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March 29, 2023

Shortage of skilled preservation trade workers delaying historic preservation projects

church steeple with clock COURTESY / FRIENDS OF THE FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH Maine Preservation’s projects include the use of $3 million in federal funds to rehabilitate the First Congregational Church of East Machias.
The report "Understanding and Advancing the Preservation Trades" found that more than one-third of survey respondents report a waitlist of a year or more for their services, with severe shortages of workers skilled in plastering, masonry, carpentry, materials conservation, decorative finishes, windows and ironwork.
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Maine Preservation is joining forces with historically-minded organizations in other states to tackle a workforce shortage that’s affecting a growing number of older homes and historic community landmarks that are in dire need of repair or rehabilitation. 

Research released Tuesday by the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and the Northeast Regional Initiative for the Preservation Trades shows there are substantial shortages in Northeastern states of preservation and restoration tradespeople, such as carpenters, masons and plasterers. 

Historic structures often require specialized knowledge and an in-depth understanding of how to work with traditional materials. 

Maine Preservation, the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, the Preservation League of New York State and the Preservation Trust of Vermont are now identifying ways to expand recruitment and retention in the preservation trades. 

Maine Preservation is a statewide nonprofit based in Yarmouth that is dedicated to promoting and preserving historic places, buildings, downtowns and neighborhoods. The Maine organization and the above-named preservation groups have started several partnerships, such as apprenticeship and fellowship programs for youth and new professionals. The coalition is also developing action plans, engaging new business and educational partners, and building awareness and enthusiasm for hands-on career paths.

"A strong preservation trades workforce is critical to both individual rehabilitation projects and broader community revitalization, and we now have solid guidance on how to foster and promote it,” said Tara Kelly, Maine Preservation’s executive director.

Arron Sturgis, owner of Preservation Timber Framing Inc. in Berwick, has been engaged with preservation organizations to help expand the workforce. Sturgis said recent research “provides a basis for action that will create really good jobs and much-needed aid to homeowners and historic commercial ventures.” 

The findings in "Understanding and Advancing the Preservation Trades" also revealed:

  • More than one-third of survey respondents report a wait list of a year or more for their services
  • Severe shortages in workforce were reported in plastering, masonry, carpentry, materials conservation, decorative finishes, windows and ironwork
  • 75% of respondents believe the demand for preservation trades is growing 
  • 88% of respondents feel that training programs could play a greater role in recruitment and workforce development
  • 93% of survey respondents agree that young people lack knowledge about career possibilities in the preservation trades
  • The research indicates workforce shortages have been caused by a variety of factors. While the current workforce is aging and many are retiring, opportunities for youth to participate in shop classes during their schooling are diminishing. As a result, many young people lack basic, foundational knowledge in these careers.
  • Students who do participate in trades education, such as through career and technical education programs, are often directed toward new construction careers without opportunity to learn about the restoration of older structures. 

To read the full report, click here.


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