Becoming a Carpenter: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A carpenter's median annual salary is $40,000, but is it worth the training requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Carpenter

Success as a carpenter can be achieved by being skilled with your hands and working with various types of building materials. It's important that you consider the pros and cons of a career in carpentry to determine if you are entering the right career for you.

Pros of Carpenter Career
Faster than average employment growth (24% from 2012-2022)*
Opportunities for specialization (commercial buildings, remodel projects, building layouts, residential buildings)*
You can enter the field with only a high school diploma*
Opportunity to work in cities with a growing population*

Cons of a Carpenter Career
High risk of non-fatal injuries*
Hard, strenuous work*
Steadiness of work may rely on weather conditions*
Will require at least 3-4 years of apprenticeship work*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Duties and Responsibilities

The duties of carpenters vary considerably, depending on the type of industry they work in. Some carpenters work in residential construction and install cabinets, molding, doors and windows. Others may work in heavy industries where they build tunnel bracing, brattices and underground passageways.

Depending on the employer, you may be required to learn all aspects of a building's construction or focus on performing only a few regular tasks. Carpenters may eventually start their own carpentry business as a self-employed owner, rather than continue to work for large construction companies.

Job Prospects and Salary Information

Highly skilled carpenters will enjoy good job opportunities over the next decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that the job growth for this carpenters would increase by 24% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). This growth may be due to a need for repairs to roads and bridges, population growth resulting in new home construction and demand for home remodeling.

However, the BLS also noted that prefabricated materials that allow for quicker product construction could hinder potential growth. According to the BLS in May 2014, carpenters earned a median salary of $40,820.

Career Skills and Requirements

The training for a carpenter can include formal classroom training and an extensive practical apprenticeship. A skilled carpenter often spends as long as three or four years in training before acquiring all of the necessary carpentry skills. Carpentry apprenticeship applicants usually must be at least 18 years old.

Useful Skills

Since there are several career paths for carpenters, you may want to keep your options open and gain a broad skill set. By developing skills in every carpentry area, you may be able to start careers in various environments and for various types of companies, including homebuilding, outdoor, indoor, construction yard and maintenance environments. Before you can even consider finding a career in this field, you need to be prepared with general skills, including:

  • Working within budget and time constraints
  • Understanding the importance of various tools and materials
  • Handling multiple projects without becoming overwhelmed

Job Postings from Real Employers

Career opportunities aren't limited to construction or furniture building. You may be able to find these careers at many places, including retail stores and shipping companies. In general, many companies outside of construction are looking for employees that are able perform additional maintenance routines.

Roles you may be required to take on include modifying materials, ensuring project stability using quality materials, following safety guidelines to keep accidents minimal and using power tools. Some employers may require you to supply your own power tools. The following sampling was gathered from a few national job postings in March 2012:

  • A construction employer located in Washington was looking for someone skillful in window and cabinet installation.
  • A retailer from Arizona was searching for a carpenter that knew how to perform general handyman routines and had additional experience in millwork.
  • A Kentucky-based company was looking for a carpenter that knew how to perform interior trim work and was able to read construction blueprints.
  • A pest control company based out of South Carolina advertised for someone that had experience remodeling homes and making repairs to structural damage.
  • A remodeling company from Pennsylvania was searching for a carpenter that also had experience in roofing and siding.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Although you can enter this field without a college education, you can find formal education through schools offering associate's degree, certificate and diploma education programs that provide supplement apprenticeship opportunities. During these programs, you may be offered opportunities to hone skills in isolated labs with training from professionals in the field.

You can also develop skills in estimating labor production costs and time guidelines, exterior design, reading city codes and laws, planning for construction projects and safely operating tools. The BLS notes that you may be able to apply your apprenticeship credits to your associate's degree program.

Developed Related Skills

In addition to many of the construction-related skills, you may want to develop skills that can be used behind the scenes. You may find that skills like carpentry mathematics and drawing can assist in effectively creating your own designs and blueprints. Your education can also assist in developing additional skills related to:

  • Computer-assisted design programs
  • First-aid used for possible on-site injuries
  • Procuring materials used in designs
  • Communicating with employers and construction workers

Other Careers to Consider

Brickmason, Stonemason and Blockmason

If you are interested in finding similar jobs working with specialty construction projects, you may be interested in working as a stonemason, blockmason or brickmason. In this field, your job roles focus around manipulating concrete, stone and bricks to form ornate or rustic structures. To build these structures, you concoct mortar mixtures, lay brick, make sure the bricks are in place and wipe off any excess mortar.

Other roles that are included in these positions include cutting brick to schematic designs, making sure products will endure natural elements and lifting heavy materials. You can earn a slightly higher salary as a brickmason, which the BLS reported was a median of $47,000 in 2011.

Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installer

Another closely related field includes masons who work with ceiling tiles and drywall. Part of the roles assigned to this field include creating spackle, correcting wall imperfections, placing wallboards, preparing walls for paint and mixing gypsum mixtures to form drywall. The purpose of these jobs may be to increase fire resistant measures or serve as decorative purposes.

If you are working with ceiling tiles, you may attempt to soundproof a room or alter room acoustics. Stucco may also be used to reinforce or insulate walls. While the median salary for this career is slightly less at $37,000, the BLS predicted a 29% increase in job growth between 2010 and 2020.

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