How to Become a Carpenter
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS), carpentry is one of the most sought-after jobs in all trades. The USBLS predicts that more than 50,000 new woodworking jobs will open between 2018 and 2028.
Why so much need? The 2008 real estate / financial crisis caused many construction traders to retrain for other careers. And with construction work stagnant, young people entering the workforce often seek opportunities in other areas. These circumstances create a severe skilled labor shortage in the construction industry, opening up the opportunities that now exist.
Here's what you need to know about how to become a carpenter!
What Do Carpenters Do?
Carpenters often work with wood-based materials in the construction of homes and commercial properties. They frame interiors, fix windows, and specialize in finishing and cabinetmaking jobs. Carpenters may also qualify to perform related jobs, such as roofing and insulation.
The physical demands of carpentry include heavy lifting, reaching, climbing ladders and scaffolding, using electrical tools and equipment, and frequent kneeling and bending. Workers are often exposed to the elements of the workplace.
The Average Salary of Carpenters
USBLS lists the median income for US carpenters in 2018 at $ 46,590, although highly skilled and experienced carpenters can get much more. Data provided by the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) suggests that the typical starting wage for a carpenter who has just completed training is $ 18-21 an hour.
Required Carpenter Qualifications
Minimum qualifications to become a carpenter include high school or an equivalent diploma. Many employers prefer a candidate with a driver's license. To enter accelerated training programs, candidates will likely need to demonstrate basic proficiency in math and communication through an aptitude test. And the accumulation of some related work experience shows employers that the candidate has a genuine interest and motivation to succeed.
While it's possible to walk through the door without any training or experience and progress, there are some downsides to this path, according to Deb Kutrieb, associate dean at WITC, who oversees the school's curriculum for technology and industry. Those with no training or experience often start with a lower pay scale. Someone may also be stuck on a specific task and not developing the full base of knowledge and experience necessary to transition to a managerial position or start their own business. Carpentry is difficult physical work that many people cannot do after several decades.
Education and Training
There are several paths for those seeking formal training. Some high schools offer vocational classes/workshops. Kutrieb said high school students can start early in a program like WITC Building Academy. While practical experience gained does not count toward work experience required in postsecondary training programs, the course does count toward high school graduation requirements and an associate's certificate or diploma from the accredited institution.
Attending a Technical School
Typical programs involve a two-year program in which students learn skills such as reading projects, preparing budgets, and ordering materials. They also develop basic knowledge of the Common Building Code and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.
While it may also include some hands-on experience, such as a home construction project, these programs generally don't include a lot of on-the-job experience. Attending a vocational school takes less time than working in an apprenticeship program.
Learning represents a second form of training. Working for a company under the watchful eye of a master of commerce, apprentices spend four to five years in intensive training. Acceptance requires a verified employer as a sponsor, a qualifying aptitude test score (an ACT benchmark score is sometimes accepted), and approval from a committee of master merchants via interview.
In addition to working regular staff hours, apprentices take classes one or two nights a week, paid for by their employer, to develop the knowledge and experience necessary to pass a certification exam and become a licensed carpenter. Apprentices usually sign a writing contract that describes their program. Salaries increase each year on the apprentice's birthday, gradually approaching the mandatory state standard.
The advantages of an apprenticeship program include the absence of direct educational expenses and a constant income during the training. Candidates pay only for licensing exams. The downside is that it takes longer to complete the program.
A hybrid Approach
There is a program that combines school and learning. In this case, the program runs for three years with apprentices working full time on a team under the supervision of a master carpenter while attending a full day of classes every two weeks. Again, this approach requires the cooperation of an employer.
Day carpenters continue to accumulate documented experience and courses toward master carpenter status, increasing their earning potential. In some places, it allows them to have supervisory responsibilities. Some states do not require that a contracting business be owned by a master merchant, but in that case, a master merchant is generally required to be part of the team.
Which Way to Choose?
The approach you take depends on your personal preferences. Trade school is a shorter time commitment and offers a higher starting salary. However, students must pay for their education. Apprentices support a longer time commitment but do not pay additional costs beyond the applicable state license fees. They emerge fully qualified and have the salary of a newsboy.
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