The skilled trades crucial to building homes — carpentry and painting — are in huge demand. While would-be tradespeople learn on the job in some fields, studying at college and doing an apprenticeship might give others an edge.

The Nova Scotia Community College offers a range of trades courses, including carpentry and painting/decorating. Dean Dort teaches carpentry at NSCC and says the demand is high for qualified carpenters; the course itself has a year-long waiting list.

“They’re not coming out of here as full-blown carpenters, but they are coming out with a good base knowledge to build on,” he says.

“A lot of them, as soon as they’re done school, they have jobs lined up. If you can’t find work as a carpenter, you’re not looking.”

The two-year course gives students a basic tool box. They perfect their trade in a two- or three-year paid apprenticeship after graduation. Dort says classes in the first year cover the basics, taking people who may know nothing about carpentry and giving them a solid foundation in the tools and techniques of the trade.

“The first-year instructors start with a test that goes from as easy as two plus two to figuring out the volume of a cylinder to get a feel for where everyone is at,” Dort says. The second year focuses on more complex projects like circular stairs, unequal pitch and intersecting hip grooves. Mandatory work terms give students a chance to try their new skills and make useful work contacts.

“When they finish the second year, they are credited with 2,000 hours toward their apprenticeship. They then go out and work in industry,” Dort says. This two-year on-the-job training fills out their education with things like timber and roof framing, preparing them to become journeymen carpenters, the highest rank.

For painters, many start with companies like College Pro and learn as they go. Some companies expressly recruit untrained staff and include a teaching as part of the job. Vancouver Island’s Home Painting Pro promises a “comprehensive training program” to new recruits. It asks only for a good attitude, a phone and transport.

Formal training as a painter/decorator can be hard to come by, but Newfoundland’s Academy Canada offers such a program. After students acquire the basics of the trade, they can work toward becoming journeymen painter/decorators after graduation.

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