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Nature of the Work
* Employment of concrete masons and terrazzo workers will increase slowly as new technology makes these workers more productive.
* Most learn their trade on the job, either through formal 3-year apprenticeship programs or by working as helpers.
* Jobs are often outdoors and require a lot of bending and kneeling.
Concretea mixture of Portland cement, sand, gravel, and wateris used for many types of construction projects. Whether small jobs, such as patios and floors, huge dams or miles of roadway, concrete masons place and finish the concrete. They may also color concrete surfaces, expose aggregate (small stones) in walls and sidewalks, or fabricate concrete beams, columns, and panels.
Terrazzo workers create attractive walkways, floors, patios, and panels by exposing marble chips and other fine aggregates on the surface of finished concrete. Much of the preliminary work of terrazzo workers is similar to that of concrete masons.
In preparing a site for placing concrete, masons set the forms for holding the concrete to the desired pitch and depth and properly align them. They then direct the casting of the concrete and supervise laborers who use shovels or special tools to spread it. Masons then guide a straightedge back and forth across the top of the forms to "screed," or level, the freshly placed concrete. Immediately after leveling the concrete, masons carefully smooth the concrete surface with a "bull float," a long-handled tool about 8 by 48 inches that covers the coarser materials in the concrete and brings a rich mixture of fine cement paste to the surface.
After the concrete has been leveled and floated, finishers press an edger between the forms and the concrete and guide it along the edge and the surface. This produces slightly rounded edges and helps prevent chipping or cracking. They use a special tool called a "groover" to make joints or grooves at specific intervals that help control cracking. Next, finishers trowel the surface using either a powered or a hand trowel, a small, smooth, rectangular metal tool. Troweling removes most imperfections and brings the fine cement paste to the surface.
As the final step, masons retrowel the concrete surface back and forth with powered and hand trowels to create a smooth finish. For a coarse, nonskid finish, masons brush the surface with a broom or stiff-bristled brush. For a pebble finish, they embed small gravel chips into the surface. They then wash any excess cement from the exposed chips with a mild acid solution. For color, they use colored premixed concrete. On concrete surfaces that will remain exposed after forms are stripped, such as columns, ceilings, and wall panels, concrete masons cut away high spots and loose concrete with hammer and chisel, fill any large indentations with a Portland cement paste and smooth the surface with a rubbing carborundum stone. Finally, they coat the exposed area with a rich Portland cement mixture using either a special tool or a coarse cloth to rub the concrete to a uniform finish.
Attractive, marble-chip terrazzo requires three layers of materials. First, concrete masons or terrazzo workers build a solid, level concrete foundation that is 3 to 4 inches deep. After the forms are removed from the foundation, workers place a 1-inch deep mixture of sandy concrete. Before this layer sets, terrazzo workers partially embed metal divider strips into the concrete wherever there is to be a joint or change of color in the terrazzo. These strips separate the different designs and colors of the terrazzo panels and help prevent cracks. For the final layer, terrazzo workers blend and place a fine marble chip mixture that may be color-pigmented into each of the panels, then hand trowel each panel until it is level with the tops of the ferrule strips. While the mixture is still wet, workers toss additional marble chips of various colors into each panel and roll a lightweight roller over the entire surface.
When the terrazzo is thoroughly dry, helpers grind it with a terrazzo grinder, which is somewhat like a floor polisher, only much heavier. Slight depressions left by the grinding are filled with a matching grout material and hand troweled for a smooth, uniform surface. Terrazzo workers then clean, polish, and seal the dry surface for a lustrous finish.
Concrete or terrazzo work is fast paced and strenuous. Because most finishing is done at floor level, workers must bend and kneel a lot. Many jobs are outdoors, but work is generally halted during rain or freezing weather. To avoid chemical burns from uncured concrete and sore knees from frequent kneeling, many workers wear kneepads. Workers usually wear water-repellent boots while working in wet concrete.
Concrete masons and terrazzo workers held about 137,000 jobs in 1996; terrazzo workers accounted for a very small proportion of the total. Most concrete masons worked for concrete contractors or for general contractors on projects such as highways, bridges, shopping malls, or large buildings such as factories, schools, and hospitals. A small number were employed by firms that manufacture concrete products. Most terrazzo workers worked for special trade contractors who install decorative floors and wall panels.
Fewer than 1 out of 10 concrete masons and terrazzo workers was self-employed, a smaller proportion than in other building trades. Most self-employed masons specialized in small jobs, such as driveways, sidewalks, and patios.
Concrete masons and terrazzo workers learn their trades either through on-the-job training as helpers or through 3-year apprenticeship programs. Many masons first gain experience as construction laborers.
When hiring helpers and apprentices, employers prefer high school graduates who are at least 18 years old, in good physical condition, and have a driver's license to drive. The ability to get along with others also is important because concrete masons frequently work in teams. High school courses in shop mathematics, blueprint reading, or mechanical drawing provide a helpful background.
On-the-job training programs consist of informal instruction from experienced workers in which helpers learn to use the tools, equipment, machines, and materials of the trade. They begin with tasks such as edging and jointing and using a straightedge on freshly placed concrete. As they progress, assignments become more complex, and trainees can usually do finishing work within a short time.
Three-year apprenticeship programs, usually jointly sponsored by local unions and contractors, provide on-the-job training in addition to a recommended minimum of 144 hours of classroom instruction each year. A written test and a physical exam may be required. In the classroom, apprentices learn applied mathematics, blueprint reading, and safety. Apprentices generally receive special instruction in layout work and cost estimating.
Experienced concrete masons or terrazzo workers may advance to become supervisors or contract estimators. Some open their own concrete contracting businesses.
Employment of concrete masons and terrazzo workers is expected to grow slower than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. In addition to job openings that will stem from the rising demand for the services of these workers, other openings will become available as experienced workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
The demand for concrete masons and terrazzo workers will rise as the population and the economy grow. More masons will be needed to build highways, bridges, subways, factories, office buildings, hotels, shopping centers, schools, hospitals, and other structures. In addition, the increasing use of concrete as a building materialparticularly in nonresidential constructionwill add to the demand. More concrete masons also will be needed to repair and renovate existing highways, bridges, and other structures.
Employment growth of concrete masons and terrazzo workers, however, will not keep pace with the growth of these construction projects. Their productivity will increase as a result of the use of improved concrete pumping systems, continuous concrete mixers, quicker setting cement, troweling machines, prefabricated masonry systems, and other improved materials, equipment, and tools.
Employment of concrete masons and terrazzo workers, like that of many other workers, is sensitive to the flucuations of the economy. Workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the level of nonresidential construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.
Median weekly earnings of full-time concrete masons and terazzo workers were about $467 in 1997. The middle 50 percent earned between $375 and $650 per week. The top 10 percent earned more than $823, and the lowest 10 percent earned less than $286.
According to the limited information available, average hourly earningsincluding benefitsfor concrete masons who belonged to a union and worked full time, ranged between $15.10 and $45.84 in 1996. Concrete masons in, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and other large cities received the highest wages. Nonunion workers generally have lower wage rates than union workers. Apprentices usually start at 50 to 60 percent of the rate paid to experienced workers.
Concrete masons often work overtime, with premium pay, because once concrete has been placed, the job must be completed.
Annual earnings of concrete masons and terrazzo workers may be lower than the hourly rates suggest, because bad weather and downturns in construction activity may limit the time they can work.
Many concrete masons and terrazzo workers belong to the Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association of the United States and Canada, or to the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen. Some terrazzo workers belong to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of the United States.
Concrete masons and terrazzo workers combine skill with knowledge of building materials to construct buildings, highways, and other structures. Other occupations involving similar skills and knowledge include bricklayers, stonemasons, form builders, marble setters, plasterers, and tilesetters.
For information about apprenticeships and work opportunities, contact local concrete or terrazzo contractors; locals of unions previously mentioned; a local joint union-management apprenticeship committee; or the nearest office of the State employment service or apprenticeship agency.
For general information about concrete masons and terrazzo workers, contact:
Associated General Contractors of America, Inc., 1957 E St. NW., Washington, DC 20006.
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, International Masonry Institute Apprenticeship and Training, 815 15th St. NW., Suite 1001, Washington, DC 20005.
Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association of the United States and Canada, 1125 17th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association, 3166 Des Plaines Ave., Suite 132, Des Plaines, IL 60018.
Portland Cement Association, 5420 Old Orchard Rd., Skokie, IL 60077.
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 101 Constitution Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20001.
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