They met five years ago across a table saw, surrounded by wood shavings and piles of lumber, and that chance encounter in Camosun College’s carpentry school has blossomed into a long-term relationship and a small business that is booked solid.
Being in the right place at the right time has been a recurring theme for trades graduates Vanessa Lloyd and Ben Maltby, who launched Lloyd Maltby Designs two years ago.
From being teamed up for a first-year building project to being ready to take advantage of a marketplace screaming for skilled trades workers, the pair have made the most of being ready to jump on an opportunity.
“I think we met in the first week at school,” the 26 year-old Lloyd said, noting they started dating soon after.
And shortly after graduating from the program they decided to strike out on their own, combining Lloyd’s design skills — she also has a degree in interior design from Vancouver Island University — and Maltby’s keen attention to detail and Red Seal carpentry skills.
Maltby said he didn’t give much thought to the state of the market when they started out, but the 24-year-old admits he just assumed work would always be there.
Hard to blame him when Victoria has the second lowest unemployment rate in Canada at 3.2 per cent, is experiencing an extended construction boom and the construction sector estimates there will be 8,000 positions unfilled due to labour shortages by 2028.
“I just assumed there would be work,” he said. “We haven’t been through a downturn at this point. We’ve seen a lot of reno work — people may not be building or working on new homes, but there’s a lot of reno work.”
Maltby, like all apprentices, combined his Camosun training with real-world work both for larger firms and doing side jobs on his own. He learned two things — that there was plenty of work out there and that he prefers to call the shots.
“I like having control over the whole thing, and to have control over the level of quality and doing it the best possible way,” he said, standing in his small, immaculately clean workshop on West Saanich Road.
When he completed his apprenticeship training he knew he wanted to focus on high-end renovations and fine cabinet making. And both of them realized they could combine the fixation on detail with Lloyd’s penchant for design and her understanding of what is possible, drilled into her through her own carpentry training.
The intention has been to focus on cabinet making, design and interior remodelling, but they have been flexible to take on a number of high-end renovation jobs, custom decking and fencing.
Taking a flexible approach to the kind of jobs they will take on and their timing into the market could mean they won’t have to deal with downturns for a long time, said Rory Kulmala, chief executive of the Vancouver Island Construction Association.
Kulmala said while trades are at a premium right now, if young workers narrow their focus too keenly and limit the kinds of work they will take on, they could still be in for a rough time.
“In this market, there is a need for flexibility and mobility,” he said. “What [young people] lack in experience they make up for in vigour. Their opportunity is in their ingenuity and embracing of innovation. They may be more likely to be successful as new entrants because of that.”
Al van Akker, chair of Camosun’s architectural trades program, taught both Lloyd and Maltby and said the timing of their business launch couldn’t be better.
He said companies still get in touch with the school every week looking for people.
Van Akker noted one of the problems facing employers, who are always looking to add to their ranks, is nearly all of the students — 500 carpentry apprentices in four levels go through the school in a year — already have jobs and when they finish one course they return to their companies.
“So the 500 that move through are not going into the work force, they are already there,” he said.
There is a small cohort each year of between 35 and 50 students taking foundational courses who are new to the trades, and they are also in high demand.
To meet that demand, van Akker said they are putting on as many classes as they can. Camosun had 32 classes of carpentry apprentices over the last year, yet they still have a wait list of between six and 12 months for admission.
He said most new students are intent on landing a job with a company where they can apply new skills and continue to develop.
“Not many come in wanting to start out on their own,” he said.
Lloyd said that may not have been their initial driver, but it definitely suits the way they work.
“When you work for someone else they have the final say and you may not think it’s the right way to do it,” she said. “Having our own business we can make things as perfect as we want and spend as long as we want [on a project].
“I’ve found people would prefer we slow it down and do a perfect job.”
She also believes clients like knowing they are working directly with the owners, going back and forth on design with Lloyd and knowing Maltby will be the one to bring the vision to life.
Having said that, they are considering expansion and contemplating hiring an apprentice.
But that same marketplace, which has filled their order book and kept them humming in their first couple of years, could make that difficult.
They may be getting in line asking Camosun and other trades programs for help.