This piece ran in the October issue of the Des Moines Homebuilders Association Blueprint publication and was submitted by members of the Hubbell Homes team.
On a Friday morning in mid-summer, crews are already on the job site of Mill Ridge, a Hubbell Homes neighborhood in West Des Moines. These crews arrived bright, early, and ready to work.
The hot housing market and booming construction in communities across Central Iowa is just the surface-level of the homebuilding industry. Underneath, all sized homebuilders – especially locally-based companies – agree labor force and material availability concerns are mounting.
Now, more than ever, there is an increased pressure and need to grow the construction industry in every imaginable facet.
“Trades play a huge role, if not the biggest, in our success in home building. They are the ones who show up day in and day out to put our projects together. Without them, we would not be building homes in our community,” explained Jacob Denniston, Superintendent for Hubbell Homes in Mill Ridge.
In 2018, Denniston, then 27, started with Hubbell Homes as an assistant superintendent. In less than two years, he’s moved up the ranks – all before he’s 30.
“It is one of the few industries where you can drive down the street and you can say, “I did this. I built that house,”” said Rachel Flint, Vice President of Hubbell Homes. “It’s a profession where you get instant gratification for the work that you’ve done.”
From hiring her own team to securing trades for future homes, Flint knows firsthand how difficult today’s market is in terms of trades and careers in construction.
“Manpower and materials have been the biggest struggles. Manpower, for us and the trade partners I speak with, ultimately means a lot of open positions. It’s difficult to get new hires to work a full week or be dedicated enough to work the long hours,” said Flint. “It’s a constant hunt for trade partners and trying to keep them long enough for the house to get done.”
Material delays are putting added pressure on the already short-handed trades. Increasing material prices on shingles, windows, siding, doors, and other goods have meant pre-ordering, lining up work in advance and expertly-timed decisions from homebuilders. While lumber has started to rebound significantly, delays still exist with specific pieces.
“Roof and floor trusses have been taking a long time to get. If we don’t have lumber on the jobsite, we can’t keep framers busy, and they’ll move locations. Not having the material on site and ready to go creates a backlog for workers, but thankfully we have some great partners doing the best they can to keep us informed,” explained Flint.
“Many of our trades have done a great job getting ahead of these delays by ordering in bulk and storing material for our jobs, but there is only so much they can do,” said Curt Chenowith, Production Supervisor for Hubbell Homes. “There are stages of construction that we know we are going to experience delays and we just have to do our best and work through it. Communication with our trade partners and with any homebuyers involved makes the process go better.”
Flint and others at Hubbell Homes say it boils down to transparent communication and reigniting the fire to work in younger generations.
“Trade shows can get our younger generation excited about being in the trades and displays the impact they can have in their community. Labor force is an issue that builders, trades, suppliers, and unions are all trying to solve together,” added Brandon Wilson, Hubbell Homes’ Purchasing Manager, citing Skilled Trade Alliance and Des Moines HBA’s Build My Future as key highlights to reach students of all ages during the school year. “This means if you can communicate, maintain the Golden Rule, and show up to work hard, you can make something of yourself in the trades.”
“It’s a satisfying feeling. You step back and see what you’ve accomplished and that’s not something you get with the rest of the jobs in the world,” said Dave Neyens, Field Operations Manager with Hubbell Homes who’s been in the homebuilding industry for more than 25 years.
Neyens says there just aren’t enough people to support an industry that’s trying to help the state grow at a blistering pace.
“Parents don’t like the idea of their kids being “laborers,” but they’re really business owners. Look at some of our top trades and those are men and women who worked for what they have. If you’re willing to work, you’ll rise through the ranks,” explained Flint.
Business owners like Dwayne and Pam Carter vehemently agree. The owners of Amega Garage Doors and Openers, who are also longtime partners of Hubbell, have been experts in their trade for more than 50 years.
“I was hanging garage doors with my dad in high school when I was 18,” said Dwayne Carter. “There are 18-year old’s who can make money right now. Instead of going to school, they train with us for 2-4 months and if they know what they’re doing, they’re making as much as the guy next to them. We have a 28-year-old who just celebrated 10 years with Amega.”
Pam, Dwayne’s wife and business partner, added there’s nothing wrong with “stepping out of the mold” and not setting sights on a desk job.
However, the product availability struggle is hard to deny. Since early January, the garage door industry has seen an 80% price increase and a reduction of steel mills, a drop of 21 in 2019 to only 9 existing today. It is during these mandatory, and immediate, increases where their long-standing relationships and patient employees majorly come into play.
“In some cases, I’m getting less than 12 hours of heads up on price increases up to 22 percent. We’ve had to buy doors in advance and store on company’s sites just to have product. But in my opinion, bottom line, get involved in the trades,” said Carter.
In summer, the days are long. In winter, the days are short, but no matter what time of year, the work is still there. Homes are at the center of everyone’s lives – and the need for more exists.
“Home is where everything happens and building homes is a direct impact career. Hubbell Homes has built 3,800 homes and so many families have lived in what we’ve built to date, and we’re growing.”