Redefining “hands-on learning”

By: Tim O’Brien, CEO of Tim O’Brien Homes

This article originally appeared in our October 2018 Accelerate Waukesha County magazine.

Oconomowoc High School’s Building Trades III course and New Berlin area high schools’ Construction III course bring new meaning to the term hands-on learning.

Tim O’Brien Homes has been partnering with Oconomowoc High School’s Building Trades III program, led by Instructor Steve Olson, for over seven years now to build a home from the ground up. This year’s class has 12 participants and will build a home in the Lake Country Village neighborhood in Oconomowoc.

In addition, this is the first year that 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. Both classes started with a groundbreaking ceremony in September to kick-off the school year.

On site, the students work under the guidance and direction of their course instructor and our licensed trade partners. Their experience teaches them about the various career pathways available in the construction industry. Students are given the opportunity to learn about the additional responsibilities involved in the building process, including estimating, completing purchase orders and scheduling. They also visit trades facilities and showrooms to learn about products made such as doors, countertops, trim and fireplaces, to name a few.

Helping students who are interested in the field explore the career paths available is one of the factors that drove us to become involved.

The skilled trades that produce new homes are ripe with great career and earning opportunities for young people, where they can create a real product, right here in Wisconsin. We are producing the last great handcrafted product in the world, and have the satisfaction of creating something new, each and every day. The jobs that produce new homes cannot be outsourced to China or anyplace else; new homes are built right here.

One of the core values in our organization is giving back to the community. We thought this was a great opportunity to give back to kids. We love to share knowledge of green building and energy efficient construction, and we are excited to provide real-world experience to students interested in the home-building field.

Pete Lange, our production manager, shared this with the students at our groundbreaking ceremony this year:

“You will be participating in a tremendous team effort. A new home is the result of the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of hands and you will be part of that story. You’ll be able to drive by this neighborhood in 20, 30 or 50 years with your own kids and say ‘I helped build that house, while I was in high school.’ Other teams may leave plaques or trophies in the school building as signs of their success; this team will create a family’s home.”