How long does it take to become a skilled carpenter?

According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, “carpenters construct, erect, install, or repair structures and fixtures made of wood, such as concrete forms; building frameworks, including partitions, joists, studding, and rafters; and wood stairways, window and door frames, and hardwood floors. May also install cabinets, siding, drywall and batt or roll insulation. Includes brattice builders who build doors or brattices (ventilation walls or partitions) in underground passageways.”

So, how long will an individual take on average to become a good one?

Google that, and you’ll get at least one citation, from Quora, that has five comments, one of which Clayton Foster, Carpenter, answered in good humor in January 2016.

As a lifelong carpenter I’d say it took me 7 years, 8 hours a day before I could consider myself highly skilled. One way you know that your skilled is you stop hurting yourself everyday lol.

Another telling answer came from a Christopher Hull.

Well, don’t let the one answer mislead you. Though furniture makers and the like are carpenters, the field has a rather immense area of expertise. Framers, finish, cabinet makers, furniture, drywall installers and even painters are considered part of the ‘carpentry’ field. Most I know can do these skills to at least a basic level. Typically the first year you work it, you should expect a giant learning curve and a lot of labor activities such as demolishing while you learn what is what. My first year I barely even touched a nails, but I learned how to reverse engineer things to some extent. This is a ‘hands on’ profession, not one behind a desk and it can be taxing emotionally and physically yet remarkably rewarding and tangible.

Kind of says it, doesn’t it?

Among those who gave a specific quantitative response, seven years seemed to be the consensus, which as almost everyone knows, is about how long it takes of post-graduate school and work to become a doctor. Under moderate supervision, somebody who wants to be a carpenter might plausibly be capable of earning some money doing so in a 1 to 3-year timeframe.

Now, according to Labor Department BLS data from 2016, there are about 1.025 million carpenter jobs in the U.S., spread across residential and non-residential industry sectors, and the median pay from that time clocked in at about $21 an hour, or about $43,600 a year. Most observers would say that carpenters–even ones that spent seven years learning the advanced skills of their craft, make an average upwards of $50,000. The National Association of Home Builders estimates job growth in residential carpentry of 6% by 2024, and says that by 2019, home building will need 1 million plus “craft” pros to bring labor capacity into stride with housing demand.

So, let’s go back to our first question, as it’s material to how home building leaders will solve for their current predicament, which is that there’s an opportunity and a need to build more houses than there are currently carpenters to go around.

How long does it take to make a new one?

Now, think of the two major reasons “making a new one” may be difficult, not for the time and energy it takes to train people, but for the choice an individual makes to go into that line of livelihood or not. One is the wage that a carpenter–who may spend almost the length of time it takes to educate and train a physician–earns. The other is–after all that training and sacrifice–the likelihood that at some unknown juncture in time, the need for what he or she does simply goes away for a while, when the cycle turns down and building goes into temporary hibernation.

That’s rough for someone who is in the position to make a choice about what he or she is going to do.

This is why, as part of an appeal and a marketing message to young potential carpenters, employers–builders, general contractors, project managers, etc.–need to look at and consider two dramatic changes to their way of thinking about construction labor capacity.

One change would be to look more and manage more to KPI’s of value-created per skilled-worker hour, and less at dollars paid per worker hour. This is not an original thought; and it has been the way some builders have begun to make productivity gains in their construction start-to-completion workstreams. There’s lots of attention now to whether companies actually use some of their tax-cut windfall to hire and upgrade and invest in employees or not. Benchmarks around dollars for value-creation vs. dollars-per-hour need to become an industry standard. The value a well-paid carpenter can produce should result in a favorable ratio of money, time, quality, and value, the result being greater productivity overall.

Another change would involve cross-training as part of the allure that might draw more interest from young adults forming their career and livelihood decision-set.

What if carpentry training went hand-in-hand with coding bootcamp?

Here’s a thought from two Harvard Business Review contributors, Kausik Rajgopal, a McKinsey & Co. managing partner, and Steve Westly, managing partner of the Westly Group.

Silicon Valley has created extraordinary wealth and has changed the nature of work. In so doing, it has also catalyzed unparalleled job disruption. It’s time for technology players – in Silicon Valley and beyond – to use the power of technology to more closely partner and coordinate with educators, employers, and government leaders – to make sure that every person in the American workforce is trained for success in the 21st century economy.

Then, after one-to-three years an adult is capable of progressing resiliently, both for the love of building homes for people, and the need to be able to prosper for a long, adaptive, sustaining career? Education and training in the trades today should factor in an inevitable, anticipatory need for individuals to retrain, and adapt to technological change in the years ahead. That, and good pay in return for all of that committed training and education, would make young people choose a field like carpentry both for what it means and for the prosperous career it can become.

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