Any contractor who has hired employees knows what an exercise in frustration it can be. There are very few standardized skill sets, as most painters learn how to paint by “just doing it”. There are few family businesses where skills are handed down to the next generation anymore, much less training programs where these skills are taught.
How do we change that?
While most in the industry are happy to just complain about the lack of training opportunities available and the lack of skilled workers, there are those that are willing to lead the charge to change this. Scott Burt and Todd Pudvar are an example. They have created Prep to Finish, a vocational training program and I asked Scott to share his program with our readers.
BP: What is Prep to Finish about?
SB: Prep to Finish is about paint industry education for students exploring careers in the building trades. In most cases, kids aren’t really aware that there are legitimate job opportunities out there for workers with painting skills. On the flip side, contractors can’t find young people who want to work in the trades. Prep to Finish bridges that gap.
BP: What made you decide to offer vocational training?
SB: We spent most of 2012 researching vocational education. It should be the obvious feeder program to the trades, and it is, but the paint trade is not plugged into it yet. There is no formal paint curriculum in these programs. Kids, in many cases, are not even aware that there are career opportunities in the paint industry. By mentoring students in these programs through hands on training that is directly relevant to the projects they are working on in their vocational programs, we help students to make connections between the occupations in the trades. We all know, in the building process, painters are usually in the middle of it all.
BP: What makes you qualified?
SB: As the founders of Prep to Finish, Todd and I bring a combined 25 years of secondary education teaching experience in public schools. Todd was a Spanish teacher, I was an English teacher. That is blended with two lifetimes of experience in painting and trade related experience. It’s been a natural transition for us both to want to find the solution to the problem of ‘lack of young talent entering the paint trade.’
BP: How is Prep to Finish supported?
SB: Prep to Finish workshops are free to vocational schools. The program is supported by paint industry manufacturers who are also concerned about the future of the finishing trades.
BP: What specific skills are taught, do you have a curriculum?
SB: The skills that are taught are completely customized to the projects that the kids in the programs are working on. Our first workshop series, this in February, was a drywall prep and prime 2 day workshop. Kids were taught how to sand the drywall they had hung and taped, and how to spray and back roll primer. In this case, the students had built a 1600 sf new home, which has already been sold to a young family. Other programs we are partnering with are working on completely different types of projects, such as furniture making. So, these kids will learn hands on how to prepare furniture to receive fine finishes, and they will do it themselves.
BP: Unless you are in a Union Shop, what other avenues are available for our youth to learn these skills?
SB: The paint industry has lagged dreadfully behind other trades, such as plumbing and electrical, in the ability to create structured apprenticeship programs and school to work cooperative opportunities. Historically, in a craft like painting, the industry has relied on the masters of the trade to pass the tradition on the younger entrants through on the job mentoring. The problem is, kids are not finding their way into the trade to receive that.
BP: What was the reaction of the students on your first class?
SB: First of all, the instructor in this particular program does a remarkable job of working with his students. Both Todd and I were literally floored by the program that is in place, in all areas except for painting. The students were extremely excited to see how painting happens at a professional level. The house they built last year in the program, they rolled out with 9” rollers. They did not know it was possible to spray the inside of a house, and had not seen 18” rollers before. On the prep side, they had only ever sponge sanded drywall by hand. Seeing people of any age experience dustless technologies for the first time is a magical moment.
BP: Did you have any females in the class?
SB: During our research phase with this group, there was one girl in the class. By the time we conducted the workshop, that girl had already left the program to pursue a full time employment opportunity, out of family necessity. That made it real for us. These kids are preparing to work, they are not preparing to go to college. They want and need to enter the workforce and create good lives for themselves.
BP: Is this only available to students in Vermont?
SB: We chose to launch the program in Vermont. We are currently working deeply with three programs in three different parts of the state. From here, we plan to cover new england, the east coast and beyond. By the fall 2013 semester, we expect to be working with students considerably beyond Vermont.
BP: Are the skills needed for being a painter different today as opposed to 5-10-20 years ago?
SB: Yes, everything has changed. Paints have changed, and therefore everything related to the act of painting has changed. This is good news to the kids, because none of them had previous experiences in painting that were positive.
BP: What about offering education to painting contractors?
SB: Part of our program will include private training for paint contractors. This is also supported by the paint industry. We will be delivering this opportunity to contractors at a very reasonable rate, and bring groups of painting/remodeling/woodworking/cabinet finishing contractors into our facilities for intensive, private training that will cover everything from basics to very advanced processes.
It is important for paint contractors to continue to seek education, because things change so fast in our industry, it is too easy to become outdated very quickly. In a nutshell, we all need to keep our competitive edge.
As someone who has spent the last 20 years working in the educational field, I think this concept is long overdue. Funding has cut many of the vocational programs out of the schools, and many students don’t have the funds to go to college or really need to go if they can learn a craft in a vocational setting such as this to provide life long skills. It is contractors like Scott that can make a difference to our youth, and I think there are many other contractors out there that could do the same thing.
I’d like to challenge other contractors to look at ways they can make an impact on “raising the bar”, whether it is offering more training opportunities in house to current employees, reaching out in your community to find interns or supporting local vocational schools.