Jeff Haanen

Category

Craftsmanship & Manual Labor

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BusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborVocationWork

How Does Your Work Impact Those Down the Line?

 

Have you thought about the people affected by your work who you may never meet? Learn more in this excerpt from the e-book “The Call to Commerce: 6 Ways to Love Your Neighbor Through Business.” Catch the first post here on the blog as well. 

3. Love Your Supply Chains

Months ago, I had a moving conversation with Tim Dearborn, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and former vice president at World Vision International1. He shared the story of visiting a church built on slave forts in Ghana. As he sat in the cathedral, he could almost hear the cries of 19th century slaves echoing below.

I asked him, “What do you think are the modern ‘churches built on slave forts’ today?” That is, what are the systemic injustices that Christians have knowingly – or unknowingly – supported in the modern world?

He replied with two simple words: “Supply chains.”

Rarely do we think about the labor conditions of those who sew our shirts or make components for our iPhones. But even more rarely do we think about the long-term profitability of underpaying laborers or oppressing those in faraway lands. Good business means thinking through where we source our materials, and the conditions for laborers of those we do business with.

William Haughey, 35, is leading the way in “loving your supply chain.” After having been an investment banker at Goldman Sachs for four years, he started Tegu, a toy company that makes simple, magnetic wooden blocks2. The name is derived from a part of their supply chain, located in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Their mission is to responsibly harvest wood from Honduran cooperatives, and to “pay our employees a living wage and prioritize long-term career growth and development rather than simple task-based jobs.” Their goal is to bring world-class employment standards to Central America.

Thinking this through as a consumer can be a stressful affair. Staring at clothes on a department store rack and wondering if sweatshop labor produced my new dress shirt can by paralyzing. Nonetheless, if we have the choice between two suppliers – and one has demonstrably better ratings on glassdoor.com, or, on the other side, has an obviously bad reputation in the industry – let’s choose the former. Even supply chains are made up of people that God so loves (John 3:16).

Though we won’t solve all global issues, we can, and should, follow the advice of American priest Ken Untener when considering who we do business with:

“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”3

Verse to post on your desk: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Listen! The Lord is calling to the city — and to fear your name is wisdom…‘Am I still to forget your ill gotten treasures, you wicked house, and the short ephah, which is accursed? Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?” –Micah 6:8-11

4. Love Your Communities

Karla Nugent has found that caring for the community gives her company an advantage4. As the Chief Business Development Officer of Weifield Group Electrical Contracting, Nugent has built an industry-leading electrical contracting firm in Denver. Her company has built edifices like the Net Zero, a LEED-Platinum research facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, and has been recognized by the Denver Business Journal for its community impact.5

Weifield Group has four main philanthropic areas: Head of Household, Women & Children, Health/The Less Fortunate, and the U.S. Military6. Not only do they give out of corporate profits to local nonprofits serving people in these categories, but the 350 plus employees also volunteer at these organizations on the clock.

Seems expensive – and unprofitable – right? That’s what I thought, too. But dig down, and the culture at Weifield of contributing to the good of communities has significantly impacted their employee retention numbers. Keeping their best employees – who want to be at a company that cares about more than profit – has made Weifield one of Denver’s Top Places to Work7. Which means in hot economy starving for middle and high skilled labor, Weifiled is coming out on top on the war for talent – and has been profitable every single year since their founding 15 years ago.

In fact, Harvard Business School research found that companies with more corporate social responsibility practices and programs significantly outperform their competitors, both in terms of their balance sheet and stock price.8

As it turns out, loving your community is also loving yourself.

Verse to post on your desk: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” -Galatians 6:9-10

 

This is the second of three excerpts that we’ve shared on our blog from the e-book “The Call to Commerce: 6 Ways to Love Your Neighbor Through Business.” Miss the first one? Grab your copy of the full e-book.

BusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborFaith and Work MovementWork

Making a Permanent Impact on American Society?

 

“Dealmakers: Episode I” – Pete Ochs

I often imagine what collective impact between business leaders, churches, government, nonprofits and ministries might look like. What would it look like for us to partner together to make a permanent, generational impact on American society?

When it comes to work, in many ways, our society is hemorrhaging. The labor participation rate for men age 24-55 is at its lowest point since the Great Depression; 10 million men are either unemployed or looking for work; today there are 70 million Americans with a criminal background, many of whom can’t find a good job due to their past.

What if the Christian business leaders we all know decided to hire the millions of men and women with barriers to employment? Could the Church step up to meet a critical need – and develop the knowledge, best practices, and vision for loving our neighbors through good jobs?

This is a big task – maybe too big. But I feel like things are changing.

TC Johnstone, a friend and filmmaker, has done an incredible new documentary that gives us a beautiful, compelling case for doing just this.

In the first episode of “DealMakers”, a new documentary series, he highlights Pete Ochs, the founder of Capital III an impact investing company “committed to social, spiritual and economic transformation.” The film tells the story of Pete’s journey to starting a manufacturing company…inside a maximum-security prison. Here’s how TC describes the film,

Pete OchsA Triple Bottom Line Business. Pete had a crazy idea. What would happen if we put a manufacturing business inside a maximum-security prison, pay employees fair market wages, and help them find their purpose? What started out as a crazy idea turned into reform, relationships, profit and ultimately transformed lives.”

Though Pete is wonderful in the film, it’s Louie Gutierrez, who spent 25 years behind bars, who really shines. Pete gave Louie another chance through employment; Louie gave Pete a renewed purpose for his own work.

You may want to think about screening the film in your church, business or home. If you’re a leader, you might think about having Pete and Louie come and share at a conference or event. Pete not only hits all the theological essentials in the story, but their story of learning from each other is just as powerful.

This film is an excellent illustration of the real-life impact that all this conversation about faith and work can have on real lives. I commend this film to you and those in your church or business. (For $25 off the price of a screening, use the discount just code: DIFW, and click on this link: https://www.dealmakersfilms.com)

I believe the “good jobs” conversation is the natural intersection between Christians who care about justice and those who care about work in America today.  I also believe stories of redemptive employment can galvanize Christians in positions of influence to have deep spiritual, social and cultural impact on a society in need of grace…especially from the church.

To use Louie’s words: I tell you what, I’m not super religious. But if I were to ever say that I met a Christian in my life, it’s more than definitely Pete.”

Happy watching.

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborWork

Colorado Needs a Renewed Vision of the Craftsman

 

Colorado needs a renewed vision of the craftsman.

Lately, everybody is talking about workforce development. This week the Biennial of the Americas featured a discussion on the topic. Careerwise Colorado continues to make headlines placing youth in apprenticeships across the state. The Denver City Council’s economic and workforce development group is hosting a series of roundtables to address the woeful shortage of construction labor.

And for good reason. The Association of General Contractors of America says that 85 percent of Colorado companies are having a hard time filling craft positions, like carpenters, concrete workers, and electricians. Though good paying jobs are in ample supply, technical and “middle skill” labor is sorely needed.

To meet this need, noble efforts like Build Colorado emphasize career paths and high pay to try and fill the thousands of pipefitter, mason, and management jobs.

But there is a critical gap in the trades pipeline: our k-12 educational system.

Greg Schmidt, CEO at Saunders Construction, says, “Though we have carpenters making over $40,000/year and superintendents making $75,000-$100,000/year, my own kids go to a school where this path isn’t even an option.” By stressing a four-year college degree for all students, many k-12 schools have implied that a technical degree leading to a job as a craftsman is second class.  With the decline of vocational education, many times students don’t even know this is a viable option.

What is needed is a renewed vision of the intelligence, beauty, and vocation of craftsmanship in our educational system.

Intelligence. Educator Mike Rose, author of The Mind at Work, says about our cultural image of the tradesmen: “We are given the muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no thought bright behind the eye, no image that links hands and brain.” Yet this was not always so. In the 18th and 19th century, some of history’s finest scientists – Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), James Watt (1736-1819), Samuel Crompton (1753-1827)– were also craftsmen who built what they designed, and knew no separation between working with the hands and the mind.

Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management (1911) gathered craft knowledge, organized it into high efficiency processes, and standardized much manual labor. A previous harmony between craftsman and scientist, skilled laborer and thinker, was ruptured. Today, we see that rupture between the liberal arts and “vocational education.”

Scholars like Matthew Crawford have pointed out the intelligence of craftsmen, often overlooked by those of us who can barely change a light bulb.

Beauty. Before the industrial revolution, a city’s artists and tradesmen were often the same thing: Each made structures for both utility and beauty. Architecture adorning even apartment complexes in cities like Barcelona show this fact.

Justin Hales, an electrician at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting, says, “When you turn your pipes, make them uniform—that’s art. It probably goes unnoticed to the average person, but we see it. We take pride in our work.”

To call the work of tradesmen “public art” is not far from the truth. Rarely do most Coloradans attend art galleries. But millions drive down I25 and see towering edifices adorning Denver’s skyline. The maze of underground sewage and water pipes has a humble beauty, bringing sanitation and liquid life to all of us.

Vocation. A vocation is a summons to live life for greater purposes beyond personal benefit. Work as a calling has intrinsic value; work as just a paycheck leaves us longing for meaning.

The Christian tradition recalls that God himself became a tekton, or a craftsman, on earth, thus dignifying manual labor that Greeks and Romans looked down upon.  Even if culture looks down upon those with “dirty jobs,” to use Mike Rowe’s term, today’s craftsmen are in divine company.

In an age of growing social inequality, a middle skill job is America’s best pathway from poverty to the middle class. Yet in order to build this pipeline across Colorado, our educators need to recover older traditions about the craftsman.

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Architecture and DesignCraftsmanship & Manual Labor

Buildings Shape Your Soul

 

That may be hard to believe, but I think Stratford Caldecott, in his excellent book Beauty for Truth’s Sake, has convincingly made the case that architecture is under girded by distinct understandings of the world. And in the modern world, due primarily to materialism and utilitarianism, beauty has been mostly lost in our buildings. And with this loss in beauty, “ugliness” has warped aspects of the human soul.

Again, that may seem extreme, but Caldecott is worth hearing on a few points. The first relationship that he explores is the vertical and the horizontal in architecture:

“One way of describing what happened to architecture is that the vertical dimension was devalued, or else that the link between the vertical and the horizontal had disintegrated…. These two dimensions are integrated in the human body, which, as the medievals rightly perceived forms a “microcosm,” a compact representation and sampler of the cosmos as a whole. We stand upright, and this very posture hints at our potential role as a mediator or high priest of creation.”

Human beings stand upright, and, unlike most animals that stand horizontal, the vertical dimension of humans makes us unique. Thus, because humans are taller than they are wide, tall buildings tend to strike us as beautiful. “Humane architecture” proportionally connects the vertical and the horizontal. Or as Caldecott puts it:

“In general, buildings that are flat tend to strike us as drab and ugly, awhile buildings with peaked roofs, with triangles and curves that connect the horizontal with the vertical, are felt to be more beautiful.”

This is fascinating to me. My first apartment was flat and had normal 8ft ceilings. In my last home, the ceilings are vaulted, and they came to a peak at more than 20ft in height. Immediately when people walked in, they commented that our home was “beautiful.” Caldecott argues that this is because it resembles a human body, the most beautiful of all created forms.

He goes on to describe which materials are perceived as the most beautiful:

“The materials of which we make our buildings are just as eloquent. Traditional materials such as wood, stone or clay speak an immediate connection with the earth. On the other hand, concrete and cement by their very nature represent the brutality of modernism—the reduction of the world to particles in order to force it into shapes of our own devising. The shaping of concrete is done from the outside, by the imposition of mechanical force, rather than from inside by growth or natural accretion.”

Again, I had never thought about this before. Materials that have a connection to the earth – stone, wood, clay – are always more “beautiful” than concrete and cement. They resemble the created order and not the harsh imposition of force by humanity on a building.

These changes in architecture have a deeply philosophical basis. At the Enlightenment, the influence of the divine on architecture (not only on churches, but on schools and public buildings as well) was diminished, and utilitarian and human ends became ultimate. Caldecott says:

“In modern times, with the rise of rationalism and materialism, the transcendent or vertical dimension was neglected as we concentrated on mastering the world around us…One these attitudes and assumptions had sufficiently penetrated the popular mentality, architects began to create buildings that reflected the modern understanding of man and the world; that is, machines for living in, spaces designed to facilitate efficient motion in a horizontal plane.”

“Spaces designed to facilitate efficient motion in a horizontal plane…” Does this not sound like nearly every school you’ve ever been in? Certainly all K-12 schools, and a good many colleges and businesses are seen as only spaced to put bodies for “getting things done.”

I think we’ve all had the experience of being in a majestic building and feeling in awe. Or we’ve been in a wood cabin and felt deeply “at home.” Whether consciously or unconsciously, we’ve all felt what it’s like to be molded by our surroundings.

Schools, churches and businesses should prioritize beautiful buildings. “But they cost so much!” Yes, they do. So save up, and build them when you have the resources. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that space is neutral. It’s not. And neither are buildings.

The buildings we reside in form our souls.

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Architecture and DesignBusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

Affordable Housing: What You Need to Know About the Most Critical Issue Facing Colorado Today

 

Imagine with me for a moment.

Imagine you and your new spouse have been outbid on four straight houses in two months. Instead of buying your first home in Denver, you finally decide to work remotely, move back to the Midwest to be closer to family, and leave Colorado.

Now imagine you’re a business owner at lunch with a real estate developer who is fighting off three simultaneous lawsuits from trial lawyers representing a homeowner’s association. He tells you, “I’ll never build condos again. Never.”

Finally, imagine you work construction and rent an apartment near Five Points. In the past eight years, your rent has increased from $900 per month to $1600. Exasperated by rising costs – and stagnant wages – you move to Frederick, 40 minutes from friends, family, and your job site. Dejected you grab a beer with a friend after work. Your friend tells you that back in 2006, his grandma gave him $5,000 for down payment on a $175,000 condo. Today, that condo is worth $265,000 – and your monthly rent is now more expensive than his mortgage.

Colorado is facing an economic and social tsunami centered on a single issue: affordable housing.  

There’s a unique mix of factors at play.

  • Colorado is experiencing a population boom. It’s the second fastest growing state in the union, and population growth has far outstripped available housing for Colorado’s new residents.
  • Cities are becoming more popular places to live. With more people desiring to move into cities, fix ‘n’ flips, remodels, and urban redevelopment has transformed the housing markets in the metro area.
  • Housing costs, particularly in cities, have skyrocketed . Home prices are now a staggering 49.1 percent above the high reached in 2006. To make things worse…
  • Colorado has a labor shortage in the trades and middle skilled jobs. Which means there aren’t nearly enough people to build more houses. Sadly…
  • The rise in housing costs has hit low-income communities the hardest. For example, from 2000-2014, in historically black and Latino Montebello, monthly rent rose 18% to a median cost of $1690. Mayor Hancock says an estimated 38 percent of Denver’s renters can’t afford the rising costs.

The upshot: The state needs far more entry-level housing built to keep up with demand, such as condos. Ten years ago the percentage of new residential construction builds that were condos was 25 percent. In 2015, it had plummeted to 3.4 percent. This means that getting a starter home (either condo or townhouse) has become nearly impossible.

So why not build more condos, even if you have to search harder for labor? The answer: there is one major reason why developers have not built more condos in the last decade: They’re getting sued like crazy. Here’s how it works:

  1. A condo owner has a cracked foundation or leaky window that could be fixed for anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
  2. A second owner has similar complaint, and the condo’s homeowner’s association turns to a law firm that specializes in “construction defects lawsuits” and the case turns into a class action lawsuit. What started as a complaint over relatively minor problems (that likely could be addressed by paying the right subcontractor to fix the problem) turns into a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, costing the developer enormously (yet handsomely profiting a small group of law firms).
  3. Because of this litigious habit, developers flee from condos, often unable to even get insurance on the development because of exorbitantly expensive lawsuits over construction defects. (One firm boasts 100+ “recoveries” in excess of $1 million.)

The result of all these factors: an affordable housing crisis.

Not all of these issues can be addressed at once. But now is the time to address one of these issues on a statewide level: our state’s “construction defects” law.

Local solutions have been proposed. Cities have passed a patchwork of policy Band-Aids, such as the City of Denver’s new tax which will provide an estimated $15 million per year for new affordable housing developments. But this amount is only a drop in the bucket for a city that needs an estimated 60,000 more affordable units right now. Many have also passed laws addressing construction defects lawsuits their own municipalities.

But what needs to be addressed is how to allow the market to build condos profitably once again throughout the state of Colorado. Apart from a statewide solution, condo builders are “gun shy” on applying for new builds, thinking that an unfavorable statewide bill would trump local efforts.

Today a hodgepodge of bills are being proposed in the state legislature after years of unsuccessful attempts to address the issue. One requires homeowner’s associations to undergo mediation that makes suing developers more difficult; another addresses the cost of insurance; yet another gives builders the ability to repair construction flaws before legal action can proceed.

Most Coloradoans won’t (and shouldn’t) get into the details of the bills. This is the job of our elected officials. But the Colorado public needs to remember three things:

  1. This issue is absolutely critical to the economic future of Colorado. Our economic growth is fundamentally dependent on attracting and keeping talented labor. If talented tech entrepreneurs or skilled craftsman can’t find affordable housing, they’ll leave the state and our growing economy will start to contract.
  1. At the heart, this is an issue of human flourishing. Wealth building for most low-income families begins with an affordable mortgage. To have a home means to have an asset – often times the only major asset they have – that can grow in value. To be stuck in the vortex of rising apartment costs yet stagnating wages fuels the cycle of poverty. Getting a starter home at a reasonable price is key to the well-being of our low and middle-income communities in Colorado.
  1. Now is the time make a change. In the next 3-4 weeks, bills will either get passed to address construction defects, or they’ll get shot down in committee, often influenced by organizations like the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, who have profited enormously from the status quo. Today, both Democrats and Republicans are aligning to say we can retain homeowner’s rights (including their ability to protect their most valuable asset and, in some cases, seek damages in court) yet hinder this rampant practice that is hurting our most vulnerable citizens – and eventually, all of us.

Does shoddy construction exist? Absolutely. We need to praise an ethic of craftsmanship among condo developers, and build quality condos that can last for 100 years (and won’t fall apart in 30 years). But we also need to recognize now is the time to solve one piece of the affordable housing puzzle.

What can you do?

The best thing you can do is contact your Colorado state Senator or Representative. They rarely hear from their constituents, so either an email or a phone call will likely be returned.

And instead of getting angry with them (they get a lot of that), tell them how much you care about this issue. Tell them you believe in giving developers the chance to repair their mistakes without costly trials; tell them to find ways for peaceful resolution of disputes between home owners, HOAs and developers; tell them you want to find ways to allow builders to once again build what our state needs the most: high-quality condos.

Tell them how excited you are for them to show political courage and bipartisan cooperation to solve this issue, and that you believe Colorado will benefit for generations to come when they pass the proper bills that address each side of this issue.

And if you can’t remember all of that, just tell them this: “I believe in a vision of a good city where men and women of all backgrounds can live in homes they own, provide for their families, and participate in the flourishing of their communities.”

Photo credit.  Want to print this out? Here’s the PDF

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborWork

Let There Be Light: How Karla Nugent Is Transforming the Trades

“Come, let me show you around.”

As we rise from the conference table, Karla Nugent—cofounder of Weifield Group Contracting, a commercial electrical company in Denver—leads me into the pre-fabrication shop. Coils, wires, and electrical boxes are being assembled for installation. The only woman in the room of more than a dozen men, Nugent introduces me to employee Justin Hales.

“Electrical work is art,” Hales, an electrician’s apprentice, tells me. “Two years ago, they put me on the platform at Union Station. I would lay out the floors, locate everything, like a switch or outlet on the wall.

“When you turn your pipes, make them uniform—that’s art.” He pauses. “It probably goes unnoticed to the average person, but we see it. We take pride in our work.”

Nugent co-founded Weifield in 2002 alongside three business partners. Since then, the company has grown to 250 employees and has emerged at the forefront of electrical construction. For example, Weifield was behind the Net Zero, a LEED-Platinum research facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. It’s one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, operating solely on power generated at the building site.

Denver’s business community took notice of Nugent because of her philanthropy. As leader of sales, marketing, and human resources, she’s created a culture of generosity at Weifield. The company donates to more than 30 nonprofits in the city, including organizations that support women, veterans, at-risk youth, and the urban poor. Employees join in the generosity as well, taking bike rides to raise money for MS and building houses for Habitat for Humanity on company time.

In 2014, Nugent won the Denver Business Journals Corporate Citizen of the Year Award as well as the award for Outstanding Woman in Business for architects, engineers, and construction.

But light began to flood into Weifield when, several years ago, Nugent decided to bring the community’s needs into the company. After seeing growing income inequality in Denver, she created the Weifield Group apprenticeship program.

Becoming an Apprentice

Scott Ammon, a journeyman electrician at Weifield Group, joined the Army after high school. After serving in Desert Storm and four years in the Middle East, he worked for 11 years in the US Postal Service. “I’d actually been suffering from PTSD while I was there,” Ammon tells me. As a result, he “jumped into a pretty bad coke and meth addiction.” To get treatment, Ammon spent two years at the Stout Street Foundation, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility.

During rehab, Ammon heard about an opening for an electrical apprentice at Weifield. The four-year program trains employees in a pre-fabrication process (preparing electrical materials for on-site installation) while paying for their education to become state-certified journeymen electricians.

“I was really nervous when [Nugent] interviewed me because I was in treatment at the time,” Ammon says, figuring he’d be passed over because of his struggle with substance abuse. “But she looked me straight in the eyes and just nodded her head.”

When he got the offer, despite his rocky past, “That made me feel so good,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘From now on, they’ve got my full dedication.’”

In Colorado, 49 percent of all jobs are known as “middle-skill jobs”—one of 11 sectors requiring a GED but not a four-year college degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that in 20 years, 47 percent of all US jobs will still be middle-skilled, since building, plumbing, and wiring cities cannot be outsourced. But Colorado has struggled to find enough skilled tradesmen to keep up with the meteoric pace of Denver’s population growth.

So in addition to leading statewide workforce initiatives like Build Colorado and Skills to Compete, Nugent began reaching out to their charity partners—Denver Rescue Mission, Peer One, Stout Street Foundation—to find more electricians.

When they started the apprenticeship, they had low expectations. “If we get a 25 percent stick [employee retention] rate, we’ll be happy,” Nugent recalls thinking upon launching the program. “Now we’re in our fifth year. I just ran the statistics the other day. We’re at an 85 percent stick rate. They’re ready to work. They’re excited.”

The three keys to success, says apprentice program manager Brad Boswell, are attendance, attitude, and the ability to learn mechanical skills. “If they can do those things, I can make them into an electrician.” Some apprentices who have become journeymen have—in four years—gone from homelessness or addiction to making upwards of $50,000 per year.

After one of the many Weifield fundraisers for a community partner, a teary-eyed mother approached Nugent. “You gave my son a chance,” she said. “He was on his last leg. Nobody believed in him. But you did.”

A Conduit of Hope

“I pray that people see the good we’re trying to accomplish here through the workplace,” Nugent says.

Nugent’s Christian faith began in fourth grade, when she would hop on a Sunday school bus every week to attend church. Though nurtured by church and youth ministries, it was her mother, Rosemarie Craig, an executive at United Airlines and single mother, who gave Nugent a work ethic and vision for the good that business could do in the lives of others.

Today, she is a pillar of support to many employees who come from broken homes. “People start gravitating to you because they see you’re stable and sound, but they don’t realize that it’s your faith.” She’s also become an ethics gauge at her company for everybody from executives facing tough decisions on high-profile projects to apprentices contemplating divorce.

Nugent believes being a woman in a male-majority industry allows her to have conversations that many men couldn’t. “I have meetings with developers, executives, and other owners and usually guide it to some sort of eternal piece,” she says. “Most guys would just talk projects and numbers. But I can pull off that conversation because I’m a woman. It’s my challenge; it’s kind of fun.”

Through these conversations, two of her business partners have become Christians.

“I could live in a little bubble, in my comfortable Christian community,” Nugent says, “but here I [reach] a little bit of everybody, people I normally wouldn’t share life with. I hear their stories and help them find a home.

“Our buildings are really cool, but at the end of the day, it’s about the people. Jesus gave us community to serve each other.”

Rhythms of Rest

Nugent’s husband, Jack, owns an auto transportation company, is a NASCAR driver, and hunts on the weekends. As they raise their two children and excel in their professions, I expected to find a trace of exhaustion in her voice from the demands of work, life, and family.

Instead, Nugent shared with me a set of simple rhythms of rest, prayer, and dedication to her calling to be a wife, mother, and business leader.

As one of Denver’s most networked women, she turns off her phone every Sunday. “It can wait until Monday,” Nugent says. Her emails are brief, her social media presence is minimal, and she takes vacations with her family over the summers.

And when she considers a less busy life, she simply prays for direction. “Every time I pray about it, I say, ‘God, maybe I’m not supposed to be here. Am I supposed to do something else?’ But each time, God brings in a new relationship with somebody who’s having a tough time. For now, God wants me here.”

She also is committed to both her husband and two kids as well as her “work family.” “I’m on the front end of this ship, closing deals,” she says. “And if we don’t win deals, we can’t provide for all the families here. And so I balance that with, ‘I’d like to be home for dinner.’”

“As a woman in this industry, it’s easy to be soft. I’m not the construction guy’s guy. But I can be totally different because I’m a woman.”

“She really cares about us,” says Justin Hales.

And as Nugent quietly transforms the trades in Denver, the work of her hands is giving light to a new generation of electricians.

This article first appeared in Christianity Today, the first in a new column entitled “The Work of Our Hands.” I’m writing this column with HOPE International’s Chris Horst, with whom I’ve written about about manual labor and have contributed to This Is Our City. The article first appeared under the title “Light for Electricians: How Christians Bring Hope to Business.” 

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborWork

Want an Affordable Home? Thank a Craftsman

 

What is causing soaring home prices in Denver right now? This is the question on many would-be buyers’ minds. In June, the average home price in Denver was $366,419 — the highest in Colorado state history.

The Denver City Council has spent significant time trying to find solutions to the shortage of affordable housing. (Recently, The Denver Post reported that Mayor Michael Hancock wants to raise $15 million a year to subsidize projects as part of a much larger plan.) But how did we get here?

My wife and I asked our real estate agent, Trish Hopkins of RE/MAX, the same question. As we sat down to coffee, expressing our woeful prospects of ever finding a house we could afford, Hopkins said at least one problem is obvious. Inventory. She told us the average number of houses on the market for the Denver area is around 12,000 at any given time. Right now, it’s less than 3,500. With Colorado’s population boom, it just comes down to math.

So why don’t we just build more houses?

I recently asked that question to the CEO of Shea Homes, Chetter Latcham. He shared my bewilderment at the historic prices, but added that he has nearly 100 houses just waiting to be built. There simply aren’t enough people to build them. 

The shortage of skilled manual labor in Colorado has been a challenge for some time. The Denver Business Journal wrote about it nearly a year ago. Yet the shortage of skilled tradesmen is not limited to Colorado. Manpower Group reported in 2014 that skilled labor jobs are among the hardest to fill internationally. In 2013, Forbes reported that the skills gap will worsen as nearly one-third of all tradesmen are 55 and over and will retire without nearly enough young craftsman to take their places.

Workers are certainly moving to Denver, but not to become plumbers, electricians or contractors. A Brookings Institution study showed that from 2010-2013, Denver attracted the second most young adults (25-34-year-olds) of any American city (just behind Houston, and tied with San Francisco). Great, right? Well, it looks like most young adults would rather work in other industries. The Colorado Home Builders Association sees this and has tried to combat the labor shortage with a new training program for young tradesmen.

Now the labor shortage is growing into an economic problem. Many millennials and transplants of other generations are priced out of the Denver home market. Without more affordable housing — and without more skilled laborers to build those houses — Colorado’s economy can’t continue to attract high quality talent to sustain long-term growth. And, we risk losing talented young workers to more affordable places like the Midwest.

The Root of the Problem

So, if Denver desperately needs houses that can be built by skilled tradesmen who are paid a good wage, then why the persistent shortage of manual laborers?

I have a theory: We’ve devalued the American Craftsman. I’ve written about this for Christianity Today (“The Work of Their Hands”) and the academic journal The City (“How We Lost the Craftsman”). Still, to date we’ve underemphasized how deeply biased our educational systems are against the trades.

Pursuing a four-year liberal arts degree has become not only the norm, but essentially the definition of the purpose of education. David Coleman, a former McKinsey & Company consultant, president of the College Board, and one of the architects of Common Core, has said that he intends to “help the [Common Core] movement towards agreement that college- and career-readiness is the goal of K−12 education in this country.” The strong implication is: go to a four year college or we’ve failed to prepare you for a good life.

A Different Kind of Intelligence 

I recently had dinner with my friend Jim DeWeese, a small electrical contractor here in Denver. He’s thriving: His business is growing, and he has recently hired his first employee. But when we spoke he shared with a tinge of shame in his voice that it took nearly a decade for him to get through community college. And it was difficult the whole time. He isn’t a classroom and lecture learner. He is gifted to work with his hands.

But culturally, we don’t value the intelligence and skill of those who work with their hands. Consider this passage from Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod in his short story “Closing Down for Summer,” where a miner reflects on his dirty, yet beautiful, work:

“That they might journey down with me in the dripping cage to the shaft’s bottom or walk the eerie tunnels of the drifts that end in walls of staring stone. And that they might see how articulate we are in the accomplishment of what we do. That they might appreciate the perfection of our drilling and the calculations of our angles and the measuring of our powder, and that they might understand that what we know through eye and ear and touch is of a finer quality than any information garnered by the most sophisticated of mining engineers with all their elaborate equipment.”

DeWeese, like this miner, exhibits a skill and intelligence that is displayed at the intersection between mind and hand; it is intuitive and spacial. They both have been called to be craftsmen. Why do people like Jim feel compelled to apologize to take up the work of a craftsman?

Why, when our crumbling American infrastructure is longing for craftsman, have we shamed the pursuit of “vocational school” or a career in the trades as second rate? When we live in a culture where lattes are served up by English lit majors on federal assistance, why have we failed to realize that craftsmanship is not only a good way to make a competitive income, but it’s a noble way of life? 

The Remedy

Maybe a better question is: What will motivate more young men and women to go into the trades? 

There have been a few efforts to address this issue, such as Build Colorado and Skills to Compete, two Colorado initiatives designed to fill the skilled labor shortage. But most efforts fall short. Many only address compensation: Choose the trades because you can make more money than your college-educated peers. But this approach has limited results. After all, people are not motivated only by money, as Daniel Pink tell us. (His thesis is that people are ultimately motivated by mastery, autonomy and purpose.)

As Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore professor, wrote in a recent New York Times article, “The truth is that we are not money-driven by nature. Studies show that people are less likely to help load a couch into a van when you offer a small payment than when you don’t, because the offer of pay makes their task a commercial transaction rather than a favor to another human being.” Research proves that people want their work to be more than an hours for dollars transaction — they seek the chance to be creative, to do their work with excellence and to serve a greater purpose in the world.

Humanities 101

To provide enough tradesmen for America’s economy, we need more than numeric arguments. We need the humanities. To influence more young people to take up a career in the trades, I believe we need to elevate three aspects of the trades: intelligence, beauty and vocation. 

1. We’ve overlooked the intelligence of the skilled tradesmen, assuming that office jobs are where intellect thrives. Mike Rose, author of The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker, argues we’ve seen the laborer “muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no thought bright behind the eye, no image that links hands and brain.” In contrast, Rose sees the lightening-fast decisions of a waitress, the complex spatial mathematics of a carpenter and the aesthetic dexterity of the hair stylist as work to be praised and respected.

2. A vision of craftsmanship is directly connected to beauty. Before the industrial revolution, a city’s artists and its tradesmen were often the same thing: Each made structures for both  utility and beauty. The medieval guilds had high standards. Weavers, painters, metalsmiths, bakers, butchers, soapmakers and leatherworkers contributed not just to the local economy, but also to a city’s social fabric. Those who proved technical competence in the trades often entered the social elite. Rightly so — they contributed significantly to the well-being and beauty of a city.

3. The vocation of the craftsman is not only noble, but Christians remember that Jesus himself was a tekton, a craftsman. Theology gives a new honor and dignity to doing the work that God Incarnate himself did for thirty years. In contrast to the Greeks, who saw manual work as the work of slaves (and mental work as the proper work of philosophers and the like), the first churches iassigned dignity to everyday work, an idea incomparable in the Roman world. They reasoned, if God himself is  the architect and builder of the heavenly city (Hebrews 11:10), should we, too, not be willing to do all kinds of work?

Work, in the Christian vision, is ultimately about serving God by loving your neighbor. And as it turns out, this moral vision is what motivates the work of people across industries. Again, Schwartz writes:

“We need to emphasize the ways in which an employee’s work makes other people’s lives at least a little bit better (and, of course, to make sure that it actually does make people’s lives a little bit better). The phone solicitor is enabling a deserving student to go to a great school. The hospital janitor is easing the pain and suffering of patients and their families. The fast-food worker is lifting some of the burden from a harried parent.”

What we think about work matters to individual workers and whole networks of workers — that is companies and  the economy. And the answers to our questions about affordable housing can be found in our best thinking about motivation, work and purpose.

Photo credit: Where have all the home builders gone? 

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ArtCraftsmanship & Manual LaborCultureEconomyEducationFinanceMediaNonprofitPoliticsScienceTechnologyTheologyWorkWorld

Announcement: Launch of the 5280 Fellowship

Today is a big day.

Today my colleagues and I at Denver Institute for Faith & Work, in partnership with Gordon College, announce the launch of the 5280 Fellowship, a 9 month experience for emerging leaders beginning in the fall of 2016.

After years of planning, design and forging partnerships, each element of the program has fallen into place. And now what we are now offering is, I believe, one of the best faith-based fellowship programs in the US, and perhaps Denver’s premiere leadership experience for young professionals.

I know those are big claims. But I believe the 5280 Fellowship has the potential to deeply impact Denver for generations to come. And I’m not alone.

Some of Denver’s finest pastors – like Robert Gelinas (Colorado Community Church), Brad Strait (Cherry Creek Presbyterian), Rob Brendle (Denver United), Brian Brown (Park Church) and Hunter Beaumont (Fellowship Denver) – believe the Fellowship can be a life-changing experience for young professionals who want to deeply engage themes of calling, work, and culture.

Young professionals like Steven Strott (Cool Planet Energy Systems) and Amy Wofford (The Commons at Champa) see the value of connecting to a community of faithful leaders in Denver and articulate how important work is to the flourishing of a city.

And Dr. Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College who has deeply studied the world’s most effective leadership program, the White House Fellowship, believes this program, which has been modeled largely on his research, will give young professionals:

  • “deep relationships that span the city,”
  • a vision for how “the gospel provides a kind of connective tissue, helping us to see how does science and technology relate to the arts and entertainment,”
  • and a “catalyst in your career for the prospering not only of the wider culture, but also your life.”

Needless to say, if you’re asking big questions about the role of Christians in culture; if you’re interested in the relevance of the gospel to all of life; if you’re wondering about your own calling; and if you’re up for a challenge that could catalyze your career — then I encourage you to learn more at an upcoming info session.

Some of you may also be interested why we built the program as we did. On this blog, over the next several weeks, I’d like to peel back the veil on the principles underlying the Fellowship and why we built the program as we did. Blog posts will cover topics like:

  • Why Some Doctors Read the History of Opera: Leadership and Liberal Arts Thinking
  • EQ: Why Being a Good Conversationalist Might Be More Important Than an MBA
  • Why Nothing Before Age 20 Matters (And Why Your 20s-40s are the Most Critical to Career Success)
  • Calling: Learning to Listen to the Caller
  • Spelunking, Cave Formations and Culture Change
  • Our Common Longing: Meaningful Work
  • The Church in the World: Reformation, not Revolution
  • The Future of Higher Education: Friendships and the Information Deluge
  • The Golden Web: Mentors, Networks, and the Hidden Leadership Curriculum
  • Mission: Larger Than A Two Week Trip Overseas
  • Scattered: Being the Church Monday-Saturday
  • Significant Work: Developing a Taste for Tackling Big Problems

The launch of any new educational experience is really just the beginning of a conversation. This is a conversation on what it means to be fully human in this time and this place. I’d like to take the chance to invite you into this community.

I’d love to hear any and all feedback as the conversation grows. I hope you’ll consider joining me on this adventure into our own souls, the life of our city, and the heart of God.

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Craftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomy

Consumerism: What Do People Really Want?

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Consumerism Gone Wild. It was first published on patheos.com. 

Perhaps the best response to wealth disparity in America today can be summarized in two words: Karla Nugent.

Karla NugentKarla is the Chief Business Development Officer at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting in Denver. In 2014, she won the Denver Business Journal’s 2014 Corporate Citizen of the year award. Why? Denver’s economy is booming, and as the economy has required more skilled laborers, Weifield has hired more electricians. In the building boom, Karla saw a chance to serve.

Behind Karla’s leadership, Weifield opened up a philanthropic arm that donates to four communities: women & children, head of household, military and “less fortunate.” But they also brought the needs of the community right into their company. She created an apprentice program in partnership with Denver Rescue Mission, Stout Street, and Peer One – local nonprofits that work with the homeless, formerly incarcerated and other at-risk communities.

Weifield hires people coming out of homeless or other at-risk situations to work in a pre-fabrication process. If new trainees can complete the process, Weifield will pay for 100% of their education to become fully certified electricians. Thus far, 43 out of 45 apprentices have made it through the program.  Many have gone from homelessness to making an average of $50,000/yr.

After an in-house graduation ceremony for new electricians, a mother approached Karla in tears and said, “Everybody had given up on my son. But you believed in him. You gave him a new life. Thank you.

Fury or Faithfulness?

Debates of wealth disparity in modern American life can generate a lot of fury.

There’s fury over the 1 percenters. How can CEOs make so much money while the wages of lower and middle class Americans stagnate? Isn’t capital bound to accumulate in the 21st century – unless we levy steep taxes on the wealthy?

There’s fury over plans to redistribute wealth. Haven’t government schemes to redistribute wealth trapped people in the welfare system – and been even less effective when given as aid to developing nations? Who is the government play Robin Hood – stealing from the rich and giving to the poor? Doesn’t it do more harm than good?

There’s fury over wasteful consumption. How can we pay so much for new houses, cars, cable TV plans, and trips to Cancun — while racking up ever more debt? Doesn’t our uncontrolled spending ignore the plight of the poor farmer in Nicaragua or the working single mother in Detroit, just looking for a chance to “make it?”

Much of this fury is understandable. I’ve felt it too. But is there a better way to heal the growing economic divide?

After observing people like Karla, I’ve decided to ask a different question: what do my low-income brothers and sisters really want? When we actually ask the poor what they really need, the answer is resoundingly clear: We want a good job.” 

Jim Clifton, the president of Gallup, says in The Coming Jobs War: “Of the 7 billion people in the world, there are 5 billion adults aged 15 and older. Of these 5 billion, 3 billion tell Gallup they desire a full-time job. Only 1.3 billion actually have a good job” (Gallup defines a good job as one with 30+ hours of work a week with a consistent paycheck from an employer.) Which means that 1.7 billion people are just looking for a good job to support their families. 

When it comes to wealth disparity, the biblical testimony clearly has a central role for generosity (Mk. 12:41-44, Js 1.5, Matt. 5: 45, 7:11; Eph. 5:1, 1 Tim 6:6). God himself is generous. He gives freely to us, and we are to imitate his generosity with our time, skills and financial capital.

But the Bible also places an emphasis on allowing the poor the dignity of working to provide for their own needs. 

Take the Old Testament practice of gleaning (Lev. 19:9-10). First, land owners were to leave the margins of their field unharvested. Second, they were not to pick up whatever fell to the ground. And third, they were to harvest their fields only once. Why? To allow the poor and resident aliens (immigrants) the chance to provide for their families through working the field and collecting enough food to support themselves.

It is not only through charity, but through work, that God had always intended to heal the inequalities of society and provide for the needs of the world.

So what would it look like to do this in modern American life? Let me suggest three ideas:

1. Create space for both generosity and gleaning in your company. Give generously of your profits. All mature Christian business owners I know do this. But also consider a program like Weifield Group’s apprentice program – whereby you reserve a portion of total new hires for the difficult-to-employ. My friend Wes Gardner also does this at Prime Trailer leasing – to the benefit of both the new employees and existing employees, who are energized by a renewed social mission of their company.

2. Teach, trust, give time. This the mantra of Julius Walls, former CEO of Greyston Bakery. Greyston provides the fudge brownies for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and also practices “open hiring.” Applying the concept of the biblical jubilee, Walls’ employees can be hired no matter their background. How can this work to hire ex-cons and former alcoholics? Teach, trust, give time. Teach them to do the job well; trust that they can do it; and give them time. Trust is key. Walls found that he was often the first person to have ever really trusted them. And the results were transformative.

3. Think big. John Coors was born wealthy. Heir to the Coors beer fortune, John has often felt a deep obligation to care for the poor, widow, orphan and foreigner (he has 10 kids , 6 adopted.) After seeing many donation-based schemes to help Africa’s poor collapse, he created 1001 Voices, a private equity fund in South Africa investing in high growth potential businesses in South Africa. Their first investment was in RedSun, a South-African raising processing business. It’s expected to create 3,700 jobs in 18 months, and provide workers with an average salary of $4,916/yr, in a municipality where the average household income per year is $2,625.

I can understand all the fury around modern wealth disparities. But instead of stirring up more online ruckus and partisan blame, let’s ask a different question. What would it look like to follow Karla’s lead and give to others the same gift God has given to us: the gift of work?

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Craftsmanship & Manual Labor

The Handcrafted Gospel

 

Recently I bought a small, red cabinet for my wife and kid’s homeschool books. It was from IKEA, so how hard could assembly really be? Yet in only 20 minutes, I had managed to drill three holes in the wrong side of the red cabinet door. My wife took the project away from me, and  assembled it for herself. I have concluded that I not only lack a manual and spacial intelligence, but that I’ve significantly undervalued those who build just about everything I see.

My respect for our culture’s craftsmen has grown – especially since Christ Horst and myself recently did an article for Christianity Today entitled “The Handcrafted Gospel.” The editor chose the subtitle “Meet the craftsmen reclaiming the honor of manual labor.” In our culture, “honor” and “manual labor” don’t often go hand in hand. We steer our students away from ‘tech schools’, believe thinking is for the office, not the shop, and have precious few “faith and work” events for electricians, contractors, carpenters or plumbers. Yet there is a huge skills gap and labor shortage for skilled manual labor in the US.

We have a problem.

Here’s a sneak preview of our theology for the craftsmen. Enjoy.

“I’ve always enjoyed building and fixing things,” says Brandon Yates.

After high school, Yates became an electrician. A fast study, he advanced quickly through the first two electrical certifications, apprentice and journeyman. Finally, when he became a master electrician in 1999, Yates founded KC One, an electrical contracting services company based in Kansas City, Missouri.

“Craftsman is a lost word in our day,” says Yates, now 37, who aims to change that by recruiting hardworking high-school graduates with an aptitude for making things. KC One’s apprenticeship program provides on-the-job training and certifications for one or two young electricians each year. “Society teaches these kids that they’ll become losers if they become electricians. My job is to unteach them.”

The perception that the trades offer less status and money, and demand less intelligence, is one likely reason young people have turned away from careers in the trades for several generations. In Yates’s school district, officials recently shuttered the entire shop class program. In our “cultural iconography,” notes scholar Mike Rose, the craftsman is a “muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no thought bright behind the eye, no image that links hands and brain.” Thinking, it’s assumed, is for the office, not the shop.

But considering that Scripture identifies Jesus himself as a tektōn (Mark 6:3, literally “craftsman” or “one who works with his hands”), we think it’s high time to challenge the tradesman stereotype, and to rethink the modern divide between white collar and blue collar, office and shop, in light of the Divine Craftsman who will one day make all things new.

Apprentices and disciples

Craftspeople (harashim)—masons, barbers, weavers, goldsmiths, stonecutters, carpenters, potters—are replete in the Bible. The first person Scripture says was filled with the Spirit of God was Bezalel, who was given “ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze” (Ex. 31:1–5, ESV). Passages like these suggest God cares about craftsmanship, above all in his most holy places. From the tabernacle to the temple, what was built was meant to reflect and reveal God’s character. The temple was not just a majestic building; it spoke powerfully of his holiness.

Likewise, some of the most important New Testament figures worked with their hands…more

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