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What Does a Carpenter Do?

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At SWTAFE, we help students build their future careers every day. So what would be more fitting than assisting those looking for a future in carpentry, one of the cornerstones of building in Australia?

 If you excelled in high school woodwork and enjoy viewing real, trackable progress in your projects, a career in carpentry may be for you. There are many types of carpentry that you can explore through your qualification and future apprenticeship. Weigh up what makes a good carpenter and take a look at the differences between carpenters and builders as we delve into the many facets of this career field.

What is a carpenter?

A carpenter (also known as a chippy), at their core, is a tradesperson specialising in working with timber and any number of carpentry processes depending on their specific line of work. Using their knowledge and skills, chippys can design and execute all types of construction projects, from small-scale installations such as house framing, skirting boards and furniture to more extensive works such as roof and floor construction. These projects can involve various types of machinery and tools which require rigorous safety training.

The difference between a carpenter and a builder

Reading a simple description of carpentry, you may be asking yourself, what’s the difference between carpentry and building? Simply put, builders are generally the task managers for larger projects, working less with tools and more with overseeing the team. A chippy is likely to answer to a supervising licensed builder and be contracted by them to be a jack of all trades and ensure the whole job works together.

Builders also tend to have a higher level of qualification, including a building licence, permitting them to oversee and undertake more extensive projects. Ultimately, builders practice more as project managers and earn slightly more than carpenters.

Types of carpentry

Often hired for contract work, chippys employ specialised skills to complete their part in construction, placing them within different subsets of carpentry. These subsets include:

  • Framing carpenters: These carpenters generally work on large projects doing framework and scaffolding for areas such as the floor, walls, stairs and roof. They set out the “rough draft,” or the first steps of house construction, by building the essential structural elements.
  • Finish carpenters: On the other side of construction, finish carpenters work to apply the finishing touches to a building, creating and implementing detail-oriented fixtures such as trimmings and doors.
  • Joiners: Joiners specialise in the production of cabinetry and other furniture items like wardrobes, dressers, drawers, etc.
  • Scenic carpenters: These carpenters specialise in the film, theatre and music industries, constructing elaborate set pieces and props for the stage.
  • Shipwrights: Also known as ship carpenters, these carpenters specialise in building and repairing ships, working on various old and modern boats.
  • Green carpenters: With a push for sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives in Australia, green carpenters specialise in green practices, using sustainable alternative materials and techniques.

There are many approaches and specialisations that you can take as a budding chippy, making this a versatile and exciting career path with flexible opportunities. However, no matter what path you choose, many of the skills for success are interchangeable.

Carpenter skills

Working as any kind of carpenter can require many soft skills. If you’re on the fence about whether carpentry is right for you, consider this list of valuable skills and qualities that carpenters generally display:

  • Energetic: Carpentry requires a lot of practical, hands-on work, meaning a high energy level is beneficial to keep up with this intensive working environment.
  • Problem-solving: Being able to approach any number of issues with a creative and critical mindset can enable carpenters to work safely and efficiently.
  • Mathematical mind: Carpenters require practical mathematical skills to closely follow design specifications and calculate various parameters such as size, distance, and quantity.
  • Precision: Carpenters may need to do detail-oriented work, meaning an eye for detail and precise practical application is crucial to getting things done to industry standard.
  • Communication: Whether talking to their team or discussing a project with a potential client, contractors need to practice good communication skills such as active listening to understand the task at hand.
  • Time management: Every project has a deadline, and carpentry is no exception. Carpenters need to consistently communicate and manage expectations to complete their work within the overall project timeline.

If you don’t tick off all these skills and qualities, don’t worry; just like chippys help construct our houses, SWTAFE can help you build the confidence and skill set to enter the carpentry industry.

Carpentry courses

With the wide variety of carpentry specialisations available, SWTAFE offers a number of courses as well as pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship options for students, including:

  • Certificate II in Building and Construction (Pre-Apprenticeship):
    • If you’re not quite sure what to expect from a career in carpentry, you might consider one of our two pre-apprenticeships, with the Certificate II in Building and Construction giving you a taste of what working as a rough carpenter is like. Not only will a pre-apprenticeship allow you to experience the industry before committing to a higher qualification, but it will also help bolster your resume with reliable work experience. To make matters sweeter, this pre-apprenticeship is covered under the Free TAFE course subsidy for eligible students.
    • This course is taught for 20 weeks at our Sherwood Park training facility. You will be taught how to use carpentry tools, levelling procedures, and construct structural features such as the sub-floor, wall frame, roof frame, and formwork. Upon completing this course, you will be able to pursue further learning pathways into our carpentry and cabinet making apprenticeship detailed below.
    • If you’d like to enter into this course, all that’s required for eligibility is to submit an online application form and complete the subsequent pre-training review.
  • Certificate II in Furniture Making (Pre-Apprenticeship):
    • Our other pre-apprenticeship course offered at SWTAFE focuses more on the cabinetry or furniture carpentry side. You will learn furniture design, finishing and making. Delivered over 10 to 20 months depending on your study mode, this course is taught at our Sherwood Park training facility in Warrnambool. Upon completion of this course, you may consider our Certificate III in Cabinet Making apprenticeship. This course only requires a short application form and pre-training review for entry.
  • Certificate III in Carpentry:
    • If you have prior employment within the construction industry, you might want to consider jumping straight into an apprenticeship. During this course, you will learn how to use carpentry equipment, window and door installation, scaffolding and the construction of structural features such as pitched roofs, eaves and ceiling frames. This course also provides you with many skills transferable between framing and finish carpentry.
    • Offered at our Sherwood Park training facility, this course is taught over four years with workplace training. Upon completing this course, you may continue into the workforce as a qualified carpenter or pursue further education in the Certificate IV Building and Construction to become a qualified builder. To enter into this course, you’re required to have current employment within the construction industry before commencement. Alternatively, our Skills and Jobs Centre can provide you with further advice and guidance on sourcing an apprenticeship.
  • Certificate III in Cabinet Making:
    • If you would like to pursue cabinetry and furniture construction, an apprenticeship in cabinet making will equip you with the skills to work as a qualified cabinet maker, gaining skills in machine use, custom furniture production and material selection. Delivered at our Sherwood Park training facility over four years, this mode of study offers a combination of workplace training and TAFE skills.
    • Upon completion of this course, you will be qualified to work in cabinetry and furniture making. To register for this course, you’re required to have current employment within the cabinet making industry.
  • Certificate IV in Building and Construction (Building):
    • If you’d like to take it a step further, we also offer a course in the Certificate IV in Building and Construction (Building), enabling you to pursue a career as a qualified builder. This course will give you skills in construction contract preparation, OHS management and small business planning. Delivered over 10 months part-time through online and on-campus delivery methods, this course is offered under the Free TAFE subsidy. Upon completing this course, you will be qualified to enter the industry as a supervisor, manager or builder. You will also be able to pursue further study in building and construction.
    • The requirements for entry into this course include a completed construction trade qualification with three years of practical experience. You are also required to have a computer with Microsoft Office, a microphone, a webcam and internet access.

With many learning opportunities available at various levels of qualification, SWTAFE can prepare you for entry into the world of carpentry.

How to get a carpentry apprenticeship

As a trade, carpentry is best delivered through apprenticeship, with practical hands-on learning allowing you to develop desirable employability skills quickly. However, finding an apprenticeship can be a daunting task. We’ve heard the question many times, how do I get experience without experience?

Just like there are many study opportunities offered by SWTAFE, there are also a number of methods you can use to pursue an apprenticeship. These methods include but are not limited to:

  • Traditional methods: an apprenticeship shares the same benefits and qualities as regular employment with the added benefit of workplace training. Essentially, an apprenticeship is a job, and just like any other job, you can use a variety of traditional methods to seek out an apprenticeship. These methods could include word-of-mouth, online websites like Seek and Indeed, looking through newspaper listings and cold-calling employers to enquire about opportunities.
  • Pre-apprenticeship: SWTAFE offers two pre-apprenticeship courses within the carpentry industry, allowing students to pursue a lower-level qualification with practical skills and network connections. This can be highly beneficial in improving your chances of receiving an apprenticeship and linking you to the industry network for job seeking.
  • Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (Apprenticeship Network): as a government-provided service, the apprenticeship network offers assistance with trade support loans, employment seeking and general support.
  • Victorian Government Traineeships: known as the Youth Employment Scheme (YES), YES is a 12-month program for people aged 15 to 24 seeking apprenticeships.
  • SWTAFE Services: SWTAFE offers many student support services, including the Skills and Jobs Centre and our Apprenticeship Support Team. Our Skills and Jobs Centre provides resume and employment seeking advice and assistance. Our apprenticeship support team can provide you with specialised information on anything related to seeking and completing an apprenticeship.

The simplest way to improve your odds of receiving an apprenticeship is to put yourself out there and actively seek opportunities.

How much does a carpenter earn

Once you have completed your apprenticeship, the financial rewards for a career in carpentry are clear, with many employment resources listing lucrative potential incomes. Talent.com lists the average carpenter salary within Australia at $76,050 per year with an entry-level income of $64,147 per year and higher earnings of $89,066 per year for more experienced employees. Alternatively, hipages.com reports average earnings of $74,000 per year, with top-end wages totalling up to $110,000 per year.

Ultimately, the financial rewards for a fully-realised career in carpentry are apparent, with the only actual barrier being education and experience, both of which are offered at SWTAFE. With any number of pathways, including pre-apprenticeship, apprenticeships and school-based learning opportunities, SWTAFE can support you in pursuing your career choice within the carpentry industry.

With the appropriate soft skills, qualities and knowledge, a career within carpentry can offer you the satisfaction of building your skills whilst building homes and businesses for others. So if you’re interested in a career in carpentry, get in touch with us today and start putting together the tools for your future as a carpenter.