It already looks a lot like Christmas at the Cement Masons and Plasterers Training Center in New Brighton, where apprentices from three local unions have decked out the shop floor with a seasonal display of their skilled crafts.
The annual “Concrete Christmas” display was up through tomorrow, Dec. 7, when Cement Masons Local 633 and Twin Cities Plasterers Local 265 host their December union meetings and a holiday celebration.
Journey-level members look forward to viewing the apprentices’ work each year, Apprenticeship Coordinator Brian Farmer said. The project showcases “all the skill sets they see in the field,” he said, “with a little different spin on it.”
The centerpiece of the holiday display is a large fireplace and chimney. Its structural and lathing work was done by apprentices from Minnesota State Interior Systems Local 68, an affiliate of the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. Plasterers Local 265 apprentices crafted the fireplace’s exterior, including a Venetian finish.
The rest of the display is decorative cement and concrete, fashioned by the 100-plus active apprentices of Local 633.
“It’s fun,” third-year apprentice Eduardo Ortiz said during a break from working on the display last week. “I get to do new stuff I never did before. And it’s fun getting to meet new people and learn new techniques from them.”
Farmer said the project engages apprentices in an opportunity to apply the skills they’ve learned in new, creative ways. It’s also a chance to take ownership of a project members of their union will appreciate.
“These apprentices will be our future leadership,” Farmer said. “Our contractors want leaders. A lot of boomers are retiring, and it opens up a lot of opportunities for the new generation to take charge.”
The Cement Masons’ registered apprenticeship program, sponsored jointly by the union and its signatory contractors, runs three years, and it combines coursework with paid employment in the field.
For James Fisher, a third-year apprentice from Cloquet, enrollment in Local 633’s apprenticeship has been a life-changing experience. Previously, he worked as a parking valet at a casino.
Before entering a pre-apprenticeship program for members of tribal nations, “I didn’t know anything about concrete,” Fisher said. “All I knew is you drive down the freeway, and there’s a curb.”
To see how much more goes into the craft, he added, look no further than the concrete Christmas display.
“I’ve learned there are so many techniques you can do to change color and texture and mold it into what you want – as long as it’s wet,” Fisher said. “You can learn something new every day, and that’s what I try to do.”