Apprenticeships in Carpentry

Some carpenters have gone through technical schools to learn their trade, while others learn on the job, usually as helpers, but the majority of carpenters learn their trade through a formal apprenticeship. These apprenticeships usually last 2 to 4 years and are offered by several groups including unions, contractor associations and sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications to apply are as follows:

  • Minimum 17-18 years of age
  • Must have high school diploma or equivalent
  • Meet required norms on aptitude test (if required)
  • Physically able to perform the work of the trade
  • U.S. citizen or proof of legal residency
  • Pass substance abuse screening
  • Valid driver's license and/or have reliable transportation

For each year of the program, apprentices will need to complete at least 144 hours of paid technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. For the technical training, apprentices learn basic carpentry, blueprint reading, building code requirements, and first-aid and safety practices. Many apprentices will take specialized training in areas like scaffold building, concrete, rigging, confined workspaces and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety courses.

Various Carpentry Apprenticeships Available

There are many different types of carpentry apprenticeships and they vary by the state or organization offering it. Some of these include the following:

  • Interior Systems
  • Residential Carpentry
  • Millwright
  • Commercial Carpentry
  • Pile Driver Carpentry
  • Floor Covering
  • Construction Carpentry
  • Cabinet Maker
  • Woodworkers

After finishing an apprenticeship, carpenters are considered to be journey workers and may do tasks on their own.

There are important qualities and skills that an individual should have when considering becoming a carpenter apprentice. These include the following:

  • Math skills - knowledge of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. Knowledge of basic math and computer skills are important, especially for those working in manufacturing as technology continues to advance. Carpenters need to understand geometry to visualize how the wood pieces will fit together to make a 3-dimensional object, like a piece of furniture or cabinet. The will also need basic math skills to calculate volume and measure materials to be cut.
  • Extent flexibility - the ability to bend, twist, stretch or reach with your arms, body and/or legs.
  • Vision - near vision is the ability to see details at close range.
  • Arm and hand coordination - able to keep your arm and hand steady while moving or holding them in one position.
  • Static strength - able to exert maximum muscle force to push, pull, lift or carry objects.
  • Trunk strength - able to use your trunk (abdomen and lower back) muscles to support the body repeatedly and/or continuously over time without losing ability.
  • Stamina - able to exert oneself physically over extended periods of time without running out of breath or becoming fatigued.

Each state and/or organization has different training structures they follow. In the state of Wisconsin, the Department of Workforce Development lists the following as the training structure for many of the carpenter apprenticeships:

  • A four-year training program
  • Includes 6,240 hours of on-the-job training
  • Includes 400 hours of paid related instruction
  • Includes 250 hours of unpaid related instruction
  • During the first two years the apprentice must complete Red Cross CPR and First Aid Training courses
  • The apprentice will be taught the use, care and effective handling of all tools and apparatuses commonly used in the trade of carpentry
  • The apprentice will be taught a thorough knowledge of different kinds of material used in connection with the carpentry trade.
  • The apprentice will receive classroom instruction blueprint reading, safety, basic mathematics, reading and varied carpentry techniques.

Apprentices will receive a percentage of what a journey level carpenter would make. Often this wage will increase every six months, and they will also receive benefits during the program. Wages and benefits vary by state and by county for carpenters.