Economic Uncertainties for the Trades
I enjoyed your article in the March 2016 issue of JLC. I can’t help with training issues, but I feel obligated to bring up what everyone seems to repeatedly ignore when the subject of the lack of skilled help comes up: the lack of social status for tradespeople.
You can educate, train, write, and connect, but until you get parents who want their daughter to marry a carpenter, it’s all in vain. The worst offenders? The folks in the trades now. When recessions hit, we’re the first to be laid off and the last to be hired [back]. Benefits are virtually unheard of with the exception of union jobs. Pay is so-so and often uncertain. And you think we want our kids to follow? Young people aren’t lazy or stupid either. They’ve seen the economic roller coaster and they don’t want [to get] on the ride.
Training vs. Education
First off, we shouldn’t call [these courses] “training” programs. “Educational” or “learning” is far less offensive to the ego of a seasoned tradesman doing things as he’s always done for years and years. I myself have experienced that uncomfortable feeling of realizing one day that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, learning that the way I had done it forever was wrong.
Knowledge is not always an easy thing to communicate. Some people (20% to 30%) learn by reading or hearing; others (upwards of 40%) learn by watching; and the majority, especially adult males in the trades, learn by touching, doing, and being engaged in the process of learning. Think about how most of us learned the majority of what we know today. I like to call it “The BISS system” (Because I Said So). We were shown how to do something with little to no explanation as to why—it just worked.
At our company (Ring’s End, a full-service building material supplier with numerous locations throughout Connecticut and Westchester County, N.Y.), we became involved with an RRP training provider and started putting classes together for the interested trades. We were so busy with RRP that there were times when we would conduct three to five eight-hour classes per week. We were able to share valuable time networking with our customers, as well as having the added bonus of meeting many new prospects in need of the training, but who didn’t necessarily do business with us.
This was when one of the attendees said to me that he didn’t like the word “training.” He said, “We ‘train’ dogs. We ‘educate’ people.”
Being the good listener that I am, I took his comment to heart and have called our facility a “learning center” ever since. But I digress. Suggestions from attendees for additional learning subjects began to come in strong. We got together with our vendors and began a cooperative series of learning events. These events attracted not only builders and remodelers, but architects and building officials as well.
Relationships flourished and it wasn’t long before we were offering accredited continuing-education programs (CEUs) at our facility. The best part was that architects, building officials, and tradespeople were all in one room, learning the same things, engaging with each other, and building lasting relationships that are so much needed in these related occupations.
Preservation Training Opportunities
Your "Training the Trades" article struck a chord with me. We work solely in the historic restoration business, but [training] has definitely become a hot topic for the preservation trades and is a tremendous hurdle to restoring traditional building trades properly. I wanted to commiserate with the pain of finding people in the trades when many high-school trade courses are disappearing.
Fortunately, in the area of historic preservation, there are a number of networks active in building professionalism: The Preservation Trades Network, the Association for Preservation Technology, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Clem Labine’s Traditional Building magazine is an important resource, as well.
And there is a wide array of university and historic trade school programs, including the North Bennet Street School (Boston), National Preservation Institute (NYC), Campbell Center for Historic Preservation (Illinois), the Preservation Education Institute (Vermont), Traditional Building Skills Institute at Snow College (Utah), Belmont College Building Preservation/ Restoration Program (Ohio), College of Charleston Historic Preservation program (Ohio), and the Iron and Steel Preservation Conference at Lansing Community College (Michigan), among others.
—Neal A. Vogel
Unions Offer One Solution
I began my carpentry career at age 19, carrying wet pressure-treated lumber into a backyard as a helper for a deck-building contractor for $10 per hour cash and no benefits. Still, I fell in love with the trade. Now at age 34, I earned more than $100,000 last year as a project supervisor and lead carpenter for a commercial construction company that specializes in building healthcare and education facilities.
How did it happen? After five years of working in residential construction—from framing houses to installing crown molding on coffered ceilings, to digging deck footings with a shovel and mixing concrete in wheelbarrows—I realized I would never be able to support a family at the $25 per hour that I was told I could hope to earn someday, never mind the fact that there were no health benefits offered anywhere that I had worked.
Then someone introduced me to a union carpenter and life changed. I did a four-year apprenticeship (which has been changed to five years). I learned from lots of old-timers on jobsites and now run jobs myself. There are residential divisions in our union. Training is robust and immersive.
Want qualified, experienced labor on demand? Hire union labor. We’re not dead and we’re not going anywhere. We cost more because we are the best you can hire. There is no labor shortage. Not when you pay a union wage.
On-Site Training School
My name is Paul Lewandowski, and along with my co-worker, Bill Tuchscherer, we teach Residential Building Construction at Fox Valley Technical College, in Oshkosh, Wisc. Our program was started a little more than 20 years ago by Bill when the local home builder association, as well as the local NARI chapter, saw a need for a program to train residential carpenters. Our program focuses mainly on the traditional carpentry trades and takes one year to complete.
During the school year, we typically build a spec house of around 2,000 square feet for our college’s foundation to sell, with the proceeds going back to the foundation. However, on occasion, we have built a couple of custom houses, as well as done some extensive remodel projects.
The program consists of five nine-week blocks: Frame Construction, Exterior Finish, Interior Closure, Interior Finish: Basic, and Interior Finish: Intermediate. When students have completed our program, they will have worked on at least two different structures, because they complete their framing block on an entirely different house than the one that they finished.
Keep them coming. 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.