Lesson 19: Lead Carpenter

Many top remodelers argue that their ability to allow others to manage critical parts of their business is the defining characteristic of their success. The lead carpenter system is a great way for remodelers to take off their tool belts and hand over field management to qualified individuals who are on the jobsites.

“Independence, the very thing that spurs us to become remodelers, is both a virtue and a deficit,” explains Don C. Van Cura Sr., CR, CKBR, CLC, president of Don Van Cura Construction Co., Chicago. “We’re independent-minded people who work within a company to get experience in the trades. Then one day, we wake up and realize we know more than the owner and can do it ourselves. It’s that mentality that fosters the control freak in us. We want to be in charge of everything. That independent spirit gets us into business, but it’s our detriment as far as our longevity.”

Timothy Faller, CR, CLC, owner of Field Training Services, Westerly, R.I. and a pioneer in the lead carpenter system, explains that the lead-carpenter model was originally applied in the replacement windows and doors sector, where jobs were sold at a certain price. Today, as full-service remodeling has grown and become more professional, the lead carpenter concept has evolved into a system well suited for remodelers doing bigger jobs.

Getting Started

In order to start a lead carpenter program within a company, it is important to first understand exactly what it is and how it works. As a company owner, it may be most beneficial to explore the possibility taking classes and earning a Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC) professional designation through NARI. This will allow you to find out what employees will be learning and understand it from their standpoint. Other ways of doing the research would be to seek an outside consulting firm, a wide range of books on the subject and magazines to make sure the correct training will be implemented for the program.

“One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is that they take big skilled carpenters and crown them as lead carpenters without really training them,” says Faller.

Once a remodeler understands how the lead carpenter concept works, it is best to figure out how to implement it. “The very first thing to do would be to write and/or come up with a concrete way in which an owner wants the lead carpenter program to work in their business,” says Faller. “You need to stop and ask yourself how you want this to work within your company and how you’re going to make the transition.”

Faller states that the second thing to do would be to write up clear job descriptions for the major players. The job descriptions communicate to all team members what the individual is supposed to be doing, so it is clear from day one.
“Once those things are done, take one person within the company, typically the person who wants this to succeed; then systematically figure out how much responsibility they can take right now and how much to give them over a period of the next six months or a year,” explains Faller. “It’s a slow transition in order to not overload the lead carpenter right away.”

The Skills Needed

In implementing a lead carpenter program, finding the right candidate and ensuring they have the correct skill set is key.

“What’s important when someone moves from being a carpenter to a lead carpenter is the ability to work with people,” says Faller. “The lead has to work with clients, manage carpenters and manage subcontractors. That’s one of the most important skills that differentiate a carpenter from a lead carpenter.”

The next skill needed according to Faller is organization skills. A lead carpenter has to be able to organize a schedule and make sure the job runs on a schedule as opposed to just coming to work, do what they’re supposed to do and then go home.

The third skill has to do with financial issues. Most carpenters don’t ever think about what things are costing, but one of the things that lead carpenters are expected to share in is trying to make sure that the job stays on or meets the budget. Typically companies will reward carpenters for meeting the budget by giving them some sort of bonus or incentives. They should care about the money and how it functions within a company.

“There is this illusion that we as remodeling company owners know more than everybody else, and need to check in on every little thing,” says Van Cura. “Once you let go you realize that the lead carpenters really do a great job and it is really eye-opening.”

Next month, we’ll explore how a remodeling company successfully navigated the transition to a lead carpenter system and learn more about some of the other benefits of the system as a business model.

Proceed to the test