More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Ivy Gaudet (Carpenter)

The apprentice program, the way it worked back then [when I started], you'd work for a contractor during the daytime and you'd have to come to apprenticeship classes at night. We used to have the classes two nights a week, two hours each night. At that time they used to also have a correspondence class, where if you lived over thirty miles from the city you could get on correspondence and come in once a month, and they'd check the assignments and whatever, and that's the way you would move up through the system. About three years ago we changed over to daytime training. The apprentices miss a week of work. They come to the class. And then once they do their week of training, they go back to the contractor they work for, and they come here four weeks each year. So they do 160 hours of training per year.

You don't have a lot of fathers and sons left in construction work. You don't see that anymore. That was pretty much passed down. That whole area around St. Bernard Avenue and Galvez to Claiborne, you had a lot of bricklayers in that area. You had a lot of plasterers in that area. You had a lot of carpenters in that area. They were all very excellent craftsmen. . . . The big thing we got to start looking at, is start trying to develop some type of mentoring system where a guy gets qualified as a mentor and he's going to handle the apprentices on the job. We don't have that and it's something we got to start trying to develop.

What we try to do with building trades here in the city, and one of the best things that has ever come along, is this school program. They start these kids thinking about what they may want to do. We go around to just about any school that sends us a notice that they are having a career day, and when we got enough time, we'll go as the New Orleans building trades where a carpenter will go, an electrician will go, a plumber will go, and that way you are giving these kids [options]. . . . Not everyone is going to want to be a carpenter. Somebody is going to be an electrician. Just to give them some ideas what's involved in the different trades. We do a lot of that.

Getting [new workers] over that first year is a problem because they are not used to getting up in the morning and they are not used to going to work every day. . . . They really haven't been trained to be anywhere on time. I think the school system is partly to blame for that because if they come in an hour late or a half hour late, you can't blame the teachers because they are put in the position where they can't get nasty about it with the students, but when they go to work, it is a totally different thing. . . . They don't realize that the contractor is not looking for a confrontation every morning. It's just easier to pat them on their back and send them on their way. I'm in a union and we tell them up front, the union's job is to represent you but when I go on a job and a foreman pulls out the time book and you missed two days this week, you been late the other three, how can I defend you? It's impossible.

We don't have as many contractors as we had years ago. One thing I'm real tickled about is the brotherhood of carpenters is making a big, big effort to organize. They realize that to get the wages up, we got to try to bring new people into the local. For a while the attitude was, "I'm on board the ship, pull the ladder up," and you left a lot of people standing on the dock. They finally come to the realization that they got to bring everybody in.

Ivy Gaudet was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.