I remember very clearly when I first began learning carpentry, and started the journey it would take me on in the years to come. I had just graduated from university, was recently married and new to the area, and I felt I was at a crossroads as to what the next step in my career would be. Despite my best efforts, local jobs for Political Science graduates in the Red Deer area seemed to be in short supply, and frankly, I didn’t fancy a job as a government analyst or political party staffer. Thus, I found myself retooling my resumé, and seeking out connections in the local construction and renovation industry.
Back then, the economy was still pretty hot on the last housing boom, and it wasn’t long before I found a Journeyman willing to take me on as an carpentry apprentice, working as part of a fast-paced production framing crew. Our company had recently won a large contract to build about a dozen multiplex townhouse units in southeast Red Deer, and the project was expected to take around 3 years to complete.
I quickly discovered that production residential house framing was unlike anything I’d ever done before in my life. The work was almost exclusively outside, year-round in all kinds of weather, labour-intensive, and with a schedule that required strict efficiency, tight quality standards, and a fast learning curve. As the new guy, it took me a little while to find my place on the construction crew. I made my fair share of mistakes, like anyone learning anything new does, but it wasn’t until later on that I discovered that this was just part of the learning process, and I learned not to beat myself up too much for it. Over time I gradually improved in my skills, and began to appreciate seeing the transformation of the build site, from what began as nothing more than an empty field with a hole in the ground, to a series full-fledged homes with dozens of guys working on site in different roles.
Framing multiplexes had some funny moments - like the time I got my boots stuck in ankle-deep mud while building a roof on the ground, and my boss refused to get me out until he’d snapped some pictures of me struggling. We also had some not-so-funny moments - like the time I spent the afternoon in the ER after a run in with the nail gun. Overall, the experience was a challenging, but incredibly useful one for me, and I now look upon my first year and a half spent framing as my “trial by fire” into the world of construction.
While learning on the job provided me with valuable hands-on experience, my time attending Carpentry school at Red Deer College supplemented my education with many of the technical aspects I needed to know, and helped round out my skill-set as a carpenter. In Alberta, the apprenticeship program is structured that every year, you spend 10 months working on the job, and two months attending technical training, and you must attain a required number of experience hours and pass a competency exam (the dreaded “TQ”), to be recognized at the next level. As Carpentry is one of, if not the most varied of all the trades, the sheer amount of material learned is surprising to many seeing it for the first time - alongside framing (or “rough carpentry” as it is known), prospective carpenters learn skills in surveying, layout, concrete forming, demolition, blueprint interpretation and design, building science and structure, fine finishing, and many other areas. With each progressive year, the subject matter grows more complex, until at the end of the 4-year program, apprentice carpenters are confident in the many required skill areas demanded of them on the job. It’s a point of pride that Alberta turns out some of the most highly skilled Journeyman Carpenters in the world.
Following my first year of Carpentry technical training, I was offered a position with a radically different company, Homestead Custom Carpentry, led by owner, Brent Purdie. “Homestead” specializes in upper-scale renovations and project management, and works directly with homeowner clients to help them realize the potential of their homes, and make their remodeling dreams a reality. I quickly found that while I had enjoyed framing (most of the time), getting into renovations provided a thrill of a different kind, allowing me to understand the greater picture behind home renovation projects, as I got to be a part of the custom process all the way from conception to completion. It also allowed me to develop a greater independence and confidence in my work, and to learn that many times in many places, there’s more than one right way of accomplishing a task.
One of the things I have come to appreciate most about working with Homestead is that integrity is the driving value that defines how the company operates. As a strong Christian, I would say that my faith is the underlying principle defining how I live my life, and since I know the same is true for Brent, I can be confident in knowing that all of Homestead’s interactions with clients, business partners, and the community at large are honest, truthful, and quality-driven. As Colossians 3:23 points out, “Whatever you do, do it willingly, as if working for the Lord, rather than for men.” To find and work for a company that makes a point out of not cutting corners, providing honest quotes, and looking out for a client’s best interests, even at a potential loss of revenue, is a rare thing that I am glad for, and one that has taught me that in both life and business, there are things that are much more important than making a profit.
I am now finishing up the last year of my Carpentry apprenticeship, and still glad to be working for Homestead. Recently, I began taking some courses on project management, in hopes of obtaining my Project Management Professional (PMP) designation, following the completion of my Journeyman Carpenter’s ticket. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some fantastic projects, meet some wonderful people, and learn a lot during the last several years, and I’m excited for what the future may hold.