Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Trades Education in the 21st Century 

12-09-2015 17:35

Over the past century the preservation movement in America has grown by leaps and bounds. Today the movement has evolved into a highly complex network of university trained professionals and dedicated volunteers.

As the movement has gained momentum, the need for highly trained and educated craftspeople has followed suit. One of the chief complaints echoed by preservation architects, museum administrators, and homeowners is that they can’t find craftspeople sensitive, educated, and skilled enough to do preservation work, especially at the local level. This problem is not unique to the United States; it’s a worldwide issue in all but Third World countries where the trades are still at the top of the wage scale and considered highly desirable careers. The challenges are clear: How can we recruit young people into the preservation trades, and what can we do better to keep them involved once they are in? How can we elevate the status of the trades to levels historically experienced prior to the World Wars?

In this issue of Forum Journal, the leading players in the International Trades Education Initiative, an effort by the Preservation Trades Network (PTN) and the World Monuments Fund (WMF), will examine these questions and present their views on what trades education is or should be about and how it fits into the overall international preservation movement. While individual trade organizations have struggled with this issue to varying degrees of success, PTN and WMF hope to establish a future framework that is broad enough to encompass all the preservation trades and yet specific enough when it comes to the “preservation” component to insure the historic integrity of a site. In essence, the time has come to think “outside the box” and explore the root of these problems and become creative in identifying possible solutions.

Lisa Sasser, current president of the Preservation Trades Network, starts by briefly outlining the history of trades education in the United States in the past 50 years and the role that organizations such as the National Park Service and the National Trust have played in supporting trades education.

Bryan Blundell, PTN’s managing director who has tirelessly promoted improving trades education, will then break down current practices into their basic delivery components: academic, vocational, and experiential and discuss how each approach plays an important role in the education of the preservation tradesperson.

Morris Hylton, new project development manager for the World Monuments Fund, focuses on the need to interest a new generation in traditional building trades. He identifies and comments on projects designed to introduce K-12 students to architecture, historic preservation, and the building arts and highlights efforts to create a model curriculum at the Brooklyn School for the Building Arts in New York.

The experiential view of the topic is delivered by Gerard Lynch, a master mason from England. Lynch uses his experience as a trades educator to explore the value of the experiential side of trades education and provide a modern-day apprenticeship model for young craftspeople.

Finally, David Overholt, preservation projects director at President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home and National Monument in Washington, D.C., brings his unique perspective as a craftsperson, manager, and educator to the discussion. Overholt, who for years managed the Trust’s craft training program at Lyndhurst, provides his thoughts on what makes a good craftsperson and preservation technician.

While these papers provide a brief and general overview of the current status of trades education in America and abroad, they are by no means all encompassing. This past decade has seen a flourishing of activity as nonprofit organizations, public and private educational institutions, and trade organizations have begun to offer numerous opportunities for training and education in a variety of preservation trades. In an attempt to begin to organize and understand the underlying structure of these activities, the Preservation Trades Network is initiating a multi-year study on trades education.

In October 2005, for the first time in recent history, many of the leading educators and practitioners of the traditional building arts will be coming to the table in the International Trades Education Symposium to be held at Belmont Technical College in St. Clairsville, Ohio. It is hoped that the Belmont Symposium, the first of a multiyear project, funded in part by the World Monuments Fund, will have a significant impact on the future of preservation trades education in the 21st century.

Publication Date: Summer 2005


Author(s):David Mertz