Occupational Profile: Carpenters

by Anna Johnson

May 2, 2017

During the Middle Ages in Europe, carpenters were highly skilled and considered by most to be elite tradesmen. To become a carpenter, it was usually necessary to join a guild as an apprentice and learn the craft. Most items used during daily life in medieval times were produced and manufactured by carpenters. Homes, wagons, tables, furniture, tools, and utensils were all creations of these gifted workers.

Knowledge of math, woodworking, and the use of tools was required. Though many of the implements used were basic in comparison to those employed today, some fine examples of work were produced during the Middle Ages. Kings and nobles often sought out the finest carpenters and kept them on staff as specialists. Furnishing castles and estates was done not only for decorative purposes, but also to demonstrate prestige and status to visitors. Therefore, a master carpenter was always in demand and could earn high wages.

Today’s Skills

Carpenters are still regarded as highly skilled and their work can be seen far and wide. Carpenters construct and remodel almost every kind of structure, including houses, commercial buildings, bridges, churches, factories, and highways. They build wood framing for houses, roofs, stairs, decks, and sheaths, and forms for concrete and frame buildings, walls, footings, columns, and stairs. In addition, they install doors, windows, store fronts, and hand rails, build cabinets and counter tops and may work on drywall, wood flooring, metal jambs, and ceilings. They are skilled in interior and exterior finish work and are able to read blueprints, measure accurately, and calculate dimensions.

The work of a carpenter is physically demanding and involves a fair amount of standing, climbing, kneeling, lifting, and squatting. Work conditions vary with each job, either indoors or outdoors, and could include working 100 feet below ground or on 100-foot-high scaffolding. Location of the job site generally changes several times during the year. Sometimes carpenters need to travel or relocate to take an available job. Carpenters must meet certain strength requirements, be agile, and have good eye-hand coordination.

To be a good carpenter, a person should enjoy doing precise work, have pride in their craftsmanship, have the ability to work without close supervision, and be able to adapt to a wide variety of conditions. Manual dexterity and the ability to solve math problems quickly and accurately are necessary for those who wish to become top craftsmen in this field.

A willingness to learn and work hard, whether they are shoveling or doing finish work, and to take pride in their finished product, are characteristics of a good carpenter. Technology has changed the skills needed in this profession. Computers and laser technology have helped carpenters become more efficient in their work.

Training

In Oregon, carpentry programs are offered through the Bureau of Labor and Industries’ Apprenticeship and Training Division, community colleges, career schools, and Job Corps centers. Postsecondary awards and associates degrees can be earned at community colleges around the state. Job corps centers also offer carpentry programs. To learn the trade of a carpenter, a person will typically undertake an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship involves a partnership of employers, workers, the state, and a variety of schools and community colleges. Apprenticeships supply occupational skill training by combining on-the-job experience with classroom instruction. They are usually full-time employees who are learning while earning a wage.

An apprentice will spend a specified amount of time studying theory and practical application in classroom courses taught by journey-level teachers. Classroom learning helps the apprentice prepare for more difficult assignments on the job. Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) apprenticeship applicants generally must be at least 18 years of age, or 17 with proof of high school diploma or general education development (GED) equivalent. Apprentices must complete 120-144 hours per year of related classroom training in addition to on-the-job training. Local apprenticeship committees may require additional qualifications. 

An Award of Completion certifies that an individual has completed an apprenticeship and been trained in all aspects of an occupation and met the requirements for program completion. The certificate, issued by BOLI, is recognized throughout the State of Oregon. The certificate is also recognized industry-wide as a valid indicator of high-quality, standardized training and provides documentation for community college credit of on-the-job training. In Oregon, there were 161 graduates of carpenter programs in 2015 with 51 apprenticeship program completers at BOLI.

Earnings

In the beginning, apprentices earn about half of the salary of a fully trained worker. Pay increases as the apprentice grows in knowledge and skill.
According to BOLI, union apprentice wages start at a percentage of journey-level scale with scheduled increases at intervals over a four-year period. According to the Oregon Employment Department, the statewide mean hourly wage is over $22, while wages around the state vary from a low of $19 (Southwestern Oregon) to a high of $25 (Eastern Oregon).

Outlook

Statewide in 2014, there were 16,528 employed carpenters. The fewest carpenters work in Eastern Oregon, while the most work in the Portland-Metro area. Projections for 2014 to 2024 call for statewide employment to grow by 3,999 jobs (+24.2%).
Summary

Since medieval times, carpenters have been known for their skills in building and working with wood. Many acquire skills through an apprenticeship. Skill and hard work provide many of them with a good income. Projections call for 590 openings annually for carpenters in Oregon between 2014 and 2024.
 


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