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The Commons
Voices / Viewpoint

Why are good builders hard to find?

Wanted: carpenters who are current with new processes, products, and technologies

Guy Payne is the executive director of the Sustainable Energy Outreach Network (SEON), a nonprofit organization that advances sustainable energy and high-performance building. SEON’s annual Sustainable Home Tour (, which takes place on Saturday, Oct. 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature homes in Brattleboro and Dummerston, as well as Greenfield, Mass.

Originally published in The Commons issue #429 (Wednesday, October 11, 2017). This story appeared on page E3.

Who will do the work and do it well?

“I have hired an architect who can create plans and construction details for what I want to execute,” says one homeowner, who is trying to remediate ice dams on his roof. “What I have not been able to find is a builder who understands these issues and presents realistic solutions.”

It’s raising eyebrows around the country because this homeowner touches on an issue that is both prevalent and part of a larger issue.

We need to ask, “Why are good builders hard to find, especially those with an understanding of building science and the dynamics of heat and moisture flow?”

In Vermont and northern New England, our housing stock is varied, with a large percentage being old, leaky, and damp. So where do we go to find knowledgeable, creative, and competent builders who commit themselves to staying current with new processes, products, and technologies?

This is no longer a profession that equates building a shed with building a house. Beyond the math and building science requirements, builders now must think in terms of systems, and access and digest research findings, charts, and reports.

How then do we increase the supply of “next generation” builders?

* * *

The construction industry is integral to achieving our statewide energy goal of 90-percent fossil-fuel-free by year 2050 — Vermont’s comprehensive response to climate change.

Interestingly, the McClure Foundation in Vermont analyzed labor needs looking out over 10 years and found carpenters to be the second-most-in-demand job, behind nurses!

Yet the current reality of this industry paints a distressing picture. Builders have acknowledged that they cannot find carpenters with the necessary technical skills and are forced to wait far too long to fill open positions, or they settle on applicants with less than the desired skills.

Compound this shortage of labor supply and skills gap with an absence of a comprehensive workforce development system to train entry-level carpenters and assist our incumbent workers to advance their skills, and you have a “perfect storm.”

* * *

The building industry must keep abreast of the climate challenge and economy. As Peter Yost of BuildingGreen, Inc. of Brattleboro said, “We are asking more of our buildings, and we should be asking more of our workers.”

Past efforts have not been sufficient.

It will be up to the building professionals, educators, funders, and state representatives and senators to work collaboratively to develop systems that develop this essential part of the economy.

What do you think? Leave us a comment

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