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But when the group leader showed the interviewees pictures of homes built with block but faced with siding, stucco, or brick, there was a general agreement that they should take another look at the building system.

It was apparent to Gunn that his promotion committee needed to create a local example of how block could look, even before talking about other advantages such as safe rooms or energy efficiency.

The committee since has convinced Danny Buchanan, president of Buchanan Custom Homes, Trussville, Ala., to construct a masonry home from the ground up. The custom home will be completed in time for a parade of homes event next year. Both producers will provide material to the project, which will also feature concrete sidewalks and driveways.

Other members of the Alabama Masonry Institute are working hard to ensure a strong industry to build the structures. John Sorrell, ACIA's marketing director, began ACIA's effort to convince masonry contractors that mason recruitment and training is the key to long-term success.

Formalized apprentice training programs are practically nonexistent throughout the state. But with the aging of the work force, and the anticipated increase in the sales of masonry units, contractors are beginning to recognize the need for a more formalized effort to recruit and train more masons.

As a good start, Sorrell has helped organize apprentice-training sessions in several cities this year, including Birmingham and Mobile. QMplus, a masonry industry task force, led by both producers and contractors, was formed to address the shortage of quality trained labor. It has adopted a statewide approach to mason recruitment, training, retention, and marketing of the reality that masons can make a good living.

One successful QMplus program has been the creation of a mason peer-influence group. Contractors can nominate deserving youth to the SuperTeam. In return, SuperTeam members carry the message of success to potential mason apprentice candidates, apprentices, and community leaders.

QMplus activity also focuses on high school vocational programs through regional luncheon meetings and forums to educate counselors about the economic opportunities the masonry industry offers graduates.

This article also includes reports on the nationwide trend of using block for above-grade residential work and the marketing challenge involved, and about a "concrete brick" used in place of clay brick for home building.