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Where Have All the Carpenters Gone?

james e mcgrew  Member

Website: mcgrewwoodwork.com

Interesting video - link below.

Where Have All the Carpenters Gone

4/13/21       #2: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Kevin Jenness

Interesting take, hard to argue with. Don't see it so much in VT but it seems construction crews are largely filled by immigrants, more willing to do the hard work. Wages will have to rise to attract native sons and daughters, but the boom and bust nature of the work as well as the physical toll is discouraging to anyone with any sense.

20 years ago I looked around and thought, "Where are all the old guys? Oh, right, I am one of the old guys now." Now it's "Where are the young guys?" and the answer is piloting a mouse or filling orders at Amazon.

Where are the training opportunities for young carpenters these days, or the introduction to the trade? Shop class in high school has pretty much gone the way of the white buffalo. I grew up thinking it was normal and unexceptional to build your own house, and my sons as well, but that is rare.

4/13/21       #3: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Mark B Member

Welcome to my world. I get those calls almost weekly since we shut down and no one to refer anyone to. And the "there aint no young people anymore" has pretty much been in my GC world for 25 years or more.

Its a super deep well of a conversation and its not just about pay scale which is what everyone defaults to. Its way deeper than that. More affluence, parents wanting more for their children and for them to never suffer, on and on, has raised generations with a heft percentage of people who simply wont apply themselves to whatever they are doing whether they like the job or not, whether its short or long term, period.. they just wont. Then when it comes to hard, hot, busting, you really stack up.

I had a phenomenal concrete finisher for years who put two kids through college, bought and paid for a couple homes, countless vehicles, wife was able to be a stay at home mom, phenomenal finisher.... We would talk on jobs all the time that we would basically give our business away to an eager go getter who was really into the work and passionate, hard working, driven. He could never keep a helper around for very long at all and he was not a hard-a$$ to work for. They just never stuck. He retired perhaps 10 years ago with all his equipment stored away just sitting.

My personal shop, CNC, tools, stuff, free wood and materials hanging from the walls, and when I was a teenager I'd have killed a man to just get to spend time in a shop like this. Making things, asking questions, learning, helping, for free... with never an expectation of a paycheck. There is not a young kid in this community who will even show up after having stopped asking for a paying job much less just to have the opportunity to see whats going on and learn and perhaps get to make something using $100k equipment and have some fun.

It has never happened though I always hold out hope. I know they are still out there. I know the STEM programs are phenomenal, but this stuff starts at home. It all starts at home. No amount of payscale is going to snap someone into being a do-er. Its not the way it works. You either do.... or you dont.

4/13/21       #4: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Jared Emery Member

I wish this paleolithic message board system had a way to upvote comments. Same experience here in the NW: kids seem to want to go to tech industries to the exclusion of all else.

4/13/21       #5: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Mark B Member

There is a like function on messages now.

4/13/21       #6: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Harold Pomeroy

In the 1970's lots of people moved from the city to western Massachusetts, and became carpenters. Geodesic domes, then solar houses, then great room deck cathedral ceiling post and beam houses, there were a lot of trends. There are fewer carpenters now. The ones that are left are more realistic than the hippies. The quality of work has improved. It just takes some looking to find people. I have four younger carpenters that I regularly get to install my millwork.

The younger guys need some help getting going, just like I did. The trade schools don't seem to be a route to success. I don't know where the trade school kids all go. I should talk to the people there, and find out.

4/14/21       #7: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Tom Gardiner

Do any of you take on high school co-op students? I have had ten over the years and they have for the most part been an antidote for "kids these days". Two have gone in to the field - one is an architect, the other is a carpenter.

4/14/21       #8: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
J. Gaskins

The lack of skilled workers is a serious problem. I was a one-man shop for years, building custom furniture and milling lumber and trim. I've taught shop for the last 3 years, hoping to instill and pass on a passion for creating and working. Out of around 260 students in the past 3 years, there's been about 20 that I would have hired and given a chance to. Most have a huge lack of work ethic, and want a job where they can work part-time hours with full time pay, while they interact with social media sites. As a whole, my Hispanic students are more driven and willing to work hard. But there's so many that don't care, and expect the government to supply their basic needs. The road we're on is not very pretty, and has a very poor end.

4/14/21       #9: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
james e mcgrew  Member

Website: mcgrewwoodwork.com

And the Wifes Birthday is coming Up !

View higher quality, full size image (699 X 680)

4/14/21       #10: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...

Over the course of 40+ years of this business, I have, on a number of occasions, had the pleasure of meeting some union carpenters, even having some of them in stall my work.

Dressed in the seemingly requisite bib overalls and UBC baseball cap, they were to a man properly trained, very professional, and thoroughly capable of installing anything into any location.

They were not the fastest guys, but they were the best. More of them are needed, but I don't know if any young people even consider carpentry a viable trade anymore, let alone committing to the training protocol of the brotherhood.

Almost a bygone era, which is too bad.

4/14/21       #11: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
pat s gilbert

Imo the future of the trades is with the immigrants, which is part of the reason for lower pay IMO

Another factor is simply that people want to build stuff out of wood, similiar to photography, musician etc. i.e. supply is high so pay is low

I agree with the honest carpenter it is mostly about money

I also agree about the union workers they are great.

But around here the day labors in front of home depot are getting $20 per hour and expect a ride to and from and lunch

Another one of my useless graphs, as bad as it is here other countries are much worse shape.

View higher quality, full size image (940 X 882)

4/15/21       #12: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
pat s gilbert

Could it be that honest carpenter never found a niche?

4/15/21       #13: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Mark B Member

I will have a hard time ever accepting that pay scale alone in this work is the sole motivator. Most definitely the case in production "carpentry" but when you get to the world the video posted speaks to there are so many aspects of that work that simply rely on conscientious work and behavioral patterns Im just not seeing the ability of the industry to make that happen any time soon but always keeping the faith. Right down to tossing cigarette butts on the ground for the homeowners 5 year old to pick up and parrot the "cool carpenter dude" and leaving your lunch wrappers blowing in the wind around the jobsite. Take it to the next level of "no one will ever see that cause its getting drywall".. and your on a slope that is beyond slippery.

It will mean (and already has) an adjustment overall that accommodates a workforce that is less so a group of invested problem solvers and more so procedural so to speak. When you see this, you do this, no more, no less. A lack of ability to think outside the box simply because its a "job", and the lowest form of a job in their mind, so you just dont invest in that job as you would something you give a rats a$$ about.

4/15/21       #14: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Kevin B

People have been beating this drum for over a decade, and its partly true. But I'm still waiting for the day when this job becomes truly scarce, there are still any number of compromisers you can call to get a job done and this will be true for a long time. But yes the real top guns are hard to find, if i needed to frame a house today, there are zero names that come to mind where I work, there's lots of guys out there, but none I would ever dare to call. The union is one thing yes, its never appealed to me tho, because I saw top Journeymen who couldn't even cut a roof rafter or set a newel post, instead spent their entire careers building scaffold. Where I live everything is Cheaper, Faster and a direct reflection of the talent or lack of it thats out there. My 2 cents

4/15/21       #15: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...

i found this interesting. James hope you are well! Would most of you agree that one of the things that keeps general carpentry rated down is that not all, but much of what we do could be done by a mechanically inclined homeowner and even if we become 'scarce' they will only do the work up to a certain price point. As opposed to an HVAC tech or auto mechanic that require very specific tools. ( i was a new car dealership tech ) I have clients who obviously could do the work they need done but because of their own busy schedule and family they choose to hire a contractor. At some price point they will just not do it. And, lets face it alot of the kitchens or baths i remodel do not really need it. If they feel the price is not in proportion to the added value to them they will just live with what they have. This thinking of course is not same as for new construction where people need housing built one way or another. As for me i am able to earn a decent living by providing a remodeling package which includes some carpentry, plumbing, electrical and design services and figure going rates accordingly. For example I figure 80-100 per hr for plumbing even if i end up doing the plumbing because i might be in a spot where i need my plumber to do it. Here's something to chew on. Here in central Pa, an average plumber is 75-95 an hr. There is a local private plumbing service with about 5 large well stocked trucks that charges near 150 hr. well above average yet they are booked. They have carved out a niche of quick service and can get alot done in 1 hr. I credit the owner for a business well run.

another thought. I grew up on a small farm. Less and less kids are around tools, dirt and machinery and its just natural there will be less of them intrigued by the trades. My own son is just not mechanically inclined. I have a shop at the house and he never was interested in what i do. God gave him different interests and that is fine. Just my observations. your thoughts?

4/16/21       #16: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Mark B Member

A lot is regional but trade schools were mentioned and we always pulled at least one if not two from the local vocational program here which is not a full time trade school. But the regional issue here in the mid-atlantic is the pipeline industry is very prevalent and many young people get lured away by the pipelines false promises of high wages and steady work only to find out that the job you would told would run for 3 years at xyz rate will really only last 6 months and they are fighting you on the pay/per diem they hooked you with. After that you'll be sitting at the house drawing unemployment which most are fine with. After that they wind up factoring in expenses of staying away and buying a bunch of geegaws and ATV's, 4wd trucks, and guns, and they have spent themselves into a situation where they will never be able to work for "normal" wages at a 40hr/wk job again. Once they cash a couple 1800 gross checks on the pipeline and the fuzzy math ignoring the hotel and staying away, paying to have your laundry done, yet only remember the 1800 number they are sunk. Many entry level laborers in the end likely work for 600/wk if that.

Union carpentry around here is 100% commercial and those that have been in for 20 years speak often that there are no young people, or people at all, coming into the union to fund their pensions so they will all likely have to jump on another union at the time of their planned retirement for a double dip. The union around here is fighting the same battles mentioned in these threads.

4/16/21       #17: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Drew Z Member

While I don't recognize from my personal experience the type of worker Mark and others are discussing, I certainly remember the types of students I sat in classes with in high school who I can't imagine would have made anything but miserable employees then (and likely now). I have worked with many passionate, knowledgeable, and reliable craftsmen. Most all had a spouse who worked a job with benefits and equal pay to what they took home.

The issue is how you orient recruiting for the trades away from the least qualified/passionate/thoughtful/driven.

Pay must be listed first. If you tell a driven 15, 16, 17 year old "you can work your butt off, find what you do engaging and fulfilling, get full medical coverage, 4 weeks vacation, stock options, and make great money... or, you can work your butt off, find what you do engaging and fulfilling, have no benefits, no vacation, and be the exception to the rule if you make $100,000," I suspect most would favor the former and thus end up an engineer/marketing exec/consultant, etc. If you aren't even in the same ballpark pay-wise, you won't attract those who have a choice in what they will do with their time.

Secondly, education. Exposing more students early and having more options to learn in a formal setting for those who want it would go a long way, I think, to increasing interest in the trades. At my high school, they got rid of the shops before my time and replaced them with computer labs. If you wanted to take a voc. tech class you could sign up to drive to a school 20 minutes away for 2 classes a week and it would count as your elective. The only students ever encouraged to do this were those who struggled in their "traditional" classes almost exclusively due to lack of effort. I understand the plural of anecdote is not data, but I suspect this wasn't unique at a public high school in New England.
I do wonder if the scores and scores of engineers/marketers/etc who hit 30 and then count themselves "weekend warrior woodworkers" (too many of whom wind up on this website asking how to turn their 2x12 farmhouse tables into a business, but that's a rant for another thread) were introduced to carpentry/cabinetmaking as teenagers and also knew it could eventually do more than just pay the bills, they may have ended up in cabinetshops instead of college (or in parallel with college, instead of working at the school's student union for beer money).

Third, and this is probably just a corollary of the "money" point, is benefits. This is more applicable in America than Canada, but the lack of healthcare options for those self-employed or employed at a small shop makes it a tough calculus for those weighing whether to become a carpenter. Given the astronomical cost of non-employer-sponsored options in this country, it can be a tough sell. I highly recommend this article in Fine Woodworking laying out the costs of becoming ill as a tradesperson responsible for your own insurance: https://www.finewoodworking.com/2021/02/09/what-ive-learned-about-health-insurance

I think if pay was higher and more students were exposed to this line of work earlier in their lives, at least a few would decide it was worth the plunge. I really do think it's not even on the radar for most students. As Mark said, there is "more affluence, parents wanting more for their children and for them to never suffer, on and on." I disagree that the outcome is then no children want to work hard. I think the outcome is the many who do work very hard are told the only option is going to college, and making more money than Mom and Dad.

Anyway, this has been a ramble but I enjoyed this thread a lot and wanted to throw in my two cents.

4/18/21       #18: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...

Hell. This is choice

All the POS home builders that sub everything out, great businessmen with their 70k crew cabs with rims. Allowing 4x4 stilt decks.

“From footings to hanging doors” is long gone Has been going since the 80’s thanks to the likes of Jack Welch and all the other super mba’s. Course the refusal of reinvestment of the majority of mfg’s cities, states into their infrastructure got us here.

Abandoning shop classes hasn’t helped either.

So. I’m helping myself with training. Some of our guys chuckle never a dull moment, but our young guys eat it up.

As for getting young staff attracted, set some shop standards and develop a great facility that executes like a razor cuts. It’s contagious

4/19/21       #19: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
David R Sochar Member

Website: http://acornwoodworks.com

We have terrible shortage here also.

Humans evolved using eyes hands and brains together. Hundreds of thousands of years in the works.

We are happiest and better adjusted when we we work with all three - eyes, hands, and brains. Job satisfaction is the result. More so than anything else.

This is the core of the message that needs to gotten out to young high school grads looking for work. But nobody seems to think that matters, so it is not mentioned. Of all the people I have met or known thru the years, only a hand surgeon said he had job satisfaction as #1 in his daily work. The lawyers, doctors, insurance salesmen, wives, designers - none seemed to understand that job satisfaction was a part of it. More than one said deferring satisfaction and getting paid to hate your work, was the way things worked.

Let the boxwork go to lights out CNC and imports. Everything else is juicy custom work that is satisfying. The only reason that there are so many "cut shops" around, dominating the profession, keeping prices low, is because anyone can start a 'cabinet shop'.

6/7/21       #20: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...

Wages have remained stagnant for over ten years now in cabinetmaking. There are much easier ways to make $20/hour.

6/8/21       #21: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
David R Sochar Member

There was a flood of new carpenters coming into the profession in the early 1990's. These were untrained, desperate people that failed a drug test. In my market, they were everywhere, willing to work for $5 per hour less than the half-experienced guys would. No one was training, no one was teaching, no one took pride or tried to brand themselves. They just needed so much and hour and a place to get high.

I was hiring back then (as always), and I admit it was fun sometimes to get one of the really stoned candidates and Whuiffle the warpon for conshant topsun. A bit of double talk in a sentence ruins all understanding and makes for great fun as they try to figure out what is going on.

Ah yes, the good old days, when pot was illegal.....

2/19/22       #22: Where Have All the Carpenters Gone? ...
Owen Thatcher Member

Its way deeper than that. More affluence, parents wanting more for their children and for them to never suffer, on and on, has raised generations with a heft percentage of people who simply wont apply themselves to whatever they are doing whether they like the job or not

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