This month, Training the Trades takes a look at two of the many building schools that teach construction trades to students at a variety of levels, from aspiring pros to serious DIYers working on their own homes.

Two women discuss layout in a class at Hammerstone School.
Lauren Comley Two women discuss layout in a class at Hammerstone School.

Hammerstone School, Trumansburg, N.Y.

Maria Klemperer-Johnson started Hammerstone: Carpentry for Women out of her desire to, as she puts it, “work with more people like herself.”

It all began when she was young, she explains, working with her father on carpentry projects. After high school, she pursued a more traditional route, of college and grad school, but yearned to do something more creative and eventually decided to give carpentry a shot. She started out in a local cabinet shop, then went on to work for a residential home builder, where she also learned timber framing. In 2005, she and her husband designed and built their own timber-frame straw-bale home.

In 2007, she opened her own contracting company, and a few years later, she established Double Dog Timberworks. Then, in 2013, she started the Hammerstone School, which has ignited her passion for teaching the building trades to women.

All-female approach.
In particular, Klemperer-Johnson wants to empower women who wish to develop trade-related skills and find employment in the building industry. She decided on a female-only approach for a number of reasons; the first was to create a “nonjudgmental environment for women to learn.” She also wanted to allow her students to shed some of the preconceived societal notions that exist in what is largely a male-dominated industry. She says that her team has received great feedback from students, who have expressed that they deeply appreciate the learning environment she’s created.

Maria Klemperer-Johnson, founder of Hammerstone School, addresses a class in the shop at the school.
Alison Usavage Maria Klemperer-Johnson, founder of Hammerstone School, addresses a class in the shop at the school.

After school lets out.
Although Klemperer-Johnson’s initial goals were to try to create a path for more women to move into industry jobs, she has found that many of her students simply want to develop the skills necessary to work on their own homes, to create home projects, or simply to better understand the construction process and lingo so they can feel more knowledgeable and comfortable when dealing with contractors they hire.

But a small percentage of women from the Hammerstone program do transition to carpentry jobs. As Klemperer-Johnson points out, the school is like the construction industry as a whole: You have to pour a wide variety of prospects into a funnel to see who ends up in the jar. And as we’ve discussed previously in this column, Hammerstone shares the same challenge as most other construction education programs out there: finding people who want to make construction a career.

Klemperer-Johnson says she will continue offering basic skills and specialty project courses, but she is always looking for women who are seeking a path into the construction industry. And beginning this year, for the first time since its inception, the school is planning to offer a few mixed-gender classes, to gauge the response.

To learn more about the Hammerstone School and read about the classes offered, visit its website at hammerstoneschool.com.

Yestermorrow, Waitsfield, Vt.

Tucked away in the Mad River Valley of Vermont, the Yestermorrow Design/Build School offers construction trades schooling with a unique twist. Started 36 years ago, Yestermorrow provides a curriculum with a focus on sustainable building practices. The school offers nearly 100 courses, on subjects including sustainable building design and construction, architectural woodworking, energy efficiency, building science, and working landscapes and ecosystems.

Students from Yestermorrow School learn how to install rooftop solar panels
Michael Riddell Photography Students from Yestermorrow School learn how to install rooftop solar panels

Different classes for different skill sets.
Because the school has programs for people with a wide range of skill sets and backgrounds, I asked Katie Tomai, student services coordinator, which classes would appeal more to trade professionals. Tomai says there are a number of certificate programs at Yestermorrow that run longer and are more intensive than the week-long classes that are aimed more at owner/builders.

In particular, Yestermorrow offers certificates in Building Science & Net Zero Design, Sustainable Building & Design, Woodworking, and Residential Design & Construction. Admittedly, Tomai says, the courses on Residential Design & Construction may be old hat for many of JLC’s readers, but they are great for young people wishing to learn the basics of residential construction or to see if a trade might be a good fit for them. In addition, someone wanting to make a transition to the construction industry from an unrelated field may find Yestermorrow’s courses beneficial.

Michael Riddell Photography

Learning for credit.
Many of the classes meet criteria for AIA CEU credits. Yestermorrow also has partnerships for college credits with a number of schools and organizations, including Sterling College, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Goddard College. And this year, the school offered a Lead Carpenter Weekend Workshop in conjunction with and facilitated by NESEA (Northeast Sustainable Energy Association).

Tomai says that Yestermorrow is in the process of fleshing out its course offerings for 2017, and it is hoping to include more programs that would appeal to professionals in the building trades. You can read more about what Yestermorrow has to offer along with its current courses and programs at yestermorrow.org.