By Don McIntosh
When she joined the union Cement Masons apprenticeship program in 2013, Valerie Carroll remembers hearing something about how you could get college credit for your journeyman card. So after she became a journeyman in December 2018, she followed up on it, and used the credit to help complete an associate’s degree in applied science from Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC). Now 42, she’s working toward a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Online from her home in Aloha, she takes one or two BYU classes per term—while working full time as a cement mason, and raising three kids as a single mom.
It’s not just cement masons who can get college credit for a journeyman card. MHCC has similar agreements in place with local union apprenticeship programs for Brick Masons, Carpenters, Electricians, Floor Coverers, Glass Workers, Insulators, Ironworkers, Roofers, Painters, Plasterers, Sheet Metal Workers, and starting this July, Laborers.
Dawn Loomis, director of MHCC’s Workforce, Apprenticeship & Community Education program, thinks not many construction union members know about the program. Last year just 31 individuals got associate’s degree through the MHCC program.
Given that a journeyman card itself is a golden ticket to a rewarding career, Loomis says it’s not surprising that most wouldn’t feel the need to get the degree too, but it’s available for those who want it.
“We’re trying to get the word out,” Loomis said. “It’s not college or apprenticeship; you can do both.”
Cement Masons Apprenticeship Coordinator Jeremy Kendall said his union’s training program includes 11 classes in all, each of which entitles you to credit at MHCC. That leaves a journeyman just a few classes shy of an associate’s degree, and the Cement Masons Local 555 training center will even pay for members to take those classes—as long as the classes are construction related and the member earns a B grade or better.
Cement masonry isn’t just brawn and skill. There’s also math involved, for example in laying out steps or estimating concrete. The union-affiliated joint apprenticeship program includes two weeks a year of classroom instruction.
When Carroll became a journeyman, she found that she had only three more classes to get the associate’s: math, writing, and science.
Cement Masons Local 555 Business Manager Geoff Kossak says most members don’t want or need the college credit. After all, being a cement mason is a rewarding career with pay of over $35 an hour and family-friendly benefits like health insurance, vacation and retirement. But for those who want it, college credit can also come in handy.
Carroll found that her journeyman card gave her a boost toward an associate’s degree, and now that’s counting toward the bachelor’s degree in construction management, which she hopes to complete by fall 2023.
“I would like to work my way into being a superintendent,” Carroll says.