The hands-on preservation of America’s historic places relies on highly skilled masons, carpenters, and others trained in the preservation trades. But this supply of craftspeople has been dwindling due to both a brisk construction market and a workforce that’s aging fast. Across the construction field, estimates suggest that at least 200,000 more workers are needed to meet current demand. The Campaign for Historic Trades addresses this challenge by bridging a gulf between preservation and job creation. In partnership with the National Park Service and its Historic Preservation Training Center, the Campaign supports six months of paid, on-the-job instruction in one of America’s national parks, plus post-training job placement services. By focusing recruitment on recent veterans and young adults, the Campaign also meets a need for greater diversity within the preservation field. In that regard, the National Parks are a perfect setting for the program. “This incredible collection of American stories is the ideal classroom to train the next generation of historic tradespeople,” noted Nicholas Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland, the project’s nonprofit partner. The Campaign’s innovative approach provides place-enhancing jobs while boosting equity and relevance for the preservation movement.
Across the nation, thousands of construction jobs go unfilled—a quiet crisis that grows each day. The problem is only magnified for the historic trades, which also suffer from a lack of new entrants into the workforce. In order to address this challenge, The Campaign for Historic Trades is partnering with the National Park Service to diversify and increase the ranks of America’s shrinking historic trades workforce.
As someone who works in preservation, one challenge I hear about daily is finding individuals capable of tackling the hands-on work necessary to reuse and rehabilitate old buildings. For many or most contractors, the challenge isn’t finding work—instead it’s finding workers. At the same time, one of the other major challenges confronting the broader preservation community is creating a viable path to rapidly diversify the movement. This partnership and new campaign is a compelling opportunity to address both of these vexing and complex challenges.
The scale of our problem is the biggest challenge. We need thousands of new historic tradespeople across the country and we need them now. The urgency of the problem also means that we need to quickly scale this program fast enough to meet demand, while recruiting a diverse workforce so that these tradespeople will ultimately reflect the communities they serve. The future of preservation and our ability to reuse historic places depends on getting this right and doing it quickly.
We work closely with our counterparts at the National Park Service, including the superintendent of the National Historic Preservation Training Center, Moss Rudley. Moss began his career in the historic trades and is dedicated to training the next generation. His desire to get that right is infectious. More broadly, I admire the life and leadership lessons of Theodore Roosevelt, a man who loved our National Parks and cared deeply about our nation’s heritage. He was also a man of action, and someone who was tireless in his support for the causes he championed—something I always attempt to bring to the causes for which I work.
Rodney, a program participant from Virginia, perhaps best summarized the value of the program to trainees both personally and professionally: “Through my work, and the work of the Historic Preservation Training Center, I can maintain the historic imprint of those who have built before me. It is extremely satisfying to preserve this history of our great nation and the National Parks. This program allows me to be employed doing a job I love, while bolstering my resume for future employment. I firmly believe this program is helping to illuminate historic preservation for the public and to produce qualified historic preservationists. I am excited to go to work every morning and make a difference in the National Park Service and in our nation’s history.”
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