Handyman: Skilled workers needed in home building

Glenn Haege

Learn all you can before you do! Learning gives you knowledge but work gives you skills. The term “skilled labor” is usually associated with the auto industry in Michigan. From electricians to carpenters to window installers, there is often more skill involved in the home building and remodeling industries than meets the eye.

“With all the advancements in technology, electricians aren’t just installing light bulbs and switches, they are also installing computer controlled lighting systems and other high tech products that require more technical knowledge and skills,” said Mike Bratcher of Bratcher Electric, (734) 722-0037,

Gary Kearns at Kearns Brothers, (888) 355-6700,, said today’s home remodeling industry also requires skilled people for roofing, siding, masonry and window projects.

“Whether we are installing a new roof or windows, our people need to be exceptional to provide quality workmanship, and that takes training and experience,” Kearns said.

Kearns said industry certification programs, such as GAF’s Master Elite Contractor ( or the Vinyl Siding Institute’s VSI Certified Installer Program (, expand the field training provided by foreman and crew chiefs to provide additional education for his workers to make sure they maintain their skills and high level of workmanship.

You have often heard me say that you should look for a NATE certified technician when getting any work done on your heating and cooling systems. The North American Technician Excellence (NATE) is the nation’s largest nonprofit certification organization for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians and is another barometer for the amount of skill that exists in the home improvement industry.

Many of the skilled laborers in the home industry also receive high levels of training and education from schools and apprentice programs to give them a head start before they are on the job. For example, union carpenters and millwrights get extensive training in state-of-the-art methods and equipment during a four-year apprenticeship that produces the best skilled professional worker.

A popular trade program is the carpenter’s apprenticeship offered by the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, (313) 832-3887,, which runs the Detroit Carpenters Apprenticeship School in Ferndale, (248) 541-2740.

Locally, Ferris State University,, offers specific degrees for those interested in going into the construction industry, such as the associate and bachelor’s degrees in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technology.

In Metro Detroit, there is also a number of career and technical centers in school districts that offer programs to help students prepare for a career in the construction trades. The building trades program at Dakota High School in Macomb Township is one such program that gives students both the home building experience as well as a chance to participate in smaller construction projects. Others include the career technical centers in the Livonia Public Schools and the Wayne-Westland Schools, to name a few.

These programs give students competencies in everything from surveying and site preparation to concrete and block masonry, rough and finish carpentry, blueprint reading, painting and drywall. They also get a good understanding of both plumbing and electrical, and can get practical experience in home building and renovation.

When these students complete the program, they have the skills and knowledge needed to pursue an apprenticeship, continue on to a trade school or even get a degree in construction management from one of the state universities.

The next step will be to convince more young people to enter this area of the workforce. The current demand for skilled contractors and trades workers is high and is expected to continue well into the future.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.