CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a carpenter.
Is becoming a carpenter right for me?
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Carpentry is one of the trades for which it is relatively easily to gain directly relevant experience while completing high school. Courses in the following subject areas will likely lead to a smoother transition into a carpentry apprenticeship or technical school program:
• Mathematics: algebra and geometry
• Carpentry / Woodworking / ‘Shop Class’
• Mechanical Drawing
In addition to taking classes like these, which are pertinent to the everyday work of a carpenter, it is also important to pay attention in English class, as strong communication skills will be helpful in reading blueprints, installation instructions, and safety information. This skill also helps carpenters give clear directions to subordinates and comfortably and effectively interact with both clients and colleagues.
Learning a second language, particularly Spanish for aspiring carpenters in the U.S., will also prove to be beneficial in interacting with coworkers for whom English is not their first language.
Outside of the classroom, prospective carpenters can further begin to prepare for an apprenticeship and their future trade by:
• Asking to become a teacher’s assistant (TA) in shop class, after having completed the class themselves
• Getting involved in building sets for school drama productions
• Finding part-time or summer work as a carpenter’s helper
• Inquiring about free or inexpensive basic carpentry or related classes and workshops offered through local community centers
• Volunteering with programs like Habitat for Humanity
An Educational or Apprenticeship Program
Three-to-four-year carpentry apprenticeships are offered by many employers and may be sponsored by unions, contractors, or government employment agencies. Generally, applicants need to be at least 18 years of age and may also need a referral form from a state agency, contractor, or union.
The United States Department of Labor runs an apprenticeship registry. Carpenters are among the top users of the program.
Both apprenticeships and technical school two-year certificate/diploma programs in carpentry are designed to acquaint students with hand tools and power tools and to develop safety awareness and fundamental skills in handling, measuring, altering, and assembling materials.
Programs are often divided into specialties, like general carpentry, cabinetry, or floor covering.
Employment & Experience
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, carpenters most commonly work for general contractors, specialty contractors, or for themselves. They may also find employment with manufacturing firms, retailers, and government agencies.
A common strategy is to alternate working for a contractor and working independently, as a freelancer. At any given time, about a third of all carpenters are self-employed.
Union membership will likely be required of carpenters who complete a union-affiliated apprenticeship. In some parts of the United States, membership in a labor union can be an advantage when bidding on jobs. Another benefit is that unions typically provide ongoing training to members.
Career Advancement, Continuing Education, and Certification
Carpenters may choose to accumulate experience in different areas of the construction industry and eventually become a carpentry supervisor or general construction supervisor. They may also pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree in construction management to prepare for positions of even greater seniority.
Continuing education and voluntary certification opportunities are available through several industry associations. Two of the most recognized are:
The United Brotherhood of Carpenter and Joiners of America
The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI)
Among the certifications offered by NARI are:
• CR/CRS/CRA (Certified Remodeler, Certified Remodeler Specialist, Certified Remodeler Associate)
• MCR (Master Certified Remodeler)
• CKBR (Certified Kitchen and Bath Remodeler)
• CLC (Certified Lead Carpenter)
• CRPM (Certified Remodeling Project Manager)
• UDCP (Universal Design Certified Professional)