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team rubicon

What Team Rubicon can teach the construction industry [interview]

Team Rubicon has played a significant role in clearing and rebuilding areas hit by events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires. The following is an interview with David Venables, deputy director of rebuild operations for Team Rubicon. Team Rubicon is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that leverages the skills of military veterans to help first responders and communities after widespread disasters.

FUEL: The construction industry is suffering from a shortage of skilled labor. With virtually an all-volunteer workforce, how do you attract and retain skilled workers?

David Venables, Team Rubicon: Our workforce is comprised of three groups.

First, at each of our rebuild locations, we hire industry professionals to manage the site. These include a full-time construction manager, project manager, and superintendents.

The pros we hired continue mentoring these veterans throughout the year.

Second, we hire veterans—[those] most recently transitioning from the military—on one-year contracts to staff our project management team and field supervisors.

These veterans—most with no industry knowledge, but bringing the skills taught during their service—are put through a rigorous training program before being assigned job duties on our construction team. The pros we hired continue mentoring these veterans throughout the year.

Our goal is to provide these transitioning veterans with a skill set which offers them a great future and makes a small dent in the industry shortage.

Our dual mission of helping disaster survivors recover and providing our veterans with job skills training provides a deep sense of purpose and community

Finally, most of the work in the houses we rebuild is completed by volunteer forces. These include our own 90,000-plus volunteers as well as local volunteer groups and corporations seeking to help. While we do run into many of the same staffing issues as most construction companies, generally our employees are seeking to be part of something larger than a job.

Our dual mission of helping disaster survivors recover and providing our veterans with job skills training provides a deep sense of purpose and community, which is hard to replicate in a typical for-profit company.

FUEL: Would you say military training has given your organization strength in planning?

DV: Veterans do bring a large number of skills to the table in both planning and execution. However, while our veteran-based foundation has grown into a unique culture, with unique skills, our strength largely falls on both our employees’ and volunteers’ desire to serve our communities and our country.

This desire to serve pushes us to train more, do more, and help more.

This desire to serve pushes us to train more, do more, and help more.

FUEL: How do you keep safety training up to date and fresh?

DV: As noted, most of our hands-on work is completed by volunteer labor who are not familiar with the hazards of a construction site. This labor force can change daily as volunteers come and go.

While most construction companies are training the same long-term staff, it’s a struggle to keep training fresh. With our workforce, we are training today’s volunteers with the information needed to manage today’s hazards.

The frequency of safety messaging also keeps it on our site supervisors’ minds where repetition drives practice.

With our workforce, we are training today’s volunteers with the information needed to manage today’s hazards.

FUEL: How does Team Rubicon deal with rising material prices?

DV: As a nonprofit, success for us is getting a disaster survivor back in their home as quickly as possible while maintaining the fiduciary responsibility we owe our donors. We achieve this in a number of ways.

First, while we strive to ensure we use quality materials, we limit the choices for a homeowner. We use one type of cabinet and flooring and limit the paint color choices.

Second, we partner with companies who support our efforts. We have partners who donate building materials, construction equipment, and furniture for the families we help and training for our staff. We have partners helping us develop new cost-effective, volunteer-friendly resilient building methods to ensure that we build back better.

We have other nonprofit partners who bring outside resources to the table. Donations like these help us help more people.

Finally, we’re able to offset the high costs of materials with a volunteer workforce dedicated to our mission. We couldn’t do what we do without them.