The term "stonemason" as used in North America is synonymous with the term "bricklayer" as used in Britain. Both terms refer, very basically, to the worker who constructs walls out of bricks, concrete blocks, breeze blocks, or other stone-based material. It does not apply to the construction of wooden buildings, although you may have used a stonemason to construct a brick or concrete block wall as the foundation for the wooden superstructure. Masonry can be thought of as the practice that these individuals partake in. Masonry training and masonry apprenticeship programs are what aspiring stonemasons/bricklayers go though, in order to become qualified to practice their craft.
Traditionally, there has been a far higher demand for bricklayers in Britain, where buildings are overwhelmingly made of brick or concrete blocks, than in North America, where wood has been a common domestic building material.
On both sides of the Atlantic the days have long since gone when the bricklayer was regarded as an unskilled and illiterate labourer. Today's bricklayer needs to have undergone some form of masonry training, and he needs to be well-qualified and highly skilled if he is to gain employment and advance his career. The much more rigorous building regulations now in force in most developed countries have meant a much higher standard of education now being required among the work force.
The modern qualified bricklayer or stonemason must be able to read and understand blueprints. He must be able to calculate, from these blueprints, the materials required for a project. He needs to have considerable technical knowledge of the strengths of the different materials he may have to work with. He also needs to understand the composition of different types of mortar. Practically he must be able to cut and shape bricks, blocks and, in some specialised cases, stone. He must be able to lay a perfectly straight and vertical wall with the mortar-filled gaps between the bricks being absolutely consistent throughout.
The approach to masonry training is rather different in different countries. In the USA the aspiring mason will normally attend a technical college offering a course where classroom training is combined through the course with practical training. The Mason Contractors' Association of America has a long term strategy for providing an increasing number of masonry schools, designed to replace an ageing workforce. In several states there are no entry requirements. A majority of the colleges have direct links to industry and are able to place their students in their first jobs.
Canada also provides masonry training at college level, usually with a requirement to have achieved a certain level of education â€“ it varies from province to province. Where Canada leads is in the provision of masonry apprenticeships, whereby the apprentice attends one school session of eight weeks every year for three years and spends the rest of the time on the job. In most provinces, the training is heavily subsidised by the Provincial Government, a recognition of the importance of this key skill to the country's development.
To become a certified bricklayer or mason in Canada you need either to have completed a three or four year apprenticeship or to have had four years practical work experience as a bricklayer and have completed a course in bricklaying at a technical college. Certification, however, is only required at present in three provinces, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. In provinces it can be obtained but is not a statutory requirement for employment.
In Britain a rather different approach is taken. Although every contractor has a legal obligation to ensure that all his employees have a Health and Safety Certificate, a bricklaying qualification is not a legal requirement to work as a bricklayer. However, an increasing number of job advertisements , particularly in the London region, do now require the CSCS â€“ the Construction Skills Certification Scheme and to get this certificate is no mean feat. You need either to have obtained the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) at level 2 or 3 or to have completed an approved apprenticeship.
For anyone wishing to enter the trade in Britain, the first step is to find work as a bricklayer's assistant. Before sitting your NVQ examination you have to prove that you have been employed as a bricklayer, albeit an unqualified one. The same applies to acceptance on an apprenticeship scheme. In other words, prove yourself first, and then apply. Increasingly the NVQ examination is taken by experienced bricklayers, many with 20 years experience, who find that, in order to be accepted for the best jobs, this qualification is necessary. For less experienced workers, there are a number of colleges who run 10 week courses leading to the examination.
It seems likely that in all these countries, it will become increasingly difficult to find work, however skilled you may be, if you do not have the necessary qualification.