If you’ve got good maths skills, an excellent eye for detail, the ability to follow complex plans and enjoy working with wood, then a career as a carpenter could be the right fit for you.
With the growth of the construction industry, carpenters are in high demand in the UK and employment prospects are excellent. But what exactly does this career involve? What skills and qualifications do you need to be a carpenter? Below, we’ve laid out some key information that may help you.
“Construction” or “finishing” carpenter?
There are two basic carpenter jobs roles: “Construction carpenters” work outside on construction sites. They erect the supporting frames for buildings, bridges, roads, dams and build shuttering from forming concrete and screed. “Finishing carpenters” work inside commercial and residential buildings, installing non-structural pieces of visible woodwork such as doors, ceilings, staircases and fitted furniture. Sometimes the guys working on-site fitting prefabricated parts are simply called ‘fitters’.
A fitter’s job sheet includes:
» Joining the prefabricated materials according to the design plan, using nails, screws and glues
» Installing the product on site
» Checking that the work is accurately finished, using levels or surveying equipment
» Making repairs and restoring damaged parts
What is a carpenter’s salary?
Starting pay will usually range from around £17,000 up to £24,000. As you progress through your career and gain more experience, your earnings will change to reflect this. With more experience, you can expect to earn from £25,000 to £35,000. If you’re self-employed, you can set your own rates.
These figures are intended as a guideline only.
What skills do I need?
As well as having practical experience and qualifications, you’ll need the following:
» Good maths skills for working out measurements and angles
» An excellent eye for detail
» The ability to follow complex technical drawings and plans
What qualifications do I need?
Some people choose to undertake a college course in carpentry to gain essential knowledge and skills before looking for a role. Courses to look for include: NVQ (level 1 or 2) or City & Guilds 6217-02
Some employers will offer introductory roles as a labourer or joiner’s ‘mate’, giving you on the job training.
Alternatively, you can undertake an apprenticeship to gain the necessary skills and experience, getting paid at the same time. You may need some entry qualifications to take up an apprenticeship – typically five GCSEs, or a basic vocational diploma, such as the Edexcel BTEC Introductory Certificate and Diploma. And if you want to work on a construction site, you’ll need to apply for a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) competency card.
What are the hours and conditions?
You can expect to work between 39 and 45 hours a week. Your working week will usually be Monday to Friday. Site work normally starts at dawn and you may sometimes be expected to work overtime on evenings or weekends, as and when project deadlines require it. However, your overtime and extra shift pay could help increase your income.
Your working time will usually be spent in a workshop or on a job site, meaning there may be some travel involved and you may sometimes have to spend time away from home. If you put in the time and effort, there are opportunities for progression in your career. You can move up to a management position, or specialise in certain areas, or even decide to go into business for yourself.
Conditions vary from site to site. You’re likely to encounter plenty of dust and noise and engage in hazardous activities like climbing ladders, working at height, heavy-lifting and operating high-powered saws and drills. So, you’ll need to wear protective gear, including helmets, ear-defenders and boots and be ready to put up with all weathers.
Carpentry is traditionally a male-dominated profession, although efforts are being made to encourage women to learn the necessary skills. Some colleges now offer training courses aimed specifically at women.
There are a number of future career paths you can follow:
» Freelance: Successful freelancers need a wide range of skills for greater job flexibility. You’ll need to build a network of good relations with a number of sub-contractors. Having your own workshop can minimise travel and maximise efficiency.
» Company Director: Being a successful freelancer with your own premises might provide the springboard for starting your own business, employing other carpenters. It’s important to understand your market and have an effective business plan in place.
» Specialist: With experience, you can develop specialist skills in a particular field, such as building bridges, converting barns and farm-houses, or restoring furniture. If you have a passion for one aspect of the trade, then make a name for yourself. Top tip: create a good website with quality photos of your work to inspire confidence.
Areas of specialism
The infrastructure of our cities and transport systems and the quality of our everyday surroundings depend on good carpentry. Construction carpenters can develop particular specialism in flooring, roofing, roadbuilding, and creating forms for concrete and screed.
Some develop specialisms in conservation, restoring churches, halls and barns.
There is high demand for manufacturing and fitting built-in furniture, especially kitchens and storage units.
And there are opportunities in the film production and theatre industries, where specialists work alongside stage managers, building the sets and so on.