Featured Carousel Features January 2019

An Interview with Skilled-Trades Evangelist Jim Painter

Written By: Chris Eversole

Longtime building industry leader works to attract workers

Members of the Painter family have been masons since the early 20th Century, and Painter Masonry has operated for 50 years.

The company, which laid bricks and cement blocks for many of the buildings at the University of Florida and other parts of Greater Gainesville, won’t continue for another generation.

No family member is ready to continue Painter Masonry’s legacy, and none of the workers have stepped up to take over.

What’s more, it’s harder and harder to find workers who are willing to take on the arduous work of building the future – one brick at a time – in the Florida sun.

Young people are missing a great opportunity, said co-owner Jim Painter. He’s on a crusade, evangelizing for masonry and other skilled trades. He’s doing so as executive director of the Florida Concrete Masonry Education Council, an outreach arm of the state government that then-Gov. Rick Scott created in 2015.

“Kids are missing out on the opportunity for a good life with work that can pay $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000 as you move up to a superintendent or an estimator or own your own company,” he said. “Many masons, plumbers and welders start at about the same pay as some college graduates do, $30,000 to $45,000.”

Skilled trades workers can go on to study building construction at the University of Florida, as Painter did.

“You’re a much better manager if you have hands-on experience,” he said.

Painter has promoted the skilled trades for years, and that’s a major reason he was named Builder of the Year by the Florida Home Builders Association in 2013.

“There’s a tremendous skills gap, and it’s growing,” he said. “We’re short of good, qualified workers in all the skilled trades.”

Broad Reach

The promotion of skills trades needs to begin young, Painter said.

“It has to start in middle school,” he said. “The biggest challenge is that many parents think their kids have to go to college, but many kids would enjoy working in the skilled trades.”

The masonry education council’s initiatives include working to create training programs in state prisons.

State prisons release 33,000 inmates annually, Painter noted.

“We have to be nimble in equipping them to get jobs,” he said.

In addition to his work on the masonry education council, Painter has served on the board of CareerSource North Central Florida since 2003. He is a past chair and has held other leadership roles.

With his encouragement, CareerSource is working with the Florida Department of Corrections to provide help for former prisoners at its Gainesville Career Center, located at 10 N.W. 6th Street.

CareerSource is working with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and other trade organizations to help people who haven’t considered the skilled trades. These participants include students who aren’t on track to graduate from high school or college and ones from Hawthorne and East Gainesville, where unemployment is high.

CareerSource’s help can include providing books, equipment, hard skills training and entrepreneurship training – paired with apprenticeships.

“If we can keep referring people from all sorts of backgrounds into apprenticeships, we help reduce the investment by businesses and can provide participants the resources they need to get to work,” said Talia Pate, CareerSource’s associate director.

“What we’re doing at CareerSource is common sense,” Painter said. “We’re small enough that what we achieve can serve as a model to the rest of the state.”

Vision for Prisoners

Painter would like to see job-training funds go to training programs in prisons.

“It would be great to offer prisoners the carrot of getting out of prison early in exchange for job training,” Painter said.

He envisions training prisoners to help rebuild hurricane damage in the Florida Panhandle.

“In parts of the Panhandle, prisons are the main industry, so the workforce is already there,” Painter said.

He embraces technology for placing prisoners in jobs.

“We could make videos that could become their résumés and show how fast they can build a wall,” he said.

The chances of expanding skills trade training in state prisons are mixed. On the one hand, today’s generation of prison administrators are relatively progressive, valuing job-training for inmates. On the other hand, prisons are reluctant to equip prisoners with tools that could be dangerous.

“We have our challenges,” Painter said. “But many prisoners are nonviolent offenders, and putting tools in their hands would not be dangerous. Releasing them early or cutting down on recidivism would save the $33,000 a year cost of incarceration.”

Painter hopes that the bipartisan support for criminal justice reform in both Tallahassee and Washington will ease adoption of more job training in prisons.

Painter has an ally in State Sen. Keith Perry, a longtime advocate for helping prisoners become productive members of society.

Perry’s work in this area began before he became a legislator – as a founder of the House of Hope, a Gainesville-based ministry that, over the past 22 years, has helped men and women released from prison.

“It is really rewarding to see them working and paying taxes, and not victimizing people and wreaking havoc on society,” Perry said.

Addressing the skills gap is a long process that involves many stakeholders working together.

“It will take a little bit of time to turn this ship around,” Painter said.

He hopes that later in life, people who go into the skilled trade will have the same satisfaction that he has now.

“I love driving around town, seeing Emerson Alumni Hall and many other buildings and saying, ‘that’s my work, that’s my artwork.’”  

Leave a Comment