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Trade of the Month: Carpentry

Including road and bridge construction, carpenters work on nearly every type of construction site — commercial buildings, homes, apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, you name it. They are some of the first workers on a job site, and some of the last to leave.

The carpentry trade offers a variety of specialties, including general construction, concrete, flooring, mill-cabinet, millwright, pile-driver, interior systems and lathing. With a variety of career paths available, carpenters generally work in five different areas:

  • wood framing
  • interior systems
  • concrete form work
  • exterior finish
  • interior finish

For young people looking to become a carpenter apprentice there are a number of online resources that walk you through the exact process for signing onto an apprenticeship in your area including website and the Construction Trades mobile app (available on Google Play and App Stores) both created by the Twin Cities-based nonprofit, Construction Careers Foundation.

“We’ve interviewed real Minnesota carpenters and asked them to share their career paths and apprenticeship experience with Minnesota youth,” said Sarah Lechowich, senior director for the Construction Careers Foundation. “The Construction Careers Foundation believes that there is a construction trade career for everyone — and we want to provide opportunity, knowledge and access to students across Minnesota to encourage them to take the first big step toward their career after high school.”

In Minnesota alone, there are three carpentry training centers in St. Paul, Rochester and Hermantown. The training centers are a part of the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters which represents nearly 27,000 union members and their families from 46 local unions in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

  • Average carpentry income in Minnesota: $43k-74k/year
  • Apprenticeship: The program generally lasts 4 years and training is FREE. Apprentices also earn a wage while they learn.
  • Benefits: health care, dental and a pension.

“Our training turns out men and women who have more than a job,” writes the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, “Apprentices have a professional career in every sense of the word. They become part of the best trained, most reliable, most productive workforce in the construction industry.”

Carpentry programs require specific skills, which the apprenticeship program will teach — but before youth even enter into a program, Construction Careers Foundation educates them on what they are getting into. View the Construction Career Pathways’ Carpentry page.

After viewing the Carpentry profile on Construction Careers’ website, these students are completing measuring practice problems. (Photo Credit: Emily Sweeney)

Students can also prepare to start a carpentry apprenticeship while still in high school. Taking math classes like geometry and trigonometry helps students become comfortable applying formulas to solve problems. It’s also recommended that students take a shop or building course during high school to develop skills such as blueprint reading, using a transit, level and laser and operating equipment such as forklifts.

Here are the four most important pieces of advice our professional mentors would share with a student before he/she chooses to pursue a career in the carpentry trade:

  1. You make your own success. Some keys to being successful in the trades include showing up every day on time; honing your math skills; being able to follow directions; and doing the job asked of you.
  2. Construction is hard work. It’s physically demanding, and when you’re just starting out, you may be sore until you get stronger. Every day, you will also work in the elements – this could be indoors or outdoors in every season.
  3. Your schedule will vary. Construction isn’t always a 9-to-5 job. For carpentry jobs in Minnesota, you’ll need a vehicle because job sites can be all over the state from inner cities to rural areas. You can also expect to put in some overtime to finish what has to get done.
  4. You have to earn your promotions. People start out as an apprentice and work their way up to be a journeyworker, foreman, etc., but remind students that all of that is based on work ethic and the quality/quantity of your work.

“If your foreman has you cleaning up or moving material, get it done as fast as you can,” second-year apprentice Dan Stanton said. “They won’t send you home early, but what they will do is start teaching you, so you can advance.”

Concrete benefits, ironclad satisfaction. Watch Dan Stanton’s construction experience interview here

Through Stanton’s career in carpentry, he also has healthcare and two pensions that are allowing him to save for retirement.

“I’m going to have plenty of money when I retire,” Stanton said. “Through a career in carpentry, I’ll be set for life.”

Stanton’s advice to future carpenters:

“If you like to be on your feet and work with your hands, it’s a no-brainer — you should try out a career in construction,” said Stanton. “My work is always changing and there’s something new every day. That’s one of the reasons I really like it. I have worked on fast food restaurants, small banks, convenience stores, and I am now working on a 27-story tall skyscraper.”

Read Dan’s story here.