How I Work
Student’s career choice hit him ‘like a ton of bricks’
by student Anthony J. DiBucci, residential construction technology and management: masonry concentration.
I’m a college student. Studying masonry. That’s “how I work.” When I’m asked what I’m majoring in at college, most people do not expect to hear the word “masonry” come out of my mouth. Half the time, I can’t tell if they are surprised that I’m willing to bust my butt doing masonry work, or shocked that I am actually going to a college to learn the trade of becoming a skilled mason. Either way, that’s just “how I work.”
In high school, I really did not know what I wanted to do with my life. Did I want to go to school for business? Be an accountant? The Marine Corps was even an option at the time! I just did not know what to do. I chose to go to work for a year and use the opportunity to think about my future. For that year, I had the opportunity to work alongside my father and uncle doing concrete work. That year opened my eyes to the real world. It hit me like a ton of bricks, that’s for sure.
The one job I recall quite vividly is a residential garage we built. We built a garage out of architectural split-face CMUs (concrete masonry units), and I had the opportunity to see exactly what was needed to construct a single-car garage on a plot of land where there had been nothing before. I did not have the opportunity to lay any block on the garage job, due to the fact that I was a laborer, but I know I touched every single block in the garage. That is when I realized that using your own two hands to build something is a skill. It also is an art, an art that is slowly diminishing. I had to learn more; I had to know it all. This trade is slowly dying, but it is not going to die on my watch!
“I realized that using your own two hands to build something is a skill. It also is an art.”
I did my research, and I ended up finding a masonry program at Pennsylvania College of Technology. This program allowed me to learn the craft of masonry, both in the field and in the books. After I finish this two-year program in masonry, I will complete the bachelor’s degree program, which will include coursework in management, supervision and safety within the construction industry. I have learned something every day since I have been here. My father tells me, “Be a sponge, Tone!” And I am. I am the largest of sponges, absorbing all of the information I hear every day in class.
A stand-up patio table at Susquehanna Health’s Williamsport Regional Medical Center is among the community projects of DiBucci and his classmates. The table, one of two, incorporates material salvaged from the original Williamsport Hospital building, including decorative terra cotta. Photo by Larry D. Kauffman
A typical day at school starts at 8 a.m. Mondays start with a Construction Estimating course, where I learn everything that it takes to construct a house from the bottom up, including a pinpoint estimation of what it would cost to build that house. After this class, I’m ready to head to my Structural Masonry class that starts with theory. In theory, we discuss commercial construction work. The class moves right to the lab where all the “magic” happens. Our imaginations run wild to design there. Our floors are our pedestals, our pedestal to build our work of art upon. Our instructor for the project gives us specific guidelines, but he makes sure that we have a little bit of wiggle room for creativity. Every project is different; at times we work in teams, at times in pairs. Others are done solo. Being able to work collaboratively really gives me the opportunity to see how others work, along with learning how to work with others. You cannot do every job yourself. You cannot run a business by yourself. Being able to work with someone is half the battle. In my masonry class, I got the chance to learn how to work with others, as well as fine-tune my masonry skills. Some of my other coursework this semester includes a computer application course for construction, codes in construction, and a scheduling and management class.
I’m excited to be a part of the next generation of masons. I don’t know where the industry might be in 10 years, but I know that the industry is evolving every day. I hear the talk of robots coming into our lives, replacing our jobs. Specifically, replacing my job as a mason! Yes, to an extent, robots are capable of doing what a basic mason can do. But when I say basic, I mean basic, non-intricate masonry projects that involve a repetitive succession of simplistic motions. No robot is going to be able to build you a genuine Rumford fireplace inside of your household. No robot is going to be able to individually chisel, trim, and meticulously lay stone on the exterior of your chimney. No robot is going to be able to make a multi-skew cut on a brick for your intricate Gothic archway. For as long as I may live, no robot is going to put me out of a job.
I know I’m in a field that will allow me to leave my presence on the world through projects I build. Masonry leaves a permanent mark, and if we want that mark to be filled with creativity and imagination, we must be knowledgeable in the field in which we work. The creation of a skilled mason’s work will be there always as an enduring reminder of a human being’s need to create and build. ■
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first ran in Masonry Design magazine’s blog. It is reprinted with permission.
According to the most recent Penn College Graduate Survey (2012-13), the starting salary for Residential Construction bachelor-degree graduates ranges from $30,000 to $50,000. The average full-time salary was $42,857. The survey had a response rate of 52.6 percent and was administered six months after graduation. Overall placement (field of study or preferred field) was 100 percent.