Partner in Craft Spotlight: Columbia Contracting Corp.

September 21, 2023


Carpentry, Donors

Our Partners in Craft program recognizes corporations and small businesses across industries that support the School.

We spoke with Kate Durrane, Principal of Columbia Contracting Corp., about why they support NBSS, trends they notice in their field, their experience working with NBSS grads, and more.

How did you discover the School?

Kate and her dad Arthur standing outside one of their project exteriors
Kate and her dad Arthur

I’ve never not known about the School. My father has been an Advisor to the Carpentry program since the 1990s, for as long as I can remember. And I grew up in Charlestown, which is right across the bridge. When I started becoming more involved in recruitment for the company, I got more involved with the School myself.

Why do you support NBSS?

The type of instruction in the craft that you provide is unparalleled and much needed in today’s world. There’s not enough trade schools. And North Bennet is not just a vocational high school—we don’t have enough of those either—but NBSS is a post-grad vocational school, so the students have made a choice and are taking it seriously. It’s critical for people who want to learn the trade that they are being taught to do it the right way and to appreciate the craftsmanship that is involved.

It is so important that we support North Bennet Street School and other programs like yours. We need to encourage people to enter the trades. We can’t build these beautiful houses without people who know how to build them, and people aren’t going to know how to build them if we don’t encourage people to go into the trades.

What has been your experience working with NBSS grads?

Interior of a home, one of Columbia Contracting's projects

We have employed dozens of NBSS graduates over the years and continue to do so. Currently the majority of my employees are NBSS grads and have been for as long as I’ve been doing this.

Your graduates come to us with a level of skill and knowledge already; they’re not completely green. Again, the School is a filter for people who do take it seriously, and who care about craftsmanship. It’s the attention to detail that comes with caring about what you do. And people who go to North Bennet Street already care. They’ve made the commitment to invest in their own education in the craft and in the trades.

What is an interesting trend in your field you’ve noticed recently?

The skills gap. Many carpenters are retiring and there aren’t enough carpenters to replace them. For many years, high school students were not encouraged to join the trades and we are feeling the effects of that now. There are fewer skilled craftsmen in the field than ever, especially with experience. 

As people retire, there isn’t a next generation. 20-30 years ago it was instilled in us that we should go to college. Parents wanted their children to do better than them, and to them, that was not working with their hands. The dream was not to not have to get dirty, to not have to sweat. And unfortunately that was instilled so deeply—especially in these parts where education is so important in the greater Boston area—that nobody went into the trades. So there’s a huge gap of people in their 30s and 40s who are not working in the trades. 

“It is so important that we support North Bennet Street School and other programs like yours. We can’t build these beautiful houses without people who know how to build them, and people aren’t going to know how to build them if we don’t encourage people to go into the trades.”

Exterior of a home, one of Columbia Contracting's projects

Complete the sentence: If I wasn’t in the building industry, I’d be a _.

I would still be a social worker most likely. I’m a licensed social worker in Massachusetts, I have my Masters in social work, I’m independently licensed, and I maintain that license. That’s what I did before I did this full-time, so I’d probably still be doing that, managing a social work department in a health care system. Though the skills that made me good as a social worker are still the same skills that I have now. 

What’s the best thing that you’ve read recently?

Could be a whole book, an article, or any other bit of whimsy, information, or inspiration.

I just received a copy of my friend and colleague’s book, “Leading With HEART,” by Alison Iantosca, owner of F.H. Perry. I strongly recommend it! She’s so inspirational to me. She’s something of a mentor to me and a good friend.

What motivates you? And/or what do you love about your work/field?

I love that we create something. That we start with a space and create something entirely new. I also love the sense of completion, that we walk away when it’s finished and beautiful or functional.

Interior of a home, one of Columbia Contracting's projects

It’s very concrete for me. I love the process, but I really love the end result: I love houses. I understood from a very young age the process of building and that a space of nothing can become something really incredible, and how much work goes into that. 

At the end of the day, we’re producing a beautiful product that we’re handing over to someone, that they get to use and they get to love. Someone else is walking into their house and saying, “Oh my god, I love your house!” And I get to say, “We did that!” I also think it’s kind of universal: everyone loves beautiful houses.

What life or career advice can you share with our students and graduates?

Be responsible, do you what you say you will do and be where you say you will be. 

Over communicate, ask questions, confirm everything. “Measure twice, cut once” isn’t just for wood, it’s for everything. Always verify. There is no better employee than a reliable question asker.

When you’re first starting out, nobody expects you to know everything and nobody’s going to be mad that you don’t know everything. They’ll be mad if you pretend you know something and it turns out you don’t, nobody knows everything. Ask questions.