BuildStrong Academy Plans National Expansion to Train More Construction Workers

A nonprofit organization called BuildStrong Academy that trains construction workers is expanding nationally, in response to a labor shortage that has prevented home builders from meeting demand.

Home-building activity has increased in the past two years as historically low mortgage-interest rates and a rise in remote work have fueled home-buying demand. Housing starts rose in February to the highest level since 2006, according to the Commerce Department.

But builders have struggled to produce homes fast enough because of a shortage of construction workers and tradespeople, supply-chain issues, volatile material costs and a limited supply of ready-to-build land. Many builders restricted sales last year to make sure they didn’t sell more homes than they could build.

About 90% of home builders surveyed by housing-market research firm Zonda in March said labor disruptions were limiting how much they could build, up from 42% in March 2021.

BuildStrong Academy, an industry-funded nonprofit, plans to open schools to train workers in the home-building industry in 20 cities in the next 15 years.

“In every major market, there’s far more demand than there is supply,” said

Pat Hamill,

chief executive of builder Oakwood Homes, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Mr. Hamill founded the Colorado Homebuilding Academy, which is now called BuildStrong Academy of Colorado, in 2017.

“The labor shortage is very, very impactful across the board,” he said.

BuildStrong Academy opened an Orlando school in September and plans to open a chapter in the New Orleans area next month. It expects to launch chapters in Charlotte, Phoenix and Houston by 2024.

The schools will all use the same curriculum developed by the Home Builders Institute, a nonprofit that trains veterans, at-risk youth and others to work in construction. BuildStrong Academy and HBI are working with Franchise for Good, the nonprofit arm of franchising company Franworth, to expand the schools to new locations.

New chapters will be funded by private donors, local builders and nonprofits such as HBI.

Each school will offer an initial course focused on safety, construction basics and workplace skills, which is free for students. Following that, students can get entry-level construction jobs, take more specialized courses or enter apprenticeship programs, said

Ed Brady,

chief executive of HBI.

“We have lost generations of skilled labor” because of workers leaving the field following the housing crash and schools providing less technical education, he said. “We were not supplying the training and the emphasis on this being a good career path.”

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The construction industry needs 740,000 new workers a year for the next three years to account for coming retirements and demand growth, according to the National Association of Home Builders and HBI.

There were 380,000 job openings in the construction sector as of January, up from 299,000 a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite strong demand from home buyers, “we’re actually having to turn down some work,” said

James McVay,

chief operating officer at home builder Leary & Brown Inc. in Columbus, Ga. “There’s only so much that we can do with the amount of people we have.”

About 500 workers graduated from BuildStrong Academy of Colorado in 2021, and 114 have been placed in construction jobs, said

Amy Schwartz,

executive director of BuildStrong Education, which operates the Colorado academy. The school is focused on improving its job placement this year, she said.

The Colorado students were 34 years old on average last year, and 26% were women, she said.

“The most typical profile of a student is somebody who is underemployed,” she said. “They’re working, but they’ve reached that ceiling, and they’re like, ‘Where am I going?’ ”

Nikiyah McBean,

who is 20, enrolled in the BuildStrong Academy of Orlando last year because she was bored working as a dietary aide at a nursing home. After a 12-week course, she was hired by a local construction company as an insulated concrete form installer. She earns $15 an hour, up from $10 an hour in her previous job, she said.

“It’s more engaging,” she said of her new job. “It has its moments where it surprises you.”

Write to Nicole Friedman at [email protected]

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