Cement masons place and finish concrete. They also color concrete surfaces, expose aggregate in stone walls, and fabricate beams, columns, and panels. The process for placing concrete has a number of steps. First, cement masons set forms that hold and align the concrete. Then they direct the concrete into the formed area and use specialized tools to spread it around the area. They level the concrete by guiding a straightedge back and forth across it. They then use a tool called a “bull float” to smooth the surface and bring a mixture of fine cement to the top. After the leveling and floating process, they press edgers between the forms and the concrete to prevent chipping and cracking.
The final step includes retroweling the concrete surface with powered and hand trowels. They use different techniques depending on the type of surface they want to create. For a coarse, nonskid finish, they use a broom or stiff-bristled brush. If they want to create a pebble finish, they embed chips of gravel into the finish. In order to create color, they use colored premixed concrete. For exposed concrete, they often cut away high spots and loose concrete with hammer and chisel, fill in the indentations with Portland cement, and smooth the surface with a carborundum stone. Throughout their work, cement masons monitor the effects of weather on their work.
Those interested in a career as a cement mason should have good manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination. They need to be physically fit because the work is extremely physically demanding. They should enjoy working outdoors. Those who intend to become supervisors should have good leadership and communication skills.
In 2002, cement masons earned a median hourly wage of $14.74. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $9.31, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $26.02. The following shows the median hourly wages in the industries employing the highest numbers of cement masons:
- Nonresidential building construction — $16.24
- Highway, street, and bridge construction — $15.37
- Other specialty trade contractors — $15.19
- Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors — $14.52
- Residential building construction — $14.44
Training and Education
A majority of cement masons receive training on the job or in 3- to 4-year apprenticeship program. Many begin their careers as construction laborers. Most employers prefer to hire high school graduates who are at least 18 years old for apprenticeship and helper positions. On-the-job training is usually informal and includes use of tools, equipment, machines, and materials. Trainees begin by taking on small tasks and move on to larger assignments as they learn more. Apprenticeship programs are usually co-sponsored by unions and contractors include 144 hours of classroom training in addition to on-the-job training. Classes include applied mathematics, blueprint reading, and safety. With experience and additional training, cement masons can become supervisors for contractors or owners of their own businesses. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.
In 2002, cement masons held about 190,000 jobs. About 1 in 20 were self-employed.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of cement masons is expected to increase faster than the average. Construction of new highways, bridges, subways, factories, office buildings, hotels, shopping centers, schools, and hospitals will spur demand for these workers. Overall job prospects will be favorable because the demand for these workers equals the supply. Employment is sensitive to economic cycles, however, and workers may experience periods of unemployment.