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In the News

November 8, 2018

Tim O’Brien Homes wins 2018 Housing Innovation Award

Recognized as a leader for home builder innovation, Tim O’Brien Homes offers a solution to the industry’s labor shortage (Article written by Philip Beere).

Due to a labor shortage, America’s homebuilders are struggling to meet production. Simply put, there is not enough skilled labor to keep up with the volume of homes being built. We see the evidence that follows:

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) there are currently more than 143,000 vacant construction jobs in the US.
  • A recently released survey by the Associated General Contractors of America revealed that nearly 80 percent of construction businesses are having a hard time finding qualified skilled labor.
  • Job posting data indicate that the relative severity of the shortage is greater in expensive states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California, although it is also severe in a few lower-cost states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The cause of the skilled labor shortage is blamed on a tightening of immigration, an exodus of workers during the 2008 crash, and fewer young people pursuing or interested in such jobs. The latter is not the case in Wisconsin, where Tim O’Brien Homes (TOH) advocates corporate social responsibility (CSR) and giving back to the community, implementing a widely successful apprenticeship program in coordination with local high schools.

A product that inspires 

An approach to building homes that drives value for the homebuyer, TOH is recognized for impeccable workmanship and a commitment to green design, including superior energy performance, renewables, healthy materials, and constantly researching new product innovations.

TOH is an industry leader, as validated by the 2018 U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Innovation Award for custom homes. TOH was one of 23 builders in the United States to be honored for outstanding innovation. The TOH award-winning home features an ACH50 of 1.19, MERV 11 filters, a pre-solar HERS Index of 46, radon ventilation, and no-VOC paint.

Although 2018 was the first DOE award for TOH, Craig North, Vice President of Product Innovation, says meeting the ZERH standard took only minor changes to their existing homebuilding template, he says, “In order to meet the ZERH requirements, it only required a simple upgrade to the furnace, hot water circulation, and foundation insulation.”

While building over 200 homes annually, and with a commitment to a product that inspires, TOH is the perfect training ground for high school apprentices — America’s future builders and tradespeople.

“If every builder in the country took small steps in providing youth with training and apprenticeship programs, the shortage for skilled labor could be solved.” Craig North, Vice President of Product Innovation, TOH

The TOH apprenticeship program

The apprenticeship, or TOH School Building Trades program, is a partnership with Oconomowoc High School. The program is led by instructor, Steve Olson; he is in charge of screening and supervising the students. Each cohort sees approximately 30 student applications, from which twelve spots are available. Since the program began in 2010, application rates have tripled.

“Youth are told to gravitate toward technical careers or a four-year degree, versus being hands-on, however, going to university or digital work doesn’t fit all. For some, skilled labor is their interest and what inspires them.” - Steve Olson, Building Trades Instructor, Oconomowoc HS

The apprentices build a home from the ground up, arriving at the job site from 7 a.m., working until 10 a.m. Some parents report a transformation from apathetic to energized —seeing their children start the day with purpose, enthusiasm, and the excitement that comes from building a home. The most recently constructed home was at the Lake Country Village neighborhood in Oconomowoc. Students actively participate in every stage of the home construction, from site survey and framing to final occupancy.

Beyond apprenticeships: CSR at TOH

What exactly is CSR?

CSR, or corporate social responsibility, is also referred to as the triple-bottom line (TBL) or a company’s commitment to people, planet, and profit. There are thousands of corporations around the world reporting on the TBL — the TBL originator is John Elkington. Elkington brought the management concept to the forefront, and it has since been embraced. The underlining premise, prioritize the environment and social purpose, alongside profit. More than ever, the TBL is becoming a requirement. Larry Fink, founder and chief executive of the 6 trillion investment firm BlackRock, informs business leaders that their companies need to do more than make profits — they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock, he says, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,” he writes, “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

But, very few homebuilders engage or report social responsibility. TOH is setting the CSR standard for homebuilders everywhere. Along with the apprenticeship program, other social responsibility initiatives at TOH include:

Fit For a Cause: a wellness program that tracks exercise routines of employees; the company donates $1 for each mile logged. Since 2013, donations have totaled over $50,000. Recipients include Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer (MACC), Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin NICU Expansion, Operation Finally Home (OFH), and Make-A-Wish Wisconsin.

Operation Finally Home: Operation Finally Home is a national nonprofit organization that builds mortgage-free homes to America’s military heroes and the widows of the fallen. TOH collaborated with Neumann Companies and Trade Partners to build a home for U.S. Army Sgt. Drew Wroblewski and his wife Katelyn.

YOU sham ROCK: Although not a direct CSR initiative per se, each month TOH recognizes an employee who most exemplifies the company’s core values. Because the core values align with giving back to the community, the employee’s actions often result in social benefit.

Keys to CSR success: CEO inspired, and mission-aligned with values

In 2010, twelve TOH team members sat around and talked about what and who they are, as a company and as individuals. What followed was an eighteen-month process to identify the company’s seven core values. CSR ranks at the top of the list.

Other highlights, a formal understanding that trades are partners, are not ‘just’ trades, instead, at TOH trades are ‘partners’ and a key part of the team. President and Founder, Tim O’Brien, along with Matt Neumann, Partner and CEO, carefully planned a company strategy that aligns mission and vision with core values. In doing so, each committed to CSR and making it critical to TOH core values.

The TOH mission is as follows: Working together to build quality, value-driven, energy efficient green homes while providing an extraordinary building experience and embracing our Core Values.

2019 will bring more apprenticeships and more ZERH certified homes

The popularity of the TOH apprenticeship is growing; a second high school has been added to the program. New Berlin Eisenhower High School and New Berlin West High School brought the program to their Construction III course to build a new home in Red Fox Crossing in New Berlin. Red Fox Crossing features 34 homes, all of which will be certified ZERH. Beyond ZERH, each home includes solar, making it Wisconsin’s first zero-energy community. As a zero-energy community, it allows students an opportunity to be hands-on while learning about low-carbon development, and keep pace with new technology. In doing so, the students become a valuable resource to future employers. With the excellent hands-on training, just how successful is the TOH apprenticeship program? The most recent cohort of twelve students saw ten students go to work for TOH trades, and the other two are studying construction management at a local university.

For students interested in the TOH apprenticeship program, or for builders interested in starting such a program, contact Ryan Hillgartner at

About ZERH

The DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes represents a whole new level of home performance, with rigorous requirements that ensure outstanding levels of energy savings, comfort, health and durability. 

About the Housing Innovation Award

Since 2013, The DOE Housing Innovation Awards have honored the very best in innovation on the path to zero energy ready homes by recognizing forward-thinking builders who are delivering American homebuyers with a better homeowner experience. Explore these award-winning homes on the Tour of Zero (via

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