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A Builder Training Program That Places You in a Job

Home Builder Institute's Build Strong Academy's mission is not just to train the workforce, but to fuel the construction workforce
July 10, 2023

Ed Bradley 0:00
Training is a big part of it, right? You have to have the skill. But what we do at HBI is we connect you to the industry as well. So our anticipation is for you to come into a program and graduate from the program. But we're not done until we place you into the industry.

So throughout the National Association of Homebuilders, the members, the locals throughout the country, we connect you with industry, we connect you with employers. And so we offer much more than just training and education. We offer you an entry into a job.

Fernando Pages 0:39
Welcome to ProTradeCraft's career toolbox, where we help you turn your day job into a lifelong career. I'm Fernando Pages, otherwise known as el Jefe. And today, I'm pleased to welcome Ed Brady, President and CEO of the home builders Institute, and is a second-generation home builder who started out picking up nails for his dad and eventually became a pretty good carpenter under apprenticeship with a union master carpenter while Edie was in college at Wesleyan University in Illinois. Later, he rose to lead a multimillion-dollar building company in Chicago. He was heavily involved with the National Association of Homebuilders, becoming chairman in 2016. And currently serves as director of the Chicago Federal Home Loan Bank and on the board of Enterprise Community Partners. He volunteers and Habitat for Humanity and other economic development and housing-related boards. We want to congratulate Edie for his induction into the National Housing Hall of Fame. This prestigious recognition is the highest honor available in the homebuilding industry. So and we are honored to welcome you. Thanks, Fernando, and thanks for all your great work on this. Well, you have quite the resume. In fact, I had to cut out a lot of it just for the sake of time. So why does a businessman of your caliber devote so much time to charitable work? Well, as you said, and thank you for that introduction; as you said, I've been in the industry. I grew up at the kitchen table in the industry with my father being a builder from the 1960s on, and I joined him in 1988. And so I've been in the industry for 35 years.

Ed Bradley 2:19
And as you know, the construction industry is a very giving community investment-oriented industry. And so through those 35 years, I've volunteered and economic development and, as you said, Habitat for Humanity; I've advocated for the industry for those 35 years and ultimately ended up as chairman in 2016, of the National Association of Homebuilders. And so we as an industry continue to give in 2018; after 32 years in the industry, I wanted to find a better way and finishing my leadership at the National Association, volunteer leadership at the National Association of Homebuilders found myself my wife, and I want to continue to give back, and the home builders Institute is a passion of mine that we're not only giving an opportunity to those that may not have the opportunity, awareness of an industry that I love and, and, and cherish in introducing that industry to those that don't have a vision to it doesn't have the awareness of it. At the same time, fulfilling what I think is at a crisis level in this industry. And that is the skilled labor gap.

Fernando Pages 3:40
Let's go back for a minute and tell us about the home builders Institute; for those who may not know about it.

Ed Bradley 3:45
yeah, so thank you. The Home Builders Institute is a 50 year old organization, nonprofit that trains skilled labor throughout the country. We're in 48 states we train opportunity youth. at risk youth we train transitioning military and veterans we train community organizations like habitat and youth builds. We train in prisons and juvenile justice programs. And then a passion of mine is get the trades back into the schools get class back into the schools which we've lost over generations. And finally, we you know, we train all of those populations under one roof in our our build strong academies. So the home builders Institute touches 25 to 30,000 people a year. From the intro to the industry to the advanced training. We're pre apprenticeship we put a lot of our students in apprenticeship programs. But but by no means are we graduating master carpenters are licensed plumbers we're we're bringing them into the industry for a career path is as your work indicates as well.

Fernando Pages 4:57
Now so, we've got two topics here. One of them is simply the labor gap. I understand that in the construction industry right now, we're hovering around in the high threes, low 4%. Unemployment, in other words, is essentially full employment. That means that bosses have a hard time finding employees. Tremendous opportunity, of course, to get into the business. But then we also have a labor gap, don't we? And so I'm wondering, why did we lose that? You know, why did we lose all of those shop classes and what used to be even the technical, middle schools, and high schools? Why did we lose all of that? And why are we facing not only a shortage of labor, but also a skills gap?

Ed Bradley 5:48
Yeah, I think it's a generation thing. And it's over the last 20 or 30 years, we have, as a society, push to four year universities, you have to get your degree, you have to go on to school in order to get that job. And so as college prep, high schools and and different community programs continue to push, something had to give and so you push one way, and you give on the other, and over the last 20 or 30 years, the perception of the skilled trades, has devalued and we need to change that perception because the as you know, there's all kinds of entrepreneurial opportunities, own your own business, but but also just create a skill.

And this skill that stays with you that's transportable, that you can build a good career path, in an industry. And so So that's why we've created this gap of, of not investing in the future of the infrastructure of this country in the home building and building units that people can live in. And so not only do we have a three to 400,000, vacancies in the construction industry, we have a million and a half to 5 million, somewhere in between of units that were short of housing units that we can, that we can house are our citizens. And so it's a crisis at both levels. And if we don't fix it, if we don't invest in that, that skilled labor, that human resource, and we're going to continue to struggle to provide accessible and affordable housing to this country.

Sure, affordable housing has a lot to do with supply and demand. And there's not much supply and a lot of demand. So not a surprise that housing has become inaccessible. But has immigration played into this because, you know, when you look around on every construction job, most of the workers are immigrants?

Ed Bradley 7:44
Yeah. So this goes, this goes back to the heritage of looking at the European model in Germany, that skilled labor is an honorable profession. And I think we kind of pivoted from that. It's a hard profession, don't get me wrong. homebuilding is a very difficult industry to be successful in. But without skilled labor, it's even harder. And so immigration has always been 2030, maybe upwards of 30%. In the industry, because we have, we have recruited craftspeople through the immigration process, not only from the southern border of Eastern Europe, but from all over the world, in order to bring that skilled labor.

And so if we don't fix the immigration problem, to what I think the problem is legal immigration and populating the legal immigrants in this country, we're going to continue to struggle to fill the skilled labor gap. And so it's a piece of it, and it's a large piece of it. So so, it's a multifaceted approach to fill the gap in order to build the infrastructure and the housing we need in this country. So immigration reform is, is part of the problem and is part of the fix.

Fernando Pages 9:03
Yeah, and you're in Chicago; we're actually a lot of the immigrants are, in fact, Russian, Polish. There's a significant European immigration presence in the construction industry that I guess those of us living in the southern part of the country don't see so much. We see all of the Hispanic immigrants working, but I know that in the North, you have a whole different mix in the North.

Ed Bradley 9:31
Important to point out, yeah, you're talking about masonry and woodworking and all the other crafts that the immigration helps solve. Now, that's not to say that we don't need to train, as my job is; to the current day is to train young people to enter this career path so that we have a skilled laborer that can build the infrastructure. So again, it's part of the fix.

There are mentors and the immigration population that is our country of immigrants, right? Yeah. And so there's a mentoring and a learning and teaching ability for the immigrants, the immigration to help train our young people so that we have a long-term fix to this solution.

Fernando Pages 10:19
Sure. And a lot of, I mean, one big difference is a lot of the immigrants have not been, you know, brainwashed into the colleges the only way. So they're pretty proud of their work in construction. Tell me about the Builder Strong Academy; you've mentioned that several times. Is that a part of HBI of the Homebuilding Institute, or what is the Build Strong Academy?

Ed Bradley 10:43
It is, so it's one of our five pillars, the fifth pillar being the build strong academics. And as I mentioned earlier, we train a variety and a very diverse population of veterans and military and an opportunity youth and, second chance, the Academy's is and most of our programs in those spaces, you have to qualify.

So you have to be a veteran, you have to be a second chance somebody that's been touched by the justice system, but you're out, and you want to, you want to better yourself; our academies are under one roof where we can train all of those populations, you don't have to be eligible, you don't have to qualify to get into that program. And so the academies bring everybody under one roof throughout the country, and we're trying to build 20 of these.

Our tuition is free; we don't we don't charge because of our funders. And because of the grants that we get, and so everybody is eligible under the build strong academies to come in. And we hope to train up to 400 of those students a year in place. Our target is 85% of those into a career path in the industry so that they can have that career path to sustain themselves and their families throughout the country.

Fernando Pages 12:00
How do people get in touch with the build strong Academy? How do you do outreach? You go to the high schools. I understand you're also helping to retrain returning military personnel. How how do you get your students, I guess, or your trainees?

Ed Bradley 12:16
Yeah, so the best is to go HPI dot O R g.org. And we have on our website the different programs that people are eligible for. And then we have links, and we're in Houston and Orlando and New Orleans and Sacramento and, and Phoenix and Charlotte, and building these throughout the country. But on our website, HBI.org, you can, you can kind of surf and find out what what you're, what you're eligible for, what locations we have throughout the country. And then just there's a loading page that you can show interest in, and then people will get in touch with you to see what best fits your life at this point.

Fernando Pages 12:58
And this is a very pricey program.

Ed Bradley 13:01
It is an expensive program. I mean, it's free to our students, but it does take a lot of resources. And we have a mixture of resources, government grants, philanthropic grants, industry, manufacturers, suppliers, individuals, associations, and so you know, it takes a lot of resources, but we have a, we have a great mission, and that is to introduce this industry to a very diverse population, and give them that opportunity to get into a career path. And as an industry, you know, we talk about immigration. And yes, we do have a lot of immigrants, but traditionally, it's been somewhat isolated to the population, and so I feel that it's as a builder and somebody that will lead the home building industry, we have our own arms very wide open to more women in the industry and more people of color into the industry and the second chance opportunities so it's, it's wide open or at a crisis level. And so we're interested in, in taking anybody in, everybody that is willing to put in a good day's work show up on time. Show up every day and learn a trade learn a skill that will live with you for the rest of your life.

Fernando Pages 14:30
And you mentioned showing up on time and showing up every day. Do you also have some training in those soft skills that are so important to success in life? Really,

Ed Bradley 14:40
you hit it right on the head. Our first three or four chapters are safety or for mods of our program or safety. Obviously, you have to have a safe environment. You have to learn how to use tools safely. You have to have the employability skills you have to understand basic math and vocab Military of the industry in order to, to, you know, build your career. And so, soft skills, that employability is a big part of what we train. And again, our education, and, these are a lot of our students are folks that have not had access to that have not been able to, to access that education system.

I'm really very proud of our Build Strong Academies that have graduation ceremonies. And so many of our students put on a cap and gown for the first time, and the only time maybe in their life, because they didn't get through the traditional education process, and makes me really proud to see those graduating classes that take pride in their, in their skill and in their commitment to industry in their career path.

Fernando Pages 15:52
Now, how do you choose the people that work for you that don't know? Where's the I'm assuming that with difficulty in finding skilled people for the construction industry, you must have some difficulty finding skilled people to do the training and the education that you're you're doing? How do you interview those people? How do you select them? What do you look for?

Ed Bradley 16:14
Well, our instructors, we have over 200 instructors on staff throughout the country, and those instructors are required to have a minimum of five years of experience in an industry. So if we're training electrical, they have to have the practical hands-on experience, and the training and the knowledge that doesn't make them good instructors doesn't make them good teachers.

And so we go through certification and training of those individuals to train them to teach and, and so we recruit from within the industry, we have a number, a lot of practitioners that have been in the industry in the field, working with their hands, that their knees gave out or they put in a lot of time, and now they want to give back. And so they go into the classroom to mentor and train that skill. And so, you're absolutely right. It's difficult in a good industry that pays well, to find those that are willing to come into the classroom and give back and train.

And so we're always recruiting; a number of our instructors have gone through our training program. And so they've gone through the training, they've gone out into the world, and they've perfected, or they've mastered that, that skill, and they come back in and give back and train our instructor or train our students as giving back to the community. And I have a number of professional staff as well that are just tied to our mission of that opportunity and to solving this labor crisis that we have in the construction industry.

Fernando Pages 17:53
Now your motto is building careers and changing lives. How does a construction career change a life?

Ed Bradley 18:01
What's interesting, is that when it came to building careers and changing lives, people change their lives, right? We give them the tools to change, no pun intended, give them the tools to change their lives, but they have to buy into it, they have to be willing to change, and ultimately it's them, changing their lives, and building careers. And so so they have to be committed to be willing to put in the work to change their life for the better. And we can help build careers by teaching them that skill. But you know, as well as I do, you can have a skill if you don't apply it; if you don't work hard, you're not going to perpetuate your career. And so people have to be in the right mindset to build their careers and to change their lives.

Fernando Pages 18:46
Do you have an example of a particular student that you could share with us, kind of a real-life story?

Ed Bradley 18:52
I have all kinds. You know, there's, I found in the transition military space for NATO. 18-year-olds go in. They didn't have a lot of direction when they went in, didn't have any skill set. And they come out at 22 with a little bit more discipline, a little bit more maturity, but they still don't have an idea where they want to go, and so I've been with Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, men, and women have family members, we train military spouses as well, when spaces available, particularly out in Fort Carson, a father, and son a 42-year-old 20 years in the service and their son went through our program and to in order as he was transitioning out to order in order to start their own business, their family business.

We have people in our Job Corps programs that frankly come in living on the floor of their sister and go through our electrical program, and now we're running As a crew for an electric electrical company in Maryland, story after story of successful journeys for people to get into the industry and buy into the industry and have good career paths,

Fernando Pages 20:16
that's fantastic. I love the image of a military family who made a career in the military and then started their own business, thanks to the training that you provided. I love that story. And, and of course, the heartwarming stories of folks that were maybe, you know, in a crisis point life are limited in their options, and suddenly found this blue ocean of opportunity through training into the construction industry, because that's what it is, isn't it that I mean, you're not pounding nails today, you're you've got quite the, quite the resume. And you've, you've had quite the career. And so it isn't minimal, isn't, it isn't limited to, you know, to doing carpentry your whole life, you can start as a carpenter really enjoy it. And you can stay there and love the creativity, the hard work, the pride of the work that you've done, but you can also go on to do a very white-collar job if that's your learning.

Ed Bradley 21:08
That's right. I mean, truth be known, I started cleaning out some pits at the age of 14. And I had the benefit of a father that was in the business that helped me get started. And that's one of my givebacks is, there are people that don't have that benefit. And I want to make sure that they have access to this.

But as somebody that started cleaning out some pits, and then tarring basements, and then being a general laborer, and then learning under a master union carpenter, a trade that will live with me forever, be able to hang doors and, and put in Windows, and then ultimately decided to go into building homes. And like you said that the sky is the limit if you're willing to put in the work and learn a trade and learn a business. We have an entrepreneurship program that we're proud of as well because the next generation of business owners of Home Builders or commercial contractors, have of plumbing companies, or electrical companies are the students that are training today. And if we don't continue to perpetuate, and professionally develop those students, we're doing a disservice to them.

Fernando Pages 22:20
Now you have 639 training programs across the USA; you're in how many states are in 48 states. Wow. And I understand you awarded almost 11,000 pre-apprentice certificates in 2022. What is a pre-apprentice certificate?

Ed Bradley 22:39
it's the intro to the industry. So as I started earlier, we're not an apprenticeship program. So we give, as you suggested earlier, the first part is our core; we train safety and vocabulary and, math, employability. And once you graduate from that core, you go into a trade, and our trades are all over in different locations. But we have carpentry and electrical, HVAC, plumbing, landscaping masonry, and then you pick that trade. And you gain even more pre-apprenticeship skills. But as you know, the industry, a lot of the training and education and perfections like playing the piano, the more you practice, the better you get.

And so, on-the-job training is a critical part. And so we want to get people into the industry to continue to learn and to continue to, to master that craft so that they can build that, that career in. And so we're pre-apprenticeship, or we're not the end result in the sense of our training, because it's continuing education throughout your career.

Fernando Pages 23:53
Now, how long does your program last? Two years, one year, how long?

Ed Bradley 23:57
It depends on the program, our job corps program, our students are on campus through the Department of Labor program for 12 to 16 months, 18 months. So at the same time, they may be learning they're getting their GED, or they may be learning to drive. That's a longer program transitioning military programs, a 12-week program.

In our high school programs, we license our curriculum; they could be a semester, they could be a year, they could be two years. Our academies are 12 weeks. So it varies depending on the program that we're talking about and the time that the students can give us.

Fernando Pages 24:35
Excellent, fantastic work. So how is it again that people can get in more information about your program? What's that website once again,

Ed Bradley 24:44
I encourage you to go to HBI.org, and I encourage you as a grandparent or as a parent or as somebody that's looking to upskill or somebody that is looking to find an industry it you can serve that website, and everybody is unique in their needs and their desires. And there are so many different opportunities on our website; I'd start there. And certainly ask for contact information and put your information somebody will reach out to you.

But you can find out a lot more on our website at HBI.org

Fernando Pages 25:20
HBI for home builder Institute, HBI dot o RG. So that's fantastic; I hope many of our listeners will at least go and check it out and see what's there. Because it's, it's good to know, even if you are already the in the industry and working away, it's good to know that programs like yours exist. So once again, I

Ed Bradley 25:43
just want to say that, you know, training is a big part of it, right? You have to have the skill, but what we do at HBI, is we connect you to the industry as well. So our anticipation is for you to come into a program and graduate from the program. But we're not done until we place you into the industry. So throughout the National Association of Homebuilders, the members, the locals throughout the country, we connect you with industry, we connect you with employers, and so we're, we're trying to find you that entry, not just a skill, but we're trying to find you that entry into the industry.

And so we offer much more than just the training and education we offer you entry into a job.

Fernando Pages 26:24
So that's also a reason for many listeners if they have a little company or need employees to go on your website. And maybe there's an HBI graduate that is looking for a job in your area, and you could reach out and give that individual a shot in the industry. And you might get an excellent worker out of it or someone that you could, you know, really help form and train and, and maybe, maybe let loose one day and maybe become your competitor.

Ed Bradley 26:57
Yeah, that's what it's all about.

Fernando Pages 26:59
Isn't that what it's all about? And congratulations on being inducted into the National Housing Hall of Fame. That's terrific. And just speaking with you today, I can tell you really deserve it. So thank you so much for being with us today. Signing off from the ProTradeCraft Career Toolbox, I'm Fernando Pages Ruiz; stay tuned.

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