Learning carpentry is not like learning accounting, computer programming, and other job skills. The most common educational path for people who enter those kinds of careers is to take courses and earn a degree (usually a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university) and then to enter the workforce. They usually get some specific company-related training (often for about three months), and then they are expected to be able to do the job.
Trades, particularly construction-related trades like carpentry and plumbing, are different. Although some things, like building codes and safety regulations, can be learned in a classroom, most of the skills required can only be learned on the job. And it takes more than one semester-long class to master the skills—in fact, it can take years to become proficient. Because the only way to learn a trade is on the job, training programs for tradespeople is usually done through an apprenticeship program.
Apprenticeship programs combine classroom education with practical training, but the emphasis is definitely on the latter. In carpentry programs, which usually last three to four years, apprentices are required to complete about 144 hours of classroom training and 2000 hours of on-the-job training every year. In class, they learn things like how to read blueprints and do technical math, and about safety and building codes. On the job, they learn…well…everything else! Being an apprentice is equivalent to working a full-time job. That is why apprentices get paid. Apprentice carpenters usually start by earning about 30 to 50 percent of a journeyman carpenter’s salary, with their wages increasing with time and experience.
Because carpentry is not regulated the same way as trades like electrical wiring (electricians must be licensed), several different types of organizations offer apprenticeship programs. For example, many unions have programs for students who wish to become union apprentices, technical schools and community colleges offer combined degree and apprenticeship programs, and even some general contractors and contractor organizations offer apprenticeship programs. All of these types of programs can provide the training necessary to become a carpenter.
The admissions process for apprenticeships depends on the type of program. In general, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have either a high school diploma or a GED. They must also be physically able to perform the job, pass a drug test, and legally be able to work in the United States. Some organizations have additional requirements. For example, in California, apprentice carpenters must be able to read and understand English; in the mid-Atlantic states, they may be required to pass a medical examination.
If you are interested in entering the construction trade as a carpenter, the first thing you should do is look for an apprenticeship program in your area. The program coordinators will be able to assist you in planning the training path that will help you succeed in your future career.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Carpenters. Occupational Outlook Handbook.
California Apprenticeship Coordinators Association. Carpenter apprenticeship.