In the old days, specific training was almost nonexistent. The production manager would check the jobsite every day or so. Usually there were two carpenters and one or two helpers. Granted, products were simpler to install and less expensive. And companies didn't subcontract much beyond electric, plumbing, and HVAC. But the carpenters were able to handle almost every type of product that was used, and what they didn't know, the production manager did.
Still, there was training in every company. It was the old-timers who did it — at no extra cost to the company. Just because the word “training” wasn't being used didn't mean it wasn't being done.
Field Experts Starting in the mid to late '80s, the concept of the lead carpenter began to emerge. At the same time, the number of qualified lead carpenters started to drop off and the number of younger men interested in becoming lead carpenters diminished. On top of that, the products themselves were becoming more difficult to install. Companies across the country started to face problems finding adequate help.
New technologies were not quickly accepted by the old-timers in the field. But younger workers seemed to eschew field work for a position where they could use those technologies. The emphasis was on using your head rather than your hands. To this day, a major problem in the remodeling and home building arena has been the inability to hire and keep top technology staff.
And so training itself has changed — and will continue to. In the future, training will need to cover more than it ever has, with an emphasis on management skills as much as on technical. Lead carpenters need to learn when they can do the job by themselves and when they need a helper. When a helper is needed, that's an opportunity to teach him technical skills.
Some companies using lead carpenters incorporate training right into their systems: They find out where each carpenter excels and schedule leads in the area of their expertise. They make each lead carpenter the expert in that particular area. The other lead carpenters can call on them for help. If possible, the leads also hold sessions to train the remainder of the crews.
As lead carpenters become better at training, they become more valuable to the company and are paid more. At the same time, the new carpenters are given goals that they must meet in order to work up to being a lead.
Find Help Until now, the remodeling and home improvement industry has been able to find enough qualified carpenters and helpers to meet the demands of the market. But the present approach will not be enough to meet the demands of the future, and most remodelers are concerned about the labor market.
As I've said before, immigrants are one solution to solving the labor shortage. Remodeling companies must find a way to train foreign workers and subs to speak English (at least one person in a two- or three-man group) so that the homeowner can talk to them. Also, it helps if remodeling companies have one or two of their own staff who speak Spanish.
Another key to easing the labor crunch is receiving more service from your lumberyard, distributor, and subcontractors. These companies know that to make money they have to sell service and installation. As a result they will want to supply remodelers with a total package of labor and materials.
As these factors combine, the lead carpenter concept will change to one where one lead may do some work, but most of the actual installation will be done by others. It will likely mean that many lead carpenters will be responsible for three or four projects at one time.
My recommendation to remodelers is to start (if they haven't already) to examine what services they really want to continue to perform and farm out the rest. Continue to train to keep up a high level of service, and let others do what they do well. — Walt Stoeppelwerth is a publisher of management and estimating information for professional remodelers. 800.638.8292; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.hometechonline.com.