Last month, without a lot of fanfare, an industry professional retired from home building after putting more than 700 people to work building houses over the past three decades.
He wasn’t a CEO, land acquisition expert, or supplier, but Dennis Torbett’s contribution was just as important. His influence in the home building industry came from the labor side, specifically training and preparing underserved and at-risk youth, veterans, ex-offenders, and displaced workers. He began working for the state of Maryland helping people who needed a hand to get training and employment. In 1981, he joined the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Manpower Development & Training Department as national coordinator for job placement, which became known as the Home Builders’ Institute (HBI) in 1983. During that last several years, he served as senior vice president of training.
“Dennis’ wealth of historical knowledge and expertise has helped position HBI favorably in the home building industry over the years,” said HBI President and CEO John Courson in a statement.
At HBI, Torbett functioned as a bit of a liaison between governmental agencies (HBI was the biggest trainer in the Department of Labor Job Corps program, for instance) and the industry, through HBI’s connection to the NAHB and state chapters.
“By being attached to the NAHB we still have direct connections with the industry through the federation of state and local home building associations and ultimately connections with employers who have a need for the people that we train,” Torbett says.
Torbett has most recently made significant contributions toward expanding HBI’s military/veterans program and supporting the launch of the organization’s first program for transitioning military personnel at Fort Stewart, Ga. He’s also worked with former military members who have fallen on hard times.
“We’ve been working with men and women who have retired,” Torbett says. “Some are homeless. Some have PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] and other disabilities. We’re helping them with training and job placement services.”
Torbett says HBI trainees often go into construction trades like plumbing, carpentry, masonry, building construction technology, painting, and electrical wiring.
“Once they completed training, they get an industry recognized certificate,” he says. “Our role to place those individuals once they get their certification and they’re ready to go to go to work It’s mostly placement in construction hardhat fields. That’s a great starting point for individuals to begin their careers.”
While Torbett is proud of his work helping those in need of jobs find employment, and in the process, help bridge the labor gap in the industry, he knows there’s more work to be done.
“There is a strong demand for labor, but labor availability is not there,” Torbett says. “There is a need right now. What we’re trying to do in our communication and public relations effort to show you can make a great career out of working in the building trades.”
While Torbett still promises to stay in contact with his colleagues at HBI, he’s also excited for other pursuits, like spending time with his four granddaughters. “I enjoy the outdoors—hiking, biking and fishing and golfing,” Torbett says. “And, I hope to do a little more reading.”