Interviewing Jason

I was talking before (on Interviewing Silvia) about doing international tutoring in university. I was also a part of ESN Erasmus Student Network organizing activities for international students. It was a way to be more involved in all things international in university. During all that I met so many people including Jason. We also happened to be in New York one year afterwards. It was a fun coincidence. Here’s Jason telling us about his life and work.

What is your job title?

Carpenter Apprentice

Where do you work? 

Burlington, Vermont, Yankee Home Construction(*)

How did you get in to the line of work?

I think for better or worse, a very windy road led me into this line of work! I originally graduated college with my BS in Geography with expectations of working in geographic research. I took an unpaid summer internship in the Colorado Rockies mapping noxious vegetation around the County but as it was ending I had a couple of profound realizations. The first was that I wasn’t going to be able to find a job in my field in the Colorado Rockies. The second was that I had discovered my heart really wasn’t into the idea of sitting in front of a computer for the better part of my waking life. As it turns out, geographic research is primarily computer based and consists of analyzing satellite images or field data. Unfortunately, the field data collection is the only fun part and is only performed by college students and unpaid interns.  Everything else requires sitting 40 hours a week in front of a computer screen managing, compiling, and interpreting data and occasionally making pretty maps. I needed more excitement in my life!

Since I wasn’t very psyched to leave the Rocky Mountains in search of a career I was only mildly interested in, I decided to become a ski bum.  The ski bum lifestyle, despite its long-term unsustainability, was awesome. I took a winter job at a ski resort and a summer maintenance job for the public works department. I was able to ski and mountain bike multiple times a week, go hiking and camping, and it was amazing. Life was simple, work was simple, and I lived to have fun.

Unfortunately, the town I lived in was super expensive and living only for fun does eventually get old as it turned out.  However, I enjoyed the construction aspects of my public works job and I decided that if I ever retired the ski bum lifestyle I would seek out a construction job. Alas, I moved to New England and found work as a residential construction laborer and it opened up a whole new world to me. I was outside everyday in the fresh air, staying in shape, and operating a lot of fun tools, trucks, and machinery. Not to mention, I was actually building really cool things with my own hands and seeing progress as it was happening.

Did you feel lucky landing your job?

I do feel lucky! Not every construction company is the same and they all have a different atmosphere; mine is quite laid back and stress free. I got my current job by simply answering an ad on Craigslist and I ended up having a lot in common with the lead carpenter who hired me. Also, we tend to have some very relaxed and agreeable clients and some fun projects.

What qualifications are needed?

To become an apprentice carpenter it really just requires some mechanical aptitude, being physically fit, a positive attitude, and the ability to skillfully use hand and power tools. To become a master carpenter would require more years of experience, knowing building codes, and being fully capable of reading blueprints just to name a few of the qualifications.

Are you striven by the work you do or your paycheck?

Both make it an appealing field for me. There is a good balance of challenges and job satisfaction, and even as an apprentice my paycheck affords me to live comfortably.

Does your work match your expectations?

Most days the work does match my expectations. More often than not that I am learning something new, getting better at something, or simply being challenged. I’ve also entertained the idea of buying a dilapidated apartment or house and renovating it to sell it or rent it, and the skills I’m learning would prepare me for such a venture.

Describe a basic day at work. Does it vary day by day?

Work certainly changes day by day depending on what phase we are in during construction.  Fortunately, the company I work for is very very small, consisting of just me and the owner and lead carpenter so I am exposed to nearly every phase.

I will tell you a little bit about my current project.  It is a four level addition and renovation of a 90-year-old house in a historic residential neighborhood of Burlington, Vermont.  This project began in May and we are currently putting the finishing touches on the inside.  This past week my days have consisted of painting, installing wooden ceiling panels, and hanging drywall.

In general, the workday usually starts out on the job site at around 7am and begins with my boss and I sipping our coffee while having small talk. Then we’ll walk around the job site and he’ll discuss what needs to be completed by the end of the day. Because the clients of our current project still live in the house we will usually have some small talk with them as well as discuss the project. The bulk of the day is simply working to put us closer to the next step of the project. The job site atmosphere is usually pretty light-hearted with lots of joking in between hard work. It’s also an atmosphere where those who work hard and smart are well-respected.

What is the most exciting thing about your work and why?

Construction in general is pretty exciting. We get to use lots of big machinery and lots of power tools. The saws and nail guns are quite exciting to use because they are quite dangerous but make life so much easier. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) I’ve only shot myself with a nail gun once… but it was minor.

What do you get asked about your job by friends and family?

They’re often interested in how beautiful a project is or what techniques we used for particular aspect of the project.

And they tend to ask rhetorically, “It must keep you in awesome shape, too, huh?”

What is the best part of your job?

For me, I really enjoy the framing aspect.  It’s very incredible to be able to construct four walls as well as a floor on top of those walls and then to stand on top of that floor gaining a whole new vantage point and watch the sun set at the end of the work day. I get a feeling of accomplishment after all the physical and mental exertion in producing something very real, tangible, and totally necessary for our daily lives.

Construction itself very visually stimulating so the completion of a phase whether it be framing, siding, or dry walling completely enhances the feel and character of the project and brings it that much closer to being a livable reality for the client.  Seeing their excitement and satisfaction is really cool.

Do you have bad days or moments? Why?

There are certainly bad days. I don’t always agree with my boss on a strategy for completing certain phases of construction. I like to be able to start a project and finish it before I start a new one. Unfortunately, my boss is unable to focus on one thing long enough to see it through to completion so we end up jumping between projects. Also, when a client changes their mind about something after it is built and we have to tear it down and rebuild it.

Do you have any advice for people considering your line of work?

Try to get on a construction crew and see how you feel about working with your hands and body all day while trying to solve problems and facilitate solutions that keep the project moving.  Expose yourself to working with hand and power tools as well as understanding blueprints.

Thank you Jason! 

(*) Company name changed.

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