Although often said, it always surprises me when contractors say they can’t find good laborers — people who want to work. Or, put another way, people who want to learn a trade, especially one like decorative concrete.
I find every aspect of this trade fascinating. On any given construction project, there are at least a dozen ways to incorporate concrete or decorative concrete. This medium can repeatedly achieve cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing and durable structural and architectural finishes. The caveat being it necessitates skilled labor, which is where the question of regulation or deregulation in the trades comes in.
When in college and working to make ends meet, I fortunately found employment on my college campus. The university hired union workers (journeymen) to do specific campus jobs the school’s maintenance staff didn’t know how to do. During those summer workdays as a student helper for one of those journeymen, I found myself learning about an aspect of business I’d never heard about in the college classroom.
The building trades in the 1970s and ’80s saw some of the most dramatic changes. Unions, with their labor contracts, worked hard to ensure fair wages, ongoing education, benefits and sustained employment for their members.
On another hand, member employers grew disenchanted with union membership. This was because new technologies improved production but also cut labor needs. Strong attitudes on both sides resulted in actual fist fights at more than one union hall meeting.
Deregulation occurred before their eyes. While unions thought long-term about the importance of training and maintaining a strong, capable workforce, others thought differently. “Thanks for your help,” they said. “But we can take it from here.”
Deregulation opened doors but…
Both sides of the regulation or deregulation in the trades had shortcomings. On one side, unions resisted adopting technology. In part, because it departed from a traditional set of trade skills fundamentally important to technical training programs that still produce journeymen and women today. In another camp, private enterprise helped tradespeople, now state-licensed contractors, to embrace technologies that created business opportunity.
Deregulation opened the doors to even more opportunity in the construction industry. The industry saw more product manufacturers, more supply stores and more contractors competing for work opportunities.
However, it also dissolved numerous job opportunities for union contractors. These members needed to incorporate the cost of education and training into what they did.
In my opinion, unless a contractor — union or non-union — incorporates the cost to properly train its staff, individuals won’t be drawn to a craft in the hopes of becoming a marketable and essential part of the constantly evolving building trades.
The way I see it, a couple of types of people work in the building trades today. The group encompasses those with skills and those without. People who have invested themselves in learning a trade from the ground up fundamentally approach each job the same way. They schedule man hours so that journeymen and apprentices work collaboratively to ensure that established procedures are used each time to achieve professional results. These procedures, repeated consistently, produce individuals who look at the job with those criteria in mind all the time.
It’s important to learn the fundamentals
My elders taught me to create professional finishes with simple tools. They taught me how to take care of those simple tools so they continue performing well. I learned technology has its place and it doesn’t always deliver the results discerning customers want from a ‘craftsperson.’ Unless you’ve learned a trade’s fundamentals, you’ll forever overlook these essential skills however frequent or seldom you call upon them. And with it, a most coveted aspect of the trade — pride of workmanship!
Nobody, and I mean nobody, can blame a craftsperson for doing the job right. Today, particularly in decorative concrete, we have established guidelines and specifications for us to use. They provide necessary guidelines for application processes. And, if adhered to, they’ll protect your business and employees in a court of law.
Those who choose to follow established procedures reconnect themselves and their trade with a set of regulatory principles. These safeguard the trade and its future in the marketplace. That same adherence to quality standards and practices also ensures an appreciation for the workmanship well-trained individuals can deliver.