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Statistics reveal concerns for the construction industry.

Consider this: The private construction industry experienced over 1,000 work fatalities in 2018. That was the highest number of deaths since 2007 and accounted for 20% of workplace fatalities overall in an industry that only employs 6% of the U.S. workforce.

Now consider this: The industry also lays claim to the highest suicide rate of any occupational category tracked by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 20% of men who died by suicide in the U.S. in 2019 were employed in the construction/extraction industry. And yet, this industry only makes up 6% of the national workforce.

Those statistics led attorney Jodie McDougal to write a piece on mental health issues in the construction industry for the Davis Brown Law Firm blog. Her initial motivation, she says, was simply to share information with her clients.

“As I read more about this issue and what the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is doing, I wanted to make sure my clients were aware of these issues,” she explains.

The more she read, the more she realized this was something the entire industry, locally as well as nationally, needed to address. “It’s not just about making sure the work environment is safe,” she explains. “It’s making sure employers are taking care of their employees, and that includes their mental health.”

The CDC shares this statistic as well: The #1 tool in preventing suicide is “promoting help-seeking.” Creating a culture that doesn’t stigmatize mental health issues will do more to change these statistics than any other effort, according to industry experts.

David Jaffe, Vice President of Construction Liability for NAHB, says, “It’s been noted by Bryan Kohl of MindWise Innovations that ‘for decades, we’ve been focused on what happens outside the hard hat. It’s time to pay attention to what’s happening inside the hard hat.’”

Although last year’s pandemic with its ancillary social isolation and record-breaking construction activity may have had some effect on mental health statistics, this is not a new concern. McDougal writes, “Per a CDC report, the construction and extraction occupational group has had the highest male suicide rate out of all major occupation groups multiple times within the last 10 years. And more construction workers die by suicide each day than all other workplace-related fatalities combined.”

Numerous factors come into play in making this industry so highly vulnerable to mental health issues: the volatility of the market and its attendant job insecurities, a culture of stoicism that values self-reliance and toughness, a lack of community resulting from transient jobs and short-term contracts, and the general demographics of the average construction industry worker.

Add to those the unprecedented situation of the past 12 months—a 58% increase in home remodeling inquiries, a 5% increase in housing starts nationally, soaring demand for single-family homes as a result of low interest rates, all coupled with the ongoing struggle to find skilled workers and to obtain materials amid a national economic shutdown.

Jaffe says, “Cal Beyer gave a presentation to an NAHB committee and put it like this: Skilled workers also tend to be perfectionists, a trait important to successful work performance. But when combined with tight deadlines and a physically demanding work environment, it can lead to escalating stress.”

McDougal says, “So many factors in this industry can increase the risks—the long hours, the stigma associated with asking for help, the emphasis on working hard, and just pushing through pain. It’s been a silent issue in the construction industry.”

NAHB had previously addressed some of these factors in its multiyear initiative to combat the opioid epidemic and its effect on the home building industry. This past year the organization launched a new mental health effort, focusing on mental well-being in the home building industry.

“Mental well-being can be a somewhat vague term,” Jaffe says. “What we are really talking about is mental health as defined by mentalhealth.gov: our emotional, psychological, and social well-being… that helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”

The program seeks to improve awareness, facilitate discussion, advocate for wellness on the jobsite and workplace, and destigmatize mental health and addiction so employees feel safe seeking help. “NAHB wants to take a leadership position with this issue moving forward,” Jaffe says. “Recent research suggests that industry associations have been overlooked as an agent for change.”

Although it can be difficult to track the results of programs like the NAHB’s Mental Health Initiative, the organization plans to track views on the resources page, media reports, and educational programs conducted with its resources. “Ultimately, the success of an initiative like this will depend on the participation by our state and local associations who have much more frequent contact with the members and a way to directly engage with them,” says Jaffe.

Jay Iverson, Executive Director of the Home Builders Association of Iowa (HBAI), says the group has not addressed this specifically at the state level. Locally, the Greater Des Moines HBA is just beginning to look into ways the association can take an active role.

“The national initiative is a fairly recent program,” says Dan Knoup, Executive Director of the Des Moines group, “so we don’t have a lot in the works yet locally. It’s definitely an issue that’s on everyone’s mind, from drug addiction to mental health concerns, so we want to do whatever we can to help our members get the resources they need.”

McDougal says, “Every employer needs to address these issues in a way that best suits their industry and their specific business. We just want to help with that awareness—awareness of the issue and awareness of the resources that are available to them.”

She says that although there are legal ramifications for employers regarding workplace safety, the real concern is for the individuals involved. “Caring for employees, in every respect, is good for business, too. Mental health issues, as well as associated behavior problems including alcoholism, have a direct impact not only on the employees suffering from those issues but also on their employers by leading to increased absenteeism, high turnover, lost productivity, and workplace injuries.”

One final statistic to consider: 100% of those who seek help are aware of their need. That’s what this initiative is all about. After all, you can’t change what you don’t know about.


The Right Tools for the Job

These resources and articles can help you understand the issues surrounding mental well-being and the workplace, as well as what various associations are offering to assist employers and workers in creating an environment where everyone is safe.


Further Reading:

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Ankeny’s Steph Reed named NAHB Professional Women in Building Member of the Year.

Anyone who knows Steph Reed says basically the same thing: Reed is relentlessly enthusiastic about the opportunities for women in the home building industry. That attitude and the work she’s done promoting those opportunities have earned her Member of the Year status with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Professional Women in Building (PWB).

The award, presented annually at the International Builders Show, recognizes a member who has demonstrated experience with the PWB, leadership in the industry, and advancement of women in the industry.

As those who nominated Reed have said, she has been the driving force in re-creating the PWB committee locally, and she’s taken that drive to her role in the PWB regionally and nationally.

“Steph is dedicated to the promotion of our industry,” says Rachel Flint, Vice President of Hubbell Homes. “This woman knows how to get things done and makes everyone feel good about chipping in—a rare combination.”

Dan Knoup, Executive Director of the Home Builders Association (HBA) of Greater Des Moines, says, “It was pretty much unanimous here that we should nominate Steph for one of these national awards. Everyone who knows her, even at the national level, has nothing but fantastic things to say about her.”

Reed herself says she was “blown away” when she was told she’d won the Member of the Year award. “I knew who the other finalists were, and I knew how great those women were.”

She just learned of the award at the virtual PWB annual board meeting last month. Reed says she’s already excited about the opportunities it will provide. “I hope this just helps raise awareness even more about the opportunities for women in the industry. Jobs are genderless, and hopefully someone else will look at what I’m doing and see that you can still do this.”

She is a REALTOR® with RE/MAX Real Estate Concepts and owner of Partners by Design, a custom home builder in Ankeny. Her life more or less revolves around the idea of creating homes. “The accolades are great,” Reed says. “But what’s so amazing to me is that I get to be part of something that’s so rewarding. I’m proud of what I do, and I hope that inspires others.”

According to the HBA of Greater Des Moines, “Reed is active, knowledgeable, passionate, driven, and focused. She wants to learn and is equally willing to share her knowledge.”

“Steph is the reason we have a PWB council today,” Knoup believes. “She looked at the previous auxiliary we had in Des Moines, recruited volunteers to re-create that as a PWB chapter, established a budget, and developed an award-winning council in less than two years.”

Another one of Reed’s passions is educating young people on the opportunities in the skilled trades. One of her first projects with the Des Moines PWB was the production of a coloring and activity book highlighting careers in the construction industry. The book was such a success that it was donated to the NAHB to be shared nationally and has been used in more than a dozen other chapters across the country.

In her initial year leading the Des Moines PWB, the group earned first place from the national association for its girls in construction camp. Since then, Reed has worked on other projects promoting the trades, including partnering with the Iowa Department of Education to create and implement a Girls in Construction camp model to be used throughout the state, helping develop a video celebrating the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement for use on NAHB Now (the association’s news blog), serving as Area Trustee with the national PWB and signing up numerous new PWBs throughout the region, and traveling across the state and the Midwest to speak in schools about careers in the construction industry.

By far, one of her favorite success stories has been her role as a mentor to a young woman who is now an electrical apprentice. “She spends her own valuable time mentoring young women. Just ask her how her young mentee has progressed and watch her eyes light up,” Flint says.

“I’m passionate about what I do and about this industry,” Reed says. “Getting to volunteer and work on projects that promote this industry is amazing. To be able to give back to something that’s given so much to me is an honor.”

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Hubbell Homes earns national recognition from Professional Builder magazine.

Awards are always nice, but not all awards are the same. Professional Builder’s National Housing Quality (NHQ) Awards are in a league of their own. Hubbell Homes, winner of a bronze award, was one of only four companies in the United States to earn one this year.

The NHQ award process is a lengthy, time-consuming, intense experience that examines every aspect of the applicant’s business (see Best of the Best). Like all elite competitions, it’s not for the faint of heart.

“The first thing you realize when you start the application process is what you do and don’t know,” says Hubbell Vice President Rachel Flint. “The application is nearly 20 pages with a whole laundry list of questions that get into every single area of the company. Nothing is off limits.”

Hubbell first applied for the NHQ award in 2017 and received a written response from the judges with a number of areas to address and feedback that motivated the company to pursue the award again.

“It is such a meticulous, challenging evaluation that you’re really just hoping for a site visit from the judges,” says Hubbell Vice President Rachel Flint. “If you get a site visit, you know that there’s a chance you’ll be recognized. But you have to do really well just to get that visit.”

Aaron Bohn, Hubbell’s Director of Operations Excellence and Customer Satisfaction, says, “The feedback the judges give isn’t always what you want to see. But at the same time, when you’re constantly working to improve, there aren’t really any surprises. It was good to see the amount of work we’d put in as a company and the changes from 2017 to 2020.”

The application process for the 2021 awards began last spring, and the judges’ site visit took place in September. As Flint told ProBuilder magazine, the judges’ visit “validates the accomplishments you made over the last several years, but it also highlights where the next steps need to go.”

In fact, she says, long before Hubbell knew whether it would receive an award, the company began making positive changes as a result of that site visit. “We had a list of things after that visit that we knew we wanted to address. We’re always striving to be more efficient as a builder, to offer a better customer experience, a better trade experience. So we put together a very detailed list of ways we could improve, just based on the initial feedback from the judges.”

Assessing eight areas of operation, the NHQ examines everything from company leadership and planning to quality of work and customer satisfaction.

“The judges asked questions about our trade partners, our relationships with them, and even our company culture,” says Brandon Wilson, Purchasing Manager at Hubbell. “Even though we have a good sense of where we are on things, it’s good to hear from someone who has experience with builders across the country so we can see where we compare nationally, too.”

Not only did the judges look at general business practices, but they thoroughly examined the entire design process at Hubbell. “They went through our software, our processes, how we address the different requirements of building in different communities with different regulations,” explains Design Manager Susanne Roesch. “Those conversations were very interesting, and they’ve already resulted in changes in our processes.”

“We have a great team at Hubbell who are open to constructive criticism and willing to change,” Flint says.

“We have the right team in place,” agrees Sales Manager April Seydel. “I’ve worked with Hubbell both as an outside consultant and as a full-time employee, and the growth since I joined full-time in 2017 has been eye-opening.”

Senior Superintendent Dave Neyens, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the field, says, “I’ve been doing this for a year or two. Staying on top of things in the field, keeping skilled workers, and staying on top of suppliers are all ongoing issues. We’re fortunate to have a great group of trade partners and suppliers who work with us to make sure we have what we need and help us run efficiently.”

That being said, Bohn says, “Every builder has areas where they can improve, and this experience has given us new goals.”

As a production home builder, rather than a small custom builder, those changes can take a little longer to come full circle. “I compare it to a cruise ship,” Flint says. “It takes a little longer to turn a cruise ship than it does to adjust a jet ski. Sometimes it takes a full build cycle before we see the results of the changes we’re making across the company.”

Looking back at 2020 and the numerous challenges that it held, earning the NHQ bronze award is even more rewarding. But in some ways, the team at Hubbell isn’t really surprised.

“We have a highly intelligent, very motivated group of people here,” Flint says. “We all like working together and don’t want to let each other down.”

It’s no wonder that NHQ recognized Hubbell’s strengths as leadership, team environment, and company contribution to employee well-being. Hubbell was the youngest of the three companies honored this year, and every member of the team contributed to that accomplishment.


Best of the Best

Professional Builder’s National Housing Quality award is a thorough and critical evaluation of companies involved in the home building industry. Modeled after the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award and the automotive industry’s ISO 9000 certification for quality management, the NHQ award requires a self-assessment application that evaluates the following eight areas of operation:

  • Leadership
  • Strategic planning
  • Performance management
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Human resources
  • Construction quality
  • Trade relations
  • Business results

A jury made up of NHQ gold winners and quality management experts evaluates the written applications, selecting finalists for on-site visits. Each of those companies then undergoes in-person evaluations from a trio of judges. Grades from those visits, combined with the original application scores, determine whether the company will be recognized and at what level. Those final scores can result in gold, silver, or bronze status. Every applicant also receives a detailed report that offers feedback and advice for improvement.

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Maya Angelou once wrote that “the ache for home lives in all of us.” For adults with intellectual disabilities, the longing for a home, a place of independence, is a longing that is rarely fulfilled.

Link Associates, founded in 1953, is a community-based nonprofit that serves more than 900 individuals with intellectual disabilities in the Des Moines area. Link has spent the past six decades helping intellectually disabled adults develop increasing independence by offering job training, residential assistance, and much more.

Last year, thanks to a generous donation from Bankers Trust and the help of Coldwell Banker and Tanzanite Homes, Link made that dream of a home come true for four Des Moines residents. The success of that project led to a second project this year.

“About three years ago, we started looking for a house to renovate,” says Linda Dunshee, Executive Director of Link Associates. “We thought we could find a ranch home that we could modify, but we just couldn’t find anything we could afford.”

After Link discussed the needs and the budget with Sarah Kavalier at Coldwell Banker, Kavalier reached out to fellow REALTOR® Robin von Gillern. “I knew Robin worked with KRM Development and Tanzanite Homes, and they had experience with new construction closer to the price range Link needed,” says Kavalier. “Link’s budget and current housing prices just didn’t allow much wiggle room for the renovations that would need to be made.”

Designer Tracie Burrell at Tanzanite Homes assisted with identifying a floor plan that would work for Link’s needs after some modifications. The next step was finding a lot that suited the residents’ restrictions.

“The lot needed to be on a bus line, have sidewalk access, and be suitable for a slab-built ranch design,” Kavalier says. “Kirk Mickelson at KRM Development put the word out, and he found four in-fill lots that were perfect.”

That first home, a four-bedroom, was completed last spring. The four adult residents moved in just as COVID restrictions went into place.

“We didn’t get to do the big celebration we wanted to with the new residents and subcontractors because of quarantine,” says Burrell. “But we started talking during the first build about doing a second home. Feedback from those first residents helped us make minor changes to the plan.”

Thanks to the sale of a Link-owned property in Ankeny, which was not handicap- accessible, funding for a second home came together quickly. The second home will feature five bedrooms, each with a wheelchair lift, and two bathrooms. “We broke ground in November on one of the other lots just a few doors down from the first home,” says Kavalier.

The floor plans on both properties include adaptations to make them suitable to safely support adults with both physical and intellectual challenges. Many of these design elements were familiar to Burrell from prior projects, but she says there were other considerations she had not addressed before in her designs. “Things like wider hallways to accommodate wheelchairs and zero-entry showers are not uncommon,” she says. “But there were other features we had to make sure accommodated every resident. So a wheelchair can fit under the counter, all the kitchen and bathroom sinks are designed for wheelchair access. Showers allow chair access so every resident can actually get in the shower and an aide can assist them.”

Dunshee says, “The four residents in the first home never had the opportunity to live with 24-hour/day staff support in their own home. This home has opened up such a world of possibility for these folks. Most of us can’t imagine what they deal with every day, just the little things like being able to take a shower. That hasn’t been possible for some of our clients because their homes or apartments can’t accommodate their needs. Imagine only being able to sponge bathe. The small things that we take for granted are impossible for them.”

Based on feedback from the first residents and to adapt the plan to suit the new residents, Burrell made additional tweaks to the second home’s design. “We’ll be installing metal frames around the doors to protect them from damage from wheelchairs,” she says. “We added special backing behind the walls, too, so they’re sturdier and can stand up to the day-to-day traffic of the residents who are in their wheelchairs.”

The new plan also features a fifth bedroom with a kitchenette and a separate entrance, much like a mother-in-law apartment. “One of the residents is more independent and doesn’t require 24-hour supervision, so we wanted to provide a little more privacy for him,” Dunshee explains.

Working with Link on these projects has not only transformed the lives of the residents who will live in the homes, it’s had a long-lasting effect on Kavalier as well. “The more I learn about what Link does and what these adults deal with every day, it’s just opened my eyes to how hard it is for them to live a normal life,” she says. “These fairly simple changes to a home make it possible for them to live like adults. It’s so exciting to be a part of that.”

Kavalier’s enthusiasm has gone beyond these specific projects. Beginning this year, she will be serving on the Link Associates Board of Directors.

“Link provides services to adults with physical and intellectual disabilities,” says Dunshee. “Our clients are fully capable of living active lives. We try to provide anything a family needs to improve the quality of life for intellectually challenged family members and for the entire family.”

Link owns or rents dozens of properties across the metro, from apartments to houses, to help those served transition to semi-independent living. Each living situation provides what the residents there need, including trained 24-hour staffing.

“We would love to do more homes like these two projects,” Dunshee says. “It’s so much more cost-effective to build a suitable home than try to adapt one. But it all depends on fundraising.”

Thanks to the generosity of donors, contractors, and subcontractors, in less than 18 months, Link has been able to provide a dream come true for nine adults who might never have been able to live such independent lives.

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Details may be altered, but the holiday spirit remains intact.

There certainly is no doubt about it. This holiday season is like no other for individuals, for families, and for businesses and organizations. No office parties, no big family gatherings, no huge cookie and gift exchanges, no school and church children’s programs. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a major bummer all around for everyone.

But one thing is steadfast. The spirit of giving hasn’t diminished. If anything, it’s stronger with so many people facing hardships.

Two local organizations with annual holiday service initiatives are forging ahead, resolute in carrying on traditions that benefit others.

Iowa Association of REALTORS®

“We look forward to the first Friday of December,” says Mark Gavin, director of communications and marketing for the Iowa Association of REALTORS. “That’s when we traditionally participate in Iowa REALTOR Ring Day with the Salvation Army. A number of Realtors around the state team up with colleagues around the nation to stand at the iconic red kettles and collect donations.” He knows in the past that at least 20-plus states have been on board with the project.

Ring Day began with a member in Fargo, North Dakota, some years ago who wanted to give real estate professionals a way to support a cause near to them—housing. He felt the two groups could pair up easily because the Salvation Army offers a number of housing-related programs. Gavin says this is the ninth year for the central Iowa participation in the event.

He says there have been some slight changes because of the pandemic. Masks, gloves, and social distancing, of course, will be in place. “It’s hard to tell how many people participate; various boards handle the situation differently,” he explains. “Some work in one- or two-hour time slots. In some locations, Realtors might take a six-hour shift in front of a supermarket or a hardware store and provide various bell ringers for the whole time.” He says that some people go all out and wear Santa Claus or elf costumes to add to the spirit of the event.

Ken Clark, past president of the association, says, “My wife Diane and I participate in Ring Day and support the great work of the Salvation Army. The Army is unmatched in the percent of revenue that goes for its work. Because of the many volunteers, a very small percentage is used for administration.”

Gavin encourages individuals, or even other organizations, to help out the Salvation Army, too. “It’s so easy. Just sign up at RegisterToRing.com,” he says.

HBA Remodelers Council

For the Remodelers Council of the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines (HBA), December means collecting items for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. “We usually collect toys at our annual holiday party,” says Jeff Ellis, chairman of the council this year. “However, this year, like so many other groups, we aren’t celebrating with a party. So we are having our members drop off toys at the HBA office in Johnston.

Ellis, owner of FIRSTCALL, Inc., in Grimes, says various members usually offer repair services at the holidays to homeowners who need them, but not this year because of the pandemic. “Each year my wife and I go shopping for some basic, classic toys to donate, usually a truck and a doll. Every child loves those standard toys.”

Toys for Tots began in 1947, right after World War II, by Major Bill Hendricks in Los Angeles. The first year 5,000 toys were collected and distributed. The first donation was a doll handmade by his wife Diane. By 1980 only new toys were collected. The number of toys collected went to 7.9 million by 1990. A toy program for Native American children was established in 1980.

First Lady Michelle Obama volunteered for eight years. First Lady Melania Trump has participated in recent years. The Blue Angels have flown and distributed toys over the years, and corporate sponsors have been groups such as Build-a-Bear, Hasbro, and United Parcel Service.

Toys for Tots is proud that 97% of its proceeds go to purchasing toys, books, and other gifts for less-fortunate children. The remaining 3% goes to fundraising expenses, not salaries.

Ellis encourages the public to participate in the program. “If people drop off toys to the HBA office, 6751 Corporate Drive in Johnston, by December 14, we will get them to the Marine Corps.”

Bottom line for these two and other generous groups: The feel-good aspect goes two ways. While the goal is to make others have a nice holiday and feel great, those who perform the services feel good, too. It’s a win-win for both sides.