We created Project Independence to address two interrelated problems. As contractors, our greatest challenge is finding skilled employees who share our work ethic. As members of the Charlottesville community, we also know that there are very few options for people who like working with their hands to get a start, better themselves and then establish a fulfilling career. We integrated Project Independence into our company as a way to address both these issues.

The Basics

As part of Project Independence, we are hiring carefully selected construction newcomers and immersing them in a thoughtfully designed, multiyear program that stresses the skills and values needed to become expert carpenters and, ultimately, independent contractors on their own.  We are also integrating more experienced carpenters who are further along their skills acquisition path in the program.

Project Independence offers us a way to continue offering our clients the highest-quality work while also providing a future for those who join us. In essence, we are returning to an older model of doing business, based on the transmission of skills and values from one generation to the next. By going back, we are giving back.

Five Focus Areas

As part of Project Independence, we focus on personal and professional development of our employees in five broad areas:

  • They will learn to become versatile, first-class carpenters under the watchful eye of our expert team. Their goal will be not only to immerse Project Independence employees in the necessary skills to become valued craftspeople but also to teach them to think like carpenters, enabling them to devise solutions to the unforeseen challenges that are an inevitable part of homebuilding and renovation.
  • They will gain a practical knowledge of other construction trades. Project Independence employees will master what is needed to prepare a site so that plumbers, electricians, painters, and others can do their best work. They will learn how these other trades are organized, the services each offers, and the way they price them. And they will find out how to judge a vendor’s work to determine if it meets Ripley Beckman standards for quality.
  • They will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the knowledge needed to become a contractor, from estimating time and materials for a job to securing necessary permits to marketing their company and meeting with potential clients. Even if they decide not to become contractors themselves, it is critical to their future that Project Independence employees understand how the business that provides their livelihood works.
  • They will master relationship skills that are so important to a successful contracting business, beginning with learning how to contribute as part of a crew. Over time, they will learn how to manage others, supervise subs and suppliers, and interact with architects, government officials, and homeowners.
  • Finally and perhaps most importantly, they will be immersed in an environment where values such as pride in work, fair-dealing, and honesty are seen as the cornerstone of a successful contracting business.

Career Opportunities

We encourage Project Independence employees to set their sights on leadership of their own organization, either in general contracting or in one of the construction trades like electrical, plumbing, or HVAC. As they gain in skills, we support them with the knowledge, the connections, and the hands-on experience to make this goal a reality. If they chose a related building trade, we would be happy to be among their first customers.

In addition, as part of Project Independence, we look for opportunities for employees to join us in creating after-work opportunities that appeal to their broader interests, whether they are related to construction or not. For instance, members of our crew are renovating vintage aluminum camper trailers. They are also exploring establishing an agency that would provide guides for hunting and fishing trips. These projects could be a source of additional income.

Overall, our purpose in Project Independence is to create an organization that sees personal initiative and knowledge acquisition as the key to better serving our customers while enabling our employees to create a satisfying and rewarding career performing work they enjoy.

Who Might Benefit

We are looking for people who like building things with their hands and who enjoy working outdoors. Most of all, we are seeking achievers who are determined to do something meaningful with their lives. They must be capable of focus, investing their time and hard work in learning and perfecting their skills and mastering the elements of contracting. They might be a high-school graduate or a person in their 20s or early 30s who feels stymied by their prospects in life.

Building the skills to become a lead carpenter or a contractor is a long-term proposition. We are looking for people with staying power, who understand that they are building a career that will serve them not for a few months but for decades. We also looking for people who are friendly and good communicators, who can establish clear, comfortable relationships with our clients as well as subs and industry counterparts.

We believe in diversity. We will select qualified individuals regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Job Pathways

With the Project Independence initiative, we are working to elevate our profession as a whole, training the next generation of highly capable contractors and carpenters who share our high standards and who see home-building and renovation as a service to our community. We have mapped five Job Pathways that we use to mark the acquisition of skills from Beginner to contractor, with milestones along the way indicating readiness to transition from one position to the next.

Transition Number One: Beginner to Helper

Transition Number Two: Helper to Carpenter

Transition Number Three: Carpenter to Lead Carpenter

Transition Number Four: Lead Carpenter to Project Manager

Transition Number Five: Project Manager to Contractor