The dilemma of high salaries yet recruitment difficulties in traditional technical trades: Why does a monthly income of 25,000 for bricklayers attract no takers?

According to media reports, a bricklayer is recruiting apprentices with the condition of “a monthly salary of 5,000 yuan, including food and accommodation,” while the monthly income of skilled bricklayers can reach around 25,000 yuan. Industry experts believe that in recent years, the income of masons has seen a sharp increase, which is partly due to the overall rise in labor costs, but the main reason is the high demand and low supply. With the increasing imbalance between the supply and demand, as “university graduates are everywhere, but skilled workers are hard to find,” the construction and decoration industry is facing difficulties in recruitment and a labor shortage, attracting frequent attention in the news.According to data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the “China Blue-Collar Employment Research Report (2022)” released by the China New Employment Research Center, although China has a blue-collar workforce of more than 400 million people, in recent years, the job vacancy rate for skilled workers in China has exceeded 1.5, meaning that for every 150 job openings, there are only 100 job seekers. The job vacancy rate for senior skilled workers even exceeds 2, with a shortage of millions of workers. The number of skilled workers cannot meet the market demand, which has become the backdrop for the increase in mason’s income.How do you view the phenomenon of a shortage of workers in traditional skilled professions despite high salaries?

Understanding the Realities of High-Paying Traditional Trades

Masons can earn between 900 to 800 per day for short-term jobs, and 700 to 600 for longer terms. If work is available daily, one can find someone for as low as 400 per day.

Such jobs usually pay daily due to inconsistent work availability. Moreover, there’s always the concern of actually getting paid.

The following article explains it well: these skilled trades often don’t have work for more than a few days a month. Thus, long-term rates cannot be high.

Take, for instance, argon arc welders. For short-term work of three to four days, it’s normal to earn 10,000, but they might only find three days of work in a month. That means their monthly income is around 10,000.

If there’s consistent work, one can hire someone for 700 per day. Previously, there were complaints about low contributions to social security and housing funds. In reality, this industry rarely contributes to these for workers. Contributing the bare minimum is considered the moral ceiling. Paying wages on time and not defaulting is seen as highly ethical.

Many workers have experienced situations like the one described above.

These so-called traditional high-paying jobs have several issues:

  1. The daily wage might seem high, but work is scarce, so monthly earnings are limited. Only the most skilled can earn over 10,000 per month.

  2. The wages are high, but there’s no guarantee of payment. Wage defaults are a possibility.

  3. Often, there are only a few clients in an area, leaving little room for bargaining.

  4. Many clients don’t allow taking on ad-hoc jobs, meaning if you commit to a long-term project, you might not dare to accept it, as it can reduce your client base over time.

I guess the journalist who wrote the news piece probably experienced something similar. A masonry job for 2,500 was completed in three days. So the writer calculated: 25,000 a month, 300,000 a year. Sounds good. They recalled the difficulty in finding a skilled mason and wrote an article about the challenges in recruiting for high-paying trades. In reality, these jobs require intense labor. I’ve seen the most skilled mason earn only about 200,000 a year. 90% of masons can’t cross the 10,000 mark.

Masons earning over 150,000 a year are extremely rare.

The Reality Behind High-Income Trade Jobs

Remember this, nobody teaches you how to make money for free, and pies don’t just fall from the sky - and even if they did, they wouldn’t land on your head.

If it’s really such a great job earning 25,000 a month, why would a mason need to pay to take on apprentices? It should be the other way around; apprentices should be paying 5,000 to learn the trade!

Moreover, isn’t the mason afraid of training apprentices who might steal his livelihood later on?

If you don’t ponder these two questions, there’s a high chance you’ll be duped.

The likely truth is: the mason controls the channels for external project communication. He takes the contract and then needs a cheap laborer for a monthly salary of 5,000.

I believe the 25,000 monthly income is not made up; it’s probably what a skilled master can make, earning 800 per day.

However, once you’ve completed your training, you’ll find two significant issues:

  1. You can’t find work. You are just a blue-collar worker, skilled but unable to find jobs. You’ll realize all the work is controlled by the master, who won’t tell you how to find it.
  2. You find work, but it’s all short-term. You might work for two months and then have to take a break for another two.

In the end, after calculating everything, you find the work tiring and dirty. It turns out that working in a big city, delivering food or driving for ride-sharing services, might be a more stable and profitable option.

Challenges Faced by Mason Workers in China

Masonry work in China pays around 400-700 yuan per day, which is relatively high income. However, many young people are unwilling to do it due to three main factors:

  1. Job instability: While a day’s work can earn 400-700 yuan, the number of workable days in a year is limited. Delays in payments are common, especially when dealing with unfinished construction projects. Skilled masons may earn between 100,000 to 150,000 yuan annually. It’s rare to hear of masons earning over 200,000 yuan per year. Moreover, there is no healthcare or pension insurance, and retired masons may receive minimal monthly pension.

  2. Harsh working conditions: Masons work with sand and cement, often ending up covered in dirt and inhaling cement dust. Bricklaying typically takes place in confined spaces, leading to extreme heat during summers, causing profuse sweating and discomfort. This tough environment is not suitable for those accustomed to office work.

  3. Poor living conditions: Most laborers reside in rudimentary on-site shacks, where six people might share a small, unclean living space that offers little comfort.

The solution is rather simple: reduce workload by 75%, improve working conditions, quadruple income, and provide workers with the means to afford urban housing, commute in their own cars, work 7-hour days with mechanical assistance, and enjoy leisure activities like fishing on weekends. After the age of 55, they could receive a monthly pension comparable to that of a 65-year-old retired elementary school teacher. If such an opportunity existed, many would consider switching to carpentry.

Challenges Faced by Skilled Workers in China

High wages in non-technical job roles come with no specific job security. Recently, during a conversation with a friend who manages a construction site, they shared an experience from the first half of the year. They agreed to pay 20,000 yuan for a small project, hired four individuals for the job, which required working at heights. Based on their past experiences, this task could be completed by around twenty workers, but they managed it with only four in approximately five days. This calculation equated to a daily wage of 1,000 yuan per person.

However, many issues arose during the project. The construction site was near a residential area, leading to disruptions caused by passing vehicles. They were also reported for working overtime, which was not allowed. In the end, the four workers labored for twelve days, resulting in a daily wage of just over 400 yuan. They were paid 8,000 yuan initially, with the promise of receiving the remaining amount after the project’s inspection. Working at heights posed significant risks, and now, when trying to collect their remaining payment, they were told that the property developer had disappeared and couldn’t provide the money. This situation represents a complex triangular debt issue, with the property developer being the key factor. The unfinished project stands idle, and there is no clear entity to approach for payment.

Many skilled workers are attracted to high-paying jobs, but they suffer from the absence of a comprehensive labor registration system and the lack of unified construction technical standards in their respective fields. These factors are used to withhold their wages. It’s not a matter of choice; it’s a struggle to survive in such work environments.

Reasons Why People Don’t Choose Masonry Jobs

With a monthly salary of 25,000 yuan for masonry work, why wouldn’t you consider it? Well, it’s not always about the money.

First, you may not trust that this wage is stable.

Many jobs in this field are paid on a daily basis or project-based, meaning no project results in no income. It’s somewhat similar to being a content creator where 25,000 yuan a month might be the best-case scenario, but there are times when you might have nothing. In essence, it’s not very stable.

Moreover, the probability of unpaid wages is high in this industry. Even after completing the work, there’s no guarantee you’ll receive your payment, which can be a significant loss.

Second, you might still look down on this type of work, subconsciously considering it embarrassing.

Phrases like “labor is honorable” and “I’ve never really been a blue-collar worker” are often just empty words. In reality, most people still look down on such jobs or fear that their friends and family will think less of them if they pursue such work.

If you truly didn’t care, I could tell you that the funeral industry offers higher salaries, so why not consider that? It’s because many people feel they don’t have the resilience or luck for such an unlucky profession.

Various forms of discrimination have always existed; people just hesitate to talk about them.

Third, you may want to do it but lack the necessary skills and physical stamina.

Don’t underestimate this work. Without solid skills and some experience, it can be physically demanding. Projects with overtime and tight deadlines can be particularly exhausting. For someone like me, who’s spent years in an office, switching to this field would require some serious physical adjustment.

Fourth, if you did take on this job, how would you nurture the next generation?

Back when I started working, my monthly salary was just over 5,000 yuan. One day, I heard that a primary school classmate had opened a small convenience store in Yiwu and was earning 15,000 yuan a month. I was envious.

I asked a childhood friend, “I work day and night, and yet, I make so little compared to someone running a convenience store. Why don’t we open a store like that?”

My friend replied, “You can open a convenience store, but it’s not about the money. I don’t want my child to do homework behind the store’s glass counter and be disturbed by unloading cargo…”

That mental image left a lasting impression on me. At that moment, I realized it wasn’t the life I wanted, and I never thought about it again.

Challenges Faced by Skilled Laborers and Possible Solutions

Taking masonry workers as an example:

  1. Are you willing to do it?
  2. Are you willing to let your children do it?

In reality, most people are not willing.

Jobs like masonry, concrete work, painting, waterproofing, kitchen cabinet installation, and other similar roles often involve irregular or temporary work arrangements.

While these jobs can offer decent income, young people are generally reluctant to pursue them. Even if they have family members in these professions willing to teach them, many prefer to seek formal employment. Here are some reasons why:

1. Stability:

Formal employment offers more stability and security. Hourly-wage jobs may offer higher pay rates, but the number of hours worked per day and days worked per month can be highly unpredictable, resulting in significant income fluctuations.

2. Social Benefits:

One of the main benefits of formal employment is social security, which includes retirement benefits. While these pensions may not be substantial, they provide a safety net. Additionally, having health insurance becomes crucial as one ages or faces illnesses, which may not be covered for those in irregular, day-to-day labor.

3. Status:

Certain professions, such as domestic work, hospitality, and construction, are often seen as having lower social status. Two decades ago, during the influx of rural migrant workers into urban areas, skilled tradesmen like masons enjoyed advantages and relatively high incomes. However, as they aged, they did not want their children to follow in their footsteps. After working hard for 10-20 years, they aspired for their children to pursue higher education and land respectable jobs. This sentiment also extends to skilled workers in industries beyond traditional trades.

4. Social Landscape:

In today’s society, industries like the internet, finance, and high-tech offer starting salaries ranging from 200,000 to 600,000 yuan. This significantly raises young people’s expectations for future work and income. Given this societal context, who would choose a traditional, physically demanding job with unstable income?

To address these challenges, particularly the shortage of skilled laborers in manufacturing industries, I believe the following steps are necessary:

1. Industry Guidance:

There should be moderate controls and guidance for high-paying industries such as the internet and finance. Prioritizing service to the real economy is essential. When detached from the real economy, these industries can have detrimental effects on society, making young people less inclined to pursue technical careers.

2. Social Status:

Improving the social status of technical workers is crucial. Germany is often cited as an example where skilled laborers enjoy high social status. In contrast, vocational education and university education have vastly different social standing in China. Promoting a dual-track education system should be systematic, avoiding one-size-fits-all approaches.

3. Retirement Benefits:

Solving the retirement benefit issue for migrant workers is vital. While the New Rural Cooperative Medical Care System provides some level of coverage, it falls short. Besides retirement insurance, access to healthcare for rural workers in urban areas should also be addressed. This is a long and challenging task.

With the continuous development of higher education, going to college has become increasingly easier. In the context of the devaluation of college degrees, the inevitable consequence is the shortage of blue-collar workers. Against the backdrop of an imbalance in the supply and demand of blue-collar talent, there will inevitably be more and more blue-collar jobs with higher salaries, and they may even gradually surpass many so-called white-collar jobs.

Income instability, low social status, no upward mobility

“It’s not that you can’t find a job; it’s just hard to find a job that you enjoy. The tough jobs are the ones you don’t have the courage to do.” - Zheng Qiang

The Reality of Being a Tile Worker

Many people think that being a tile worker is all about physical labor, but let me tell you what real physical labor is.

If you ask a tile worker to do these tasks, they will exhaust you within minutes. A good tile worker must be intelligent, intelligent enough that they could pursue higher education if they chose to. Regardless, education opens up opportunities, even though they may seem limited, but what if luck is on your side? Education should always be the first choice.

As a result, many less intelligent individuals end up working as tile workers. However, skilled trades actually require intelligence. Those who do the work are usually average in skills, lacking in emotional intelligence, unable to attract customers, inefficient in job planning, and don’t self-improve. How can individuals like these expect to earn a high income?

As for the intelligent tile workers, some eventually become supervisors or start their own companies, leaving a shortage of skilled tile workers on the front lines.

There are tile workers who earn 20,000 to 30,000 a month, but most are just ordinary individuals with average skills and limited intelligence. Can these people really achieve such income?

It has nothing to do with physical strength or wage disputes. Only intelligence can lead to skill and efficiency. Skill and efficiency are the keys to earning a top income in this industry, just common sense.


I have written many complaints for migrant workers, and most bricklayers earn between 200 and 400 a day.