.N.: Having passed away in the early '60s, I was not fortunate enough to spend time with him but I have been told that he was always concerned with the passing down of the craft and its skills.

P.M.: Give us some details on the training center: Where is it located and how large is the facility?

S.N.: The District Council Training Center is located in Addison, Ill., a centrally situated suburb of Chicago. The facility is 35,000 square feet and currently we are expanding to add another 7,200 square feet of usable training space. It is a union labor management joint apprenticeship and training facility utilized by the members of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers, and its contractors.

P.M.: What's taught there?

S.N.: Apprentices have a choice of the crafts of plastering, welding, brick and stone masonry, and marble masonry. Apprentice and journeyman upgrade training is also available in the areas of blueprint reading and estimating, foremen and supervisor training, steward training, mold making and casting, plaster patching and restoration flashing installation and details, as well as an extensive EIFS training program that culminates with the AWCI's "EIFS-Doing it Right" training and certification program. Additionally, the facility is used for numerous safety training courses that include OSHA 10- and 30-hour classes, scaffold users course, silica awareness, hazardous communications, First Aid and CPR rough terrain forklift safety.

P.M.: What is your position there?

S.N.: I coordinate the formation and implementation of the plastering curriculum and I also work in conjunction with our Market Development/Technical Services Director from the International Masonry Institute Scott Conwell, who is a licensed architect on plaster promotion programs.

P.M.: How is plastering taught? Is there one trainer or several? What topics or areas of plastering do you give training in?

S.N.: We currently have five plastering instructors, each of whom specialize in one or more segments of the craft. While some information is delivered in a classroom setting, the majority of the training occurs in the lab. We try to expose and train the plasterer in all segments of the plastering craft. This includes conventional and veneer plaster, stucco, EIFS, plaster patching and restoration, mold making and casting, ornamental plaster, Venetian plaster and even some basic ornamental sculpturing are also included. One of our instructors is Art Johnston, a 54-year plasterer of BAC Local 56, who has served in numerous capacities in our union, including president for more than 20 years. At 77 years old, Art continues to pass on his invaluable knowledge through training that none of his students-including myself-will ever forget.

P.M.: How many are taught plastering during a given year?

S.N.: Two hundred to 300, currently.

P.M.: Where do you see plaster heading in the future? What types of plastering seem to be gaining momentum and strength?

S.N.: While the traditional plastering systems are still quite in demand in our market, I see a bit of a trend toward veneer plaster systems and an increased use of Venetian plaster, as well as a movement toward almost entirely water-managed EIFS systems.

P.M.: There are some plasterers who are in the union and some who are independent contractors. What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of being in the union-some advantages and benefits?

S.N.: I think our training facility is a perfect example of what is great about the unions and labor, management cooperation. The strength in numbers that unions provide has allowed us to assemble a state-of-the-art facility that benefits our members and our contractors. This is similar to the multi-employer benefit plans that are formed by labor and management to provide valuable health and welfare benefits, as well as pension benefits to our members. These allow our members and their families to live healthy and retire after many years in our physically demanding trade with dignity. I often talk to people who regret not being involved in a union-sponsored plan as they look for health insurance or near retirement.

P.M.: Do you feel the union is helping preserve and promote the trade? And if so, in what ways?

S.N.: We spend a lot of time and resources to do just that. Outside of the obvious passing down of the craft through apprenticeship and training, we host numerous events annually geared towards designers, architects and architectural students that enlighten those professionals on the advantages of designing and restoring with plaster.

I want to thank Steve for taking the time to share these thoughts and also for the tour of the facility. As always, I invite you to send me your questions and comments to me via or to this magazine. A special thanks to those of you here in the states, as well as other countries who have sent such great letters to me in 2004-they are appreciated! Please keep them coming in 2005!

I do hope our paths cross and we can meet personally in the near future. Until next time, Plaster On!