Job Growth, Openings Prompt Students to Look to the Trades
Twenty-year-old Kristofer Belanger followed in his father’s footsteps, entering the construction field after graduating from high school. He’s a carpenter with a good job, reliable paycheck, and solid benefits including a retirement plan, an urgent-care plan, and reimbursement for cell phone and clothing.
“I was meant for this trade,” says Belanger, who works for Hayward & Company Log & Timber Homes in Meredith. “My parents said I should go to school more, and that I was going to have to work hard my whole life. But they said it was a trade that was never going to die, and were overall very supportive that I was going into construction.
“I’ve been able to afford a new car and been able to pay all my bills and don’t have a crushing educational debt,” he says. “I do have to work harder for these things in the long run, but the outcome is worth it.”
Belanger’s story is representative of many teenagers who, for a host of reasons, are foregoing the college path to enter the workforce right out of high school. A college education, of course, has long been touted as an integral part of the “American Dream.” But more and more, young workers with adequate trade skills are proving that they can compete, and excel, in the current economic landscape.
Joe Harnois, president of the New Hampshire Home Builders Association, says employees with trade skills are in enormous demand. Coupled with spiraling tuition costs for a four-year college, available trade jobs make the field far more compelling for teenagers coming out of high school.
“Workforce development is one of the NHHBA’s hot buttons,” says Harnois. “If we can engage kids with similar activities to that of building houses, and have an opportunity to let their parents know that our industry has a career ladder. With the cost of college tuition and loss of four years of gainful employment, our industry is a fruitful alternative that has great-paying jobs right out of high school without the debt.”
According to a state-sponsored 2018 New Hampshire Job Outlook and Locator study, construction managers earn an average of more than $45,000 a year. Carpenters earn an average of $22.11 an hour. Multiply that by 40 hours a week over a full year, the annual salary (without overtime) is just about $46,000. That means, after four years, a gainfully employed carpenter can earn $184,000, without any college loans to pay off. Tile and marble setters, cement masons, concrete finishers, and drywall and ceiling tile installers earn even more, on average, while a construction laborer averages $17.58 an hour (or more than $36,500 annually).
As an added bonus, the construction manager, carpenter, and construction laborer jobs all received a “Very Favorable” occupational outlook rating in the same study. In short, the study maintained that these were considered “occupations that combine a high rate of growth and a large number of annual job openings.” Further, the study held that “these occupations are expected to provide the best employment opportunities through 2026.”
Statistics like that reinforce the views of Matthew Towle, building construction instructor at the J. Oliva Huot Technical Center in Laconia, and his call to incorporate more comprehensive trade training options in the public school curriculum.
“I don’t think that there is an appropriate level of attention to technical trade training here in New Hampshire,” says Towle. “Today’s employment landscape is in furious need of conscientious young people overall. An ‘appropriate’ level of emphasis (in the trades) lies with families and guidance counselors. Families and
guidance counselors should discuss more diverse options other than college.”
According to Towle, “students haven’t been fully utilizing their (college) degrees versus the payoff on college loans.” As a result, he says students and their families would be better served if they explain their goals in detail with high school guidance counselors. That, in turn, would help counselors put students in a more advantageous position to reach their goals while staying within their means.
“I believe that discussions happening at home are changing to help the trades,” says Towle. “It is very multi-dimensional, time-consuming, and complicated, especially the way New Hampshire has technical trades training organized.”
The bottom line, says Towle, is that with proper trade training, “students can get paid to learn (in the field) rather than paying a college to learn.”
“The more valuable a new employee becomes, someone in a trade usually can get paid more as time goes,” he says. “College hasn’t been able to truly stand behind this for all college experiences, certainly not right after graduation. I believe that our society has to make a shift to say that college is not for everyone right out of high school.”
Towle emphasized that he is a college graduate himself, and that “I’m not against students going to college.”
“I’m someone who has made career changes based on what I had to find out over time,” he says. “It cost me a lot of time and money to do this. Though I don’t regret college, I certainly push that college is right when someone is ready to make an investment in higher education. Not all of our high students are ready, though they could be overly pushed to go anyway.”
Julie Hayward, co-owner of Hayward & Company, struck a similar note, saying that the realities of the working world aren’t always reflected in school curriculums. It is a debate that is being waged nationally as well as in New Hampshire.
“I think that trades have been seriously de-emphasized over the last 20 years, and now many industries are seeing the result of that mistake in the educational system,” says Hayward. “Students need to experience first-hand what type of outcomes are possible when choosing a path in the trades. This experience comes in the form of current tradespeople involvement directly in the schools, summer employment, and job-shadowing opportunities.”
Hayward says that access to trade classes was “one of the major hurtles we have in the primary school system, especially here in the Lakes Region.” Many school districts have stopped supporting construction and building classes, she says, and even students fortunate enough to live close to a technical school face two major obstacles — limited course selections and that “tech classes are only available to juniors and seniors.”
“Beyond local tech high schools, we could improve access for high school students and bridge gaps through the New Hampshire university and college system, in addition to trade associations taking an active role in workforce development,” she says, adding that the Lakes Region Builders and Remodelers Association’s Tiny House project, done in conjunction with the Huot Tech construction and plumbing disciplines “is a perfect example of an industry and education collaboration.”
However, like Belanger, Hayward doesn’t sugar-coat the rigors of a career in construction.
“In this market you can pretty much choose any job and go for it,” she says. “We have retained many of our trade school hires, so I’d say we are doing a pretty good job as a company keeping young workers engaged and happy. Make no mistake, though — this is a tough industry, and it takes a very strong-minded individual to succeed in it.”
There are also opportunities to take something of a hybrid approach. Sam Guyer is a 19-year-old part-time employee at Hayward & Company who has “been into carpentry since I can remember.” But Guyer only works part-time because he’s also attending classes at Lakes Region Community College, with plans to earn his associate’s degree in business management and, eventually, “have my own construction business one day.”
“I see a lot of opportunities for young people in the home-building trade,” he says. “There are always opportunities to ‘learn on the job,’ because more than likely there is going to be an older person on the job that has been doing this their whole life. You can certainly learn knowledge in school, but as I have been told a by a lot of people in the trade, ‘job-site experience is like no other.’”
Asked what advice he would give others still weighing their decisions, Guyer says: “I would tell people graduating high school that the trades always need people. When I was in high school, people would come in and out of the shop and tell us for every person that goes into the trade, three people come out and retire.”
The key, says Towle, is making sure that high school students still have a variety of career choices to consider, even if they stay with a trade.
“I have students interested in design, electrical, landscape construction, concrete, material sales, etcetera,” says Towle. “It would be an absolute travesty for a construction program at the high school level to only teach carpentry. I try to teach opportunity when involving other trade options. None of the trades can afford me sticking to just ‘carpentry’ or ‘home building.’
“All in all, I see huge opportunities for young people in all trades,” he says. “If we don’t create a part of the workforce that is knowledgeable in all of the recent product innovations or new energy code, then we would be doing all trades a disservice.”
New Hampshire Job Outlook and Locator study
Hayward & Company Log & Timber Homes
J. Oliva Huot Technical Center
Lakes Region Builders and Remodelers Association’s Tiny House project
NH State Home Show celebrates 52 years
By Brion O’Connor
Imagine you’re a homeowner thinking about a big renovation. Or maybe you’re a contractor looking at expanding your profile and your business. For more than half a century, the annual New Hampshire State Home Show, produced by the New Hampshire Home Builders Association, has served as a one-stop clearinghouse for contracting professionals and consumers alike.
“I’ve always said this – If you’re a professional in the housing industry and you’re not a member of the state’s largest housing association, than you’re doing a disservice to your business and yourself,” says NHHBA president Joe Harnois. “Likewise, not being involved in the state’s largest trade show limits your success by not actively promoting your business in a platform that puts you in front of as many as 7,000 people.”
Harnois pointed out that the New Hampshire State Home Show is the largest of its kind north of Boston, and is strategically timed to showcase the products and services of vendors for potential customers “when they’re getting ready to start a project.”
“It’s also great to network with companies that are not members of the association and that we wouldn’t ordinarily interact with,” says Harnois, founder of Harber Construction in Epsom and co-founder and president of Atlantic Builders Supply New England in Greenland. “Part of being successful is being active, and the home show is one of the best ways to promote ourselves.”
The 52nd edition of the show is set for March 8-10 at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Manchester. More than 300 vendors and exhibitors, covering almost every aspect of the home building and remodeling industry, are expected. The three-day extravaganza offers demonstrations, more than a dozen informative seminars, a trendy Tiny House Village, and even an Ugly Door Contest and Junior Lego Build Competition to inspire future contractors.
“The Junior Lego Build Competition is a great event and something that just fits at the home show,” says Rick Hartley of Complete AV in Bedford. “Inspiring kids in anything positive is needed these days. It’s a fitting environment where the adults get just as excited as the kids to see their creations. It gives the kids a sense of belonging.”
Jeffrey Lavoie, president of All-Ways Accessible Inc. of Concord, which specializes in modifying homes with stairlifts and elevators for the disabled, readily agreed.
“This is critical for us to have younger people see what we do,” Lavoie says. “We need workers.”
Lavoie said he hasn’t missed the home show in more than 20 years.
“I have exhibited at the NH Home show since 1997,” he said. “It’s a great way for us to get out the public to show what we have. We don’t often sell anything at the show, but it is branding for us. I wouldn’t miss it.”
The show attracts a remarkably diverse group of people and business, including builders, remodelers, building material suppliers, furnishing suppliers, home inspection services, remediation companies, non-profits, real estate brokers agents, insurance companies, and landscaping companies. The reasons for participating in the show as a vendor, or stopping by as a consumer, are as plentiful as the number of potential home-improvement projects that a homeowner can dream up.
“A lot of the visitors have interest in home automation, but still don’t know enough about it and they instantly look for us to answer their questions on how things work and what we can do for them and their house,” says Hartley. “Not only are the visitors great to meet directly to potentially work with, but networking with other vendors at the show is big for us.
“A lot of work comes from the other vendors we form relationships with at the show,” he says. “They become natural referral partners. We’re able to help each other, and it works out great for everyone.”
Lynnette Rogers, the owner of Homescapes of New England Epping and Harnois’s predecessor as NHHBA president, said the hands-on experience is particularly beneficial because it’s difficult to duplicate anywhere else.
“Exhibiting at the home show helps to create credibility with the homeowner, besides just a website which can be helpful but not personable,” she says. “The networking at the home show is great because you see other trades and products you may not have been aware of.”
In the same vein, the show’s seminars – ranging from energy-efficient homes and solar power options to traditionally popular topics such as kitchen and bath renovations – benefit both the hosts and the participants,
“With hosting, you get exposure,” says Hartley. “And if you do well, the attendants gain trust in you and believe you may be an expert in your area and may call on you someday for their project.
“Those who are attending gain important knowledge on topics that will help them with their projects,” he says. “People obviously research most of what they want to know online, but most making an investment still like personally speaking with others. If there is a connection made during the seminar, it helps both parties.”
The importance of those connections can’t be overstated. The show attracts homeowners of every stripe (“From people building a high-end home to tire-kickers living in low- income housing looking for something to do,” says Rogers. “That is what makes it interesting.”) to an impressive variety of contractors who are looking not only for business, but oftentimes partnerships that provide a mutual benefit.
“Camaraderie is one thing that gets overlooked,” says Rogers, who has participated in the last eight shows. “I get business from other vendors (at the home show), because they feel like I’m a friend.
“Being there for many years, people who were thinking about (having work done) previously have sought me out the following year.”
Asked what his top three reasons were for investing his time and energy into the home show each year, Lavoie listed meeting other vendors, increased exposure among the general public “which is key to long-term success,” and a general awareness of available products. However, he added that he’d like to see more “younger people interested in the industry” attend.
Other segments that have been under-represented in the past, said Harnois, are excavation, paving, wallboard, and painting companies.
“All of these are very important roles in the housing industry,” Harnois says. “I’d encourage them to attend more for the networking opportunity with the other businesses participating in the show.
“Although, consumers are looking for the services too, and because there are few or none of these segments represented, it’s much more likely that they would become a valued customer,” he says.
Furthermore, the benefits of the show can have a ripple effect, extending well beyond the three-day weekend.
“The value can be seen within the few weeks following the show, or months or even years following the show,” says Harnois. “For example, we met a consumer a couple of years ago that we ended up working with about a year after that. They have since sent nearly a dozen referrals to us. If it wasn’t for the home show, we may never have met.”
Join us next year: MARCH 6-8, 2020 AT THE DOUBLETREE HOTEL