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Everything you should know if you’re interested in a career in carpentry.
So you’ve never been able to ignore that door that’s not closing the way you want. Or maybe you’ve always preferred the blueprint in your head to the coffee tables you find at IKEA. If you’ve labeled these tendencies as mere hobbies, you have reason to think again. Carpentry training bypasses the 4-year degree (and in turn, student debt) and involves technical school, community college, a registered apprenticeship program, or an industry training program.
The expected rate of growth for demand in carpentry is 8.2% between 2016 and 2026, and they earn anywhere from $31,200 to $87,410 according to 2020 information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Interested in making a lucrative career out of a lifelong love of home improvement projects? Read on for what your timeline could look like.
As you’re thinking about a career in carpentry, consider the following personality traits and skills. Do these sound like you?
You don’t like sitting for too long
You’re attentive to details (you’re known to make lists and double-check your work)
Your favorite school subject is/was math
You love that feeling of cracking problems creatively
Using tools and machines to repair, create, and build
Calculating costs for materials and projects
Measuring and calculating to complete projects professionally
Designing and planning
Managing time for projects and planning
Producing projects that abide by building codes
Solving problems as they arise
Once you’ve decided that carpentry is right for you, there are multiple ways to enter the trade. In general, a GED or high school diploma will be the first step. From there, one option is to find a carpentry apprenticeship or journeyman program. This is how Corey Terpstra - project superintendent at Phoenix Interiors - began his work as a carpenter, which gave him hands-on learning opportunities from the very beginning. “I had a good foreman…who…would kind of train me as I was framing [for a door frame] along that process.” Another method is to enroll in a community college, or a carpentry trade school like the West Michigan Construction Institute (WMCI). Terpstra notes that while organic experiences and natural interest are helpful, the technical training from a trade school means smoother day-to-day operations and a shorter training process for both the company and for you. You won’t need someone to teach you how to read a tape measure or tell you the difference between materials.
As an apprentice, you are still a novice. While you might have some experience and understanding of the projects at hand, you are in need of guidance and supervision. Your job is to learn in real time while supporting the journeyman. At this stage, your pay is around $26.41 an hour in Grand Rapids, Michigan. According to Terpstra, the time you spend at this stage depends on personal motivation and determination to move up the ladder.
By year 3, you’ve moved up to journeyman. “A journeyman is somebody who has been doing the trade long enough to have…a full understanding of what [they] need to do…when they’re assigned a task,” says Terpstra. At this stage, you require less direction to get the project done. During this stage, Terpstra emphasizes the importance of being open to learning opportunities. “I was always trying to find something to do that I didn’t know…to try to learn because one, it helps me outside of work [and] two…it also makes me more valuable,” he says. As a journeyman, you earn around $34.73 an hour in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
After a few successful years as a journeyman you could have not one, but two career paths open for growth!
For those that are interested in becoming an expert in managing people: Foreman.
For those that are interested in developing the highest level of expertise in their craft: Master Carpenter
By year 5, you have moved into a position with managerial responsibilities. Terpstra states that both the apprentice and the journeyman will “show up in the morning and wait for their instructions” from the foreman. The foreman takes on the role of the leader on site who coordinates carpentry projects, gathers, construction materials, and procures equipment for projects,” as well as supervising the training of other carpenters.
When it comes to compensation, new Foremen often have very similar salaries to journeymen carpenters with the same amount of work experience. You won’t experience the type of jump in pay you see after graduating from an apprenticeship. However, becoming a foreman is typically a needed step in the career pathway to upper construction leadership such as superintendent or even being a member of the C-suite!
According to Indeed, you might call yourself a master carpenter after 10-15 years of experience in the industry. At this stage, it is assumed that you have received plenty of carpentry training and show competency in tackling any carpentry tasks thrown your way. It might be that by this stage, you have an area of specialty or a set of skills that you’ve worked hard to develop within the profession. At the top of your craft, you could be earning close to 6 figures!
One of the best ways to learn about the ins-and-outs of commercial carpentry is by seeing the finished product. The following projects were Excellence in Construction Award nominees or winners from top West Michigan Construction Companies: Rockford Construction, Ritsema Associates and Phoenix Interiors. Tap each image to learn more!
If your skills align with that of a carpenter’s, you’ve got an exciting road ahead of you. Make no mistake, carpentry is hard work. But as Terpstra notes, any physical tiredness is nothing compared to the sense of pride you get when you look back and see the amazing, city-defining structures you’ve created with your own hands.
If you’re interested in finding out more about becoming a carpenter in Michigan, you can check out local carpentry training options or connect with trade schools like WMCI to ask any specific questions.