Monthly Archives: July 2010

Humanity’s Worst

Driving home from an out-of-state site visit, I found myself half-listening to a disturbing report on a Massachusetts NPR station about sexual and human trafficking in the Boston area. It’s one of those subjects about which people (like me) often prefer to have one’s head in the sand rather than really hearing the seamy details. Sometimes ignorance and denial are the easiest way to cope with the dark and sordid stories from the world around us. I know I’d care if I knew,but I don’t always want to know. It’s not a proud ambivalence.

And so, as the in-depth report was playing on my car radio, only little bits of the tragic story were leaking through to my consciousness until one comment jolted me to attention. You can hearthe full story for yourself, but there’s a particular aspect of this human trafficking investigation that connects to our homebuilding issues.

If you want to enslave people for labor and prostitution, it is best to have a legal front for the operation. Massage parlors have played this role, but they’ve become transparent. The new human trafficking front are nail salons. According to the report, “the nail salon business is flourishing nationwide.” This is one of the main reasons why Massachusetts licensing for cosmetology shops, which includes nail technicians, is up 39 percent over the last two years. Of course, most nail salons are legitimate, legal and clean, but too many others have become a venue for the vile.

If you’re up to no good, why is the nail salon front a good choice?

“To open a nail salon,” says Weber, “You first have to have a manicurist license and that is the license that requires the least number of hours to open. That’s a hundred-hour program. Then you have to have the occupancy permits from your locality and you have to have us inspect it. So the reason in part for the proliferation is it’s the easiest way to get into business.” (Italics are mine)

There you have it. If you are the wretched of the earth and have aspirations to enslave immigrant girls, start a nail salon to hide the criminal actions because it’s so easy. What’s the definition of easy? Only one hundred hours of training. Hair styling and even barbering require at least ten times more formal training. Many states require the completion of a two year program and an apprenticeship for the right to clip someone else’s hair.

I’m sure you see where I’m going. If a program that requires only one hundred hours of training is an easy path for criminals, what does that tell us about the expectations we should have relative to the requirements to get into the business of homebuilding? The right answer is not the reality:

Professional training requirements to cut hair: 1000 hours of training
Professional training requirements to manicure nails: 100 hours of training
Requirements training requirements to build homes: 0 hours of training


In addition after the training hours for hair or nail professionals, you have to pass oral, written and practical tests to get a license. In the states that require building contractor licensing at all, the test is usually open book, with little or no time constraint. If you can read, you can pass the test. Seventh grade tests are harder.

It’s embarrassing. The industry of which I am a part sets a worse standard of preparation and training than a business that has become the magnet for low life because its standards are so low.

The implications are awful. If you couldn’t pass the nail technician test, you could still become a professional builder or trade specialist.You couldn’t file peoples’ nails, but you could frame their house or shingle their roof or pour their foundation or even be in charge of the whole operation. If you don’t have the diligence, intelligence or skills to cut hair, you can still build homes, whether you know how to do it or not, and whether your intentions are good or ill.

This is not a fun subject for me. I’d like to be prouder of our industry. I wish I weren’t writing this.

For the last fifteen years, we have had the benefit of hosting interns from building professional schools and training programs from France, Germany and Switzerland. We have one intern from France and one from Switzerland with us right now. Typically, they come to us toward the end of their training and are in their late twenties. Many of them started their training in their teens and had been in formal school and apprenticeships for as many eight or ten years. These aspiring young builders are humble and hardworking, full of pride because of their discipline and good training. They also typically know what they don’t know and are avid learners.

As a part of their internship with us, most of the European training programs require them to write a thesis that relates to their work with us. To become a professional builder over there, these guys essentially will have the equivalent of a Master’s degree in building.

I have learned from these interns what building training ought to be. If working on nails requires one hundred hours and hair styling one thousand hours, then building homes–driving nails–ought to require ten thousand hours.

Homebuilding may not be rocket science, but it IS building science and we’re not just selling it short, we’re diminishing the expectations to the point where if there are good building outcomes, we should be surprised. Our industry has done nothing to demand or ensure better results. Instead we’ve essentially invited anyone and everyone to join the building ranks no matter their skills, no matter their understanding of building technology, and no matter their motivation.

This is our shame. And if the nail salon story tells us anything, we should know that our low professional standards are an open invitation to humanity’s worst inclinations.

It’s way past time for our extremely critical industry to raise our professional standards, at least above nails and hair.