In response to our inaugural "Training the Trades" column in the March issue, JLC received the following letter:
“We do need further discussion about developing a skilled and, ultimately, resilient labor pool in the construction industry.
“I apprenticed under a master carpenter (Jack) for four years and went to CITC (Construction Industry Training Council) in Bellevue, Wash.—a non-union training facility. That was a four-year, nights and weekends, apprenticeship program. It served me fairly well as an introduction to the trades, though any mastery of my craft that I may have achieved is certainly attributed to Jack’s teaching and guidance.
“I might have also attended Seattle Central’s wood construction program in carpentry, cabinet making, or boat building, which is widely popular—but the program was full time and the company I was working for paid half of my tuition at CITC.
“Shortly after I graduated from the program in 2010, I went into business for myself because of the drop off in available work from my employer. I have since been building my own remodeling business here in Seattle. I keep in close contact with my mentor and teacher, Jack, who quit working with our previous employer and now works with me again. After 10 years of practicing carpentry, I depend on him an enormous amount for his deep knowledge of construction and contracting.
“It is my impression that those who have lobbied to limit required education for carpenters and contractors have succeeded to an alarming rate in Washington state —all that is required to have a construction license is the wherewithal to purchase insurance and a bond. What if contractors were held to the same standards as plumbers and electricians to keep their licenses? Would the ramifications of this not be more beneficial than detrimental? Have we limited the pride and professionalism we both feel and project to our community by keeping these requirements to bare minimums or nothing at all? Surely this is a dynamic to add to your list of causes for the diminishment of our trade!
“I spend an inordinate amount of time apologizing for the tradespeople who were met by my clients before I arrive on a project and it deeply saddens me.
“We must require education if we are going to expect to see its benefits in our field.” —Josh Coberly
Greg Burnet responds: This letter resonated with me. I’ve long held the position that the building industry must work collectively to reverse the stigma and unfavorable impression it seems to have in the public eye.
I believe that the building industry is nearing the tipping point: Either we can strive to present a more professional image, or we can stand by as our skills and integrity are called into question, our industry is ridiculed, and prospective customers become further convinced that they’re better served following the “Do It Yourself” mantras from big-box stores than by hiring a pro.
The bad press and mistaken beliefs that professional skills are easily replicated by DIYers have taken years to evolve, thanks in part to a lack of self-policing in the trades. The lack of respect for professionals often feels like the 600-pound gorilla in the room at many of our client meetings, and I suspect the same is true for many of my colleagues. And that gorilla isn’t likely to go away quietly—at least not until many more in the trades take the responsibility to conduct themselves as professionals.
I generally have pretty strong opinions regarding the state of our industry, yet contractor licensing is one issue I’m on the fence about. While I’d like to believe that comprehensive licensing requirements would truly help increase the knowledge, quality, and competence of contractors, such licensing often depends directly upon the governing body overseeing the program. And, given that I live in Illinois, a state where dysfunctional government seems to be the norm, I question whether a rational licensing program could be effectively implemented and managed, and I suspect contractors from other states have similar opinions about their state or local governing bodies.
What's Your Opinion?
I also think that licensing without requiring regular CEUs or some other form of recurring education would probably not be very effective at increasing the number of “good guys” in the trades. To put this in perspective, think for a moment about the tradespeople you hold in high regard and ask yourself what most—if not all—have in common. In most cases, the answer will be that they take their job seriously and strive to learn more about their craft, trade, or business. These types of individuals generally excel because they’re motivated not by outside forces or requirements, but by a desire for improvement. I simply don’t believe that we can legislate away apathy.
I think Josh raises many valid points regarding licensing requirements, but we’d like to hear your perspective on the state of our industry and what steps should be taken to ensure a competent, qualified labor force is adequately representing us. With that in mind, we are asking readers to fill out this survey. Do you think that general contractors should be required to carry a state license?
Greg and Sue Burnet own Toolbelt Productions, Inc. If you have a suggestion or would like to let us know about a training program, please send us an email at JLC_Training@hanleywood.com.