Construction trades require trained workers. The amount or need for training can vary depending the specific craft. Some crafts take more time to train than others and require longer training. Training is important, as we would not want electricians or plumbers learning by the mistakes they make. Training is about life safety, faster production and better quality. This all adds up to a better future for all.

However, where do we get training and how good will the training be? Apprenticeship programs have historically been the driving force to train construction workers but with the union having less than 10 percent of marketshare, is this model of training feasible to train all the workers needed in America? The problem is exacerbated in the more highly skilled crafts. Why do some trades seem better off than others do?

Electricity and Plumbing vs. Drywall and Plaster

Electricians and plumbers are a skilled trade and all virtually have some formal training. Other trades, such as drywall and plaster, have little formal training. It is clear that life safety is the driving force behind most programs.

They also have necessity on their side. We need electricity. The truth is price drives drywall. It is the most economical finish for framed walls, so it will endure higher prices unless someone comes up with a less expensive alternative. Lath and plaster is an option and not as much of a safety concern. In addition, plaster is not a low cost finish. This puts plastering at a disadvantage. Unlike electrical and plumbing, people have options other than plaster.

What about Masonry?

Masonry is an option too, yet the U.S. Census Bureau states that they are regaining lost marketshare. Brick is a choice and a skilled trade, so what could we learn from them? A recent in-depth discussion from a national masonry supplier may provide a clue. We discussed the plastering and masonry markets, compared notes and strategies that are employed by each side used to train, promote and maintain marketshare. I was curious how the brick industry was able to turn around their marketshare numbers.

His answer was actually pretty simple. He said the masonry industry understands that the key to owners and designers selecting brick was based on two principles, cost and reputation. You must keep costs in-line to stay competitive with other materials. This is best done through more productive masons. While he agreed the union programs do a good job, they simply do not reach enough people. The manufacturers and dealers of masonry products took matters into their own hands. They knew they had to implement training through manufacturer and dealer programs if they want to turn market share. They made the financial commitment to put money back into training. More and better-trained workers increase production, which lowers costs. This moves more projects to use masonry and repeats the cycle.

I asked how more complex walls and failures that are related to the more complex walls affect their company. He replied that the reputation part of the plan must go hand in hand. The masonry industry produced details that were universally accepted. He felt this cut down on what he called “supervisional slippage.” He defined the term as the time wasted haggling over details that should be repeatable and universally accepted. Thus, contractors became more profitable while lowing prices and dealers began to sell more brick. The plan has been in operation for almost a decade and they are gaining market share and having less problem-jobs. The more designers heard good stories about masonry, the more they wanted to use brick.

Reputation is what lingers on long after the job is done. This is what the design community and general pubic think of your product and what they will think going forward when selecting a cladding or material. Masonry has a good reputation and to assure successfully the job is done right ensures that the reputation continues. This is also where a true third-party inspection program pays off.

What should we do next?

Is it time for the drywall and plaster industry take a bold new step? Should we be thinking outside the box as well? We should not count on the government to step in to solve our issues; we are not electricity or plumbing. We are an option. Training seems to be seriously lacking in the lath, plaster and stucco world. The controversy, power plays and regional bickering must stop if we want any hope of saving the industry.