Reflections on HBI’s 50 Years of Service

By Alden Kamikawa, Former HBI Executive Vice President

I am lucky to be an original HBI staffer. We started as a division of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in 1967, and subsequently, several reiterations of “the educational arm of NAHB.” HBI’s success is strongly tied to the vision of our first President, Philip Polivchak, whose business acumen and total commitment to provide a trained workforce for NAHB members drove him to develop successful models and programs.   

The initial effort was our Craft Skills program funded by the Department of Labor (DOL) to start apprenticeship training programs through NAHB’s network of home builders associations (HBA). That program lasted from 1967 through 1976 with more than 7,500 individuals trained. With additional funding from DOL, HBAs established and supported their own apprenticeship training programs. Three programs are still thriving – the Northeast Florida Builders Association, Tidewater Builders Association and the Spokane Home Builders Association. 

HBI also started a youthful offenders program that offered a young person the opportunity to learn pre-apprenticeship carpentry or brick masonry skills. After completion, they were placed with NAHB members through HBAs.  To this day, HBI trains offenders in Florida and Illinois.

From 1970 to 1974, HBI contracted with the U.S. Department of Defense to train Vietnam veterans in the Brick Masonry trade. The Bricklayer Transition program began at five military sites and increased to 24 within a year. The end of the Vietnam conflict brought an end to this successful training program.  I remember Phil telling us that the program was discontinued because it was so successful — no one was re-enlisting! More than 5,000 veterans were trained through the Bricklayer Transition program. 

With the current emphasis on the labor shortage and helping the nation’s veterans, HBI has once again started training soon-to-separate military. In 2014, HBI partnered with the Bob Woodruff Foundation to train veterans at Fort Stewart Army Base in Georgia. Expansion of this program is well under way with other partners such as Soldier for Life, Norbord, Prudential and the Home Depot Foundation at Forts Bliss, Bragg and Carson.

HBI has continued to expand DOL contracts that allowed HBI to hire instructors to teach construction trades to individuals at more than 70 Job Corps Centers. Upon completion of students’ training, HBI’s placement coordinators match HBI graduates with builders. DOL has invested more than $20 million yearly in HBI for this undertaking and continues to do so.  It is a resounding success story. 

In large measure, HBI’s success should be attributed to the dedicated, caring, highly competent HBI employees. Many of whom have and continue to work for 20, 30 years!  Through the efforts of Senior Vice President, Faye Nock, HBI has been recognized for years by the Washingtonian as one “the 50 Great Places to Work!” Time and time again, HBI has been cited for its low turnover, commitment to its mission, opportunities to learn and grow and open communications. During the building industry recession, HBI didn’t lay off a single staffer. Operations were scaled down until business in the industry improved. 

Subsequently, under different leadership throughout the years, HBI has diversified its student populations and trademarked an industry-recognized Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training curriculum. Fortunately, HBI continues its training programs not only through DOL’s funding, but also through the support of many other partners who have stepped up to support us.

50 years later, HBI is a stand-alone, national nonprofit. It is gratifying to know that Phil’s vision of helping young people and other populations is still going strong!