Whether you call it a career track or a framework, whether you spell it out in a handbook or tell people during job interviews, you must have a path for field personnel to follow if you want them to grow and take on more responsibility. Remodelers who have carved out this path have shaped it to their companies' needs, bringing newbies along and nurturing homegrown lead carpenters, project managers, and even vice presidents.

“Quite a number of people came into the company as laborers and are now master builders with more than 15 years of experience,” says Keith Alward, president of Alward Construction Co., Berkeley, Calif.

DAC Remodeling, Hilmar, Calif., rarely hires lead carpenters from outside the company. “We hire carpenters who learn our company's culture and in whom we develop trust and confidence,” president David Anderson says. “And they become lead carpenters.”

This philosophy works both for the remodeler, who can train lead carpenters and project managers in the company's distinctive ways of doing things, and for employees, who earn more money as they progress. Another plus is the ability to retain carpenters who, as they age, don't want jobs that are as physically demanding. The way Dave Amundson of TreHus Builders in Minneapolis sees it, “Until you've done this for 15 years, you haven't reached your potential.”

Road to Success With 45 carpenters on staff and 10 production teams, Neil Kelly Co., Portland, Ore., spells out job descriptions and expectations in writing. “They're not there just to dig holes,” says Julia Spence, vice president of human resources and communication. “They have to learn skills.”

At the same time, the company offers some flexibility in its career path for field personnel, all of whom are union members.

“If we bring in someone, we can move them around a bit,” Spence says. The basic carpentry track consists of apprentice carpenter, journeyman carpenter, lead journey-level carpenter, master carpenter, and project manager. In addition, the home repair division offers the option of sales consultant/journey-level carpenter, and the cabinet division uses cabinet builders.

Since Neil Kelly uses union labor, many of the job descriptions correspond to union specifications. The master carpenter program, though, is the company's own. To earn the title of master carpenter, an employee typically has to be at the company for at least two years and be nominated. Both the immediate supervisor and the management team have to approve the promotion. In addition to carpentry, the employee must demonstrate skills in leadership and in customer service.

Several carpenters have moved into project management, Spence says, while four have become sales carpenters in the home repair group, selling jobs that they then build. They earn union wages plus commission.

Alward Construction also defines levels of progression for carpenters: apprentice, journeyman, senior, and, finally, master builder. Not all journeymen are headed toward being a master builder, Alward says. He expects a master builder to have project management skills and to be the “best set of hands on the job. There's hardly anything built out of wood in the residence that he couldn't build — cabinets, doors, windows.” Master builders also understand wiring, plumbing, drywall, tiling, and possibly roof and concrete work. And they understand plans and other building documents. Senior builders usually have at least 10 years experience, and supervise a single jobsite. Their project management skills aren't quite as polished as the master builders', and they might need help sorting out mechanical and personnel issues.