A lot of folks have asked how I ended up here. This article, from the Building Performance Journal, tells some of the story.
— Chris Dorsi. April 2022.
I’m fortunate to have taken a top-to-bottom vocational tour of the housing industry over the last 50 years. Raised on a horse farm in Northern California, I took my first non-agricultural job as a logger high in the Sierra Nevada at age 18. Working there in the woods, I first gained what was to become a lifelong respect for tradespeople who work skillfully with their hands. My advocacy for those doers endures as a keystone in my career to this day.
I soon moved beyond the logging business to running a small lumber mill, stepping up the supply chain of the housing industry for the first time. I stuck this out until I had learned enough about the lumber business, at which point I went to work as a builder of custom wood-frame homes. I had been working in the woods for about five years.
This vocational transition, like many upon which I’d embark over the years, was what seemed to me to be a logical transition. One industry puzzle piece at a time, I learned each new skill, got a little bored, then leveraged that new knowledge into the next segment of the housing industry. I liked the new complexity and logistics of housebuilding and began to develop what the consultants now call a systems approach to construction. We just figured it made sense to avoid making the same mistake twice.
I worked the construction industry, on both the new and remodel side, for several decades. My focus on efficiency and health seemed obvious at the time since I always attracted clients who expected it. Why build lousy houses when it was increasingly apparent how to do it right? Somewhere in there, I moved to Montana and segued into real estate investment, focusing primarily on the rehab of multifamily residential buildings. Dirtier indeed than new construction, I did enjoy rescuing buildings-at-risk, and for the first time I actually made some money. The list of buildings I brought back from obsolescence still makes me proud.
By middle age, I recognized that I possessed a lot of skills, or at least interests, that tradespeople around me often did not. With an intent to fix this corner of the world, I moved into the business of technical education, curriculum development, and knowledge management. My focus was on capturing and promulgating the how-to details of the emerging sustainable housing industry. To that end I’ve been working to create career ladders for workers in the sustainable housing ever since. A lot of folks know of this career stage from my work as a co-owner of Saturn Resource Management, where I published books and technical manuals, or as the founder of Habitat X, the professional development platform.
Today I work for Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana where I’m the director of their Montana Weatherization Training Center. We provide training and technical assistance to the weatherization and home performance industries, and occupy a respected niche that spans both academic and practical education. We deliver plenty of face-to-face training in our tricked-out new facility, but we’re also adept at distance education and TV production. It’s a circular vocational path for me—running this technical academy feels a lot like going back to high school shop class, but for motivated working adults. I’ve surrounded myself with a skilled and cheerful staff who recognize and implement a mission that reflects both my own career trajectory and the scope of work under which the Training Center operates: to expand the knowledge and career possibilities of the men and women who design, build, and maintain the buildings of North America. That’s a tall order for sure and there’s a lot to learn for all of us. But I think it’s a noble task and I’m honored to be in this position. I’m going to call it a vocational success.
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