Craft Skills Development Summit

Delegates at the Preservation Craft Skills Summit (Photo credit: © J. Bryan Blundell)

Delegates at the Preservation Craft Skills Summit (Photo credit: © J. Bryan Blundell)

Historic preservation experts from across the US gathered in Washington, DC, April 23, 2013, for a Craft Skills Development Summit to address the critical need for craft skills training for future communities of master builders who can sensitively repair, maintain, and restore the nation’s architectural heritage.

Summit participants came from as far away as California, Massachusetts, and South Carolina to convene at an event jointly hosted by the Association for Preservation Technology International and the Preservation Trades Network. The group represented a wide swath of the preservation field including federal and state Government, national and international organizations, teachers and schools, contractors, trades persons, architectural conservators, architects, engineers, architectural historians, writers, and community activists. Diversity of participation was one of the goals of the Summit.

The Summit heard about past initiatives stretching back to the 1960s that failed to address key concerns. Topics of discussion included perceived problems within the craft/trades communities that now need to be validated, such as chronic labor and skill shortages, the closure of trade schools, the lack of careers awareness in high schools, and the low-bid building contract system that hinders specialist subcontractor employment and training of apprentices. All of these issues directly affect the quality and delivery of building preservation. But as Bryan Blundell, President and Senior Conservator with the Dell Corporation, reminded delegates, the problems are “not about preservation, they are about career development: about employment and sustainable business generation.”

As the day moved on, the Summit focus was directed to the development of viable networks that can piece together potential solutions to many of the blockages to progress identified at the meeting. The tangible result is expected to be a draft of a white paper to be released in July that will be distributed to a wide audience of interested parties. Follow-up meetings are planned to program a craft skills development strategy going forward. Next steps include presentations at the International Preservation Trades Workshop in Frederick, Maryland, in September and at the Association for Preservation Technology International conference in New York City in October.

The Summit plan gained widespread support. John-Paul Huguley, the founder and Principal of the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, South Carolina said, “this is a timely national initiative to bolster all levels of craft skills development in an area of critical need: decision-makers need to sit up now and pay attention.”