When he was 15, Casey Mapes started worked summers at Triple K Stables in Oregon, building and fixing fences, among other chores.
“I was always interested in how things went together, how they were built,” says Mapes, 32, a residential remodeling project manager at Architectural Building Arts in Madison. After another summer working for a roofing company, he “wanted to know more about how the rest of the building got together.”
Mapes got an early start on an expanding field: construction. The building market is rebounding after bottoming out in the economic downturn of the late 2000s. At the same time, there was a lack of construction workers as many people left the industry when it stagnated. In addition, baby boomers in the trade are retiring, leaving empty roles.
The construction industry is poised for growth nationwide, even more so after hurricanes demolished parts of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
There were 4,840 jobs in carpentry and construction labor in Dane County in 2016, according to data from Economic Modeling Specialists commissioned by Madison Area Technical College. New jobs are anticipated to grow by 4 percent to 5,039 in 2021. But the big opportunity is over the next 10 years, when nearly 40 percent of the Dane County construction workers are anticipated to retire, adding 1,936 openings.
After his roofing stint, Mapes worked with a local cabinet maker for seven years. He had plenty of experience under his belt, so he decided to attend UW-Stout to earn a bachelor’s degree in construction. There, he learned about project management and different types of construction.
After Mapes graduated in 2009, he spent eight months building houses before moving on to Architectural Building Arts. After working there as a support carpenter for two years, he was promoted to project manager and also maintains a position as lead carpenter.
“It’s more time-managing, but I’m still wearing the tool belt,” Mapes said.
In this role, he organizes subcontractors, communicates with clients and manages other carpenters on projects. Mapes also arranges materials deliveries from suppliers to the job site.
But you don’t need a bachelor’s degree to be successful in construction, Mapes said.
“The key is just to have initiative and to always be thinking about why you’re doing what you’re doing, not just doing what you’re told, (but) thinking into it, why you’re building things the way you’re building them, understanding,” he said.
“Just by showing initiative and wanting to have a role, any carpenter could have a lead position,” he said.
Getting into the construction trade is relatively quick through vocational schools like Madison Area Technical College. MATC’s Construction and Remodeling program, a 32-week or two-semester curriculum, is a broad survey of skills and techniques. It’s designed both for people who’ve never picked up a hammer, as well as those who want to build on the experience they have. Students include recent high school graduates and others with degrees in fields that didn’t satisfy them.
Students take a slew of general classes where they learn to use tools and blueprints while getting a taste of construction specialties like framing, drywall, carpentry, finishing and floor installation. Students build tiny homes together, which can be seen next to the old Oscar Mayer plant. MATC sells the houses for the cost of materials.
According to Mapes, it’s hard work — especially in inclement weather — but work you can be proud of.
“In construction, at the end of the day, every day, you can stand back and look at what you did and go home with a sense of accomplishment,” he said.