ToolBelt app continues to help solve labor shortage

The mobile app was first launched about a year ago, aiming to tackle the construction industry’s biggest challenge – limited production capacity

Ross Barbieri and Josh Engelbrecht of Toolbelt
Josh Engelbrecht (right) and Ross Barbieri are behind the launch of the ToolBelt app, which aims to give contractors, subcontractors and skilled tradespeople one central place to connect through construction projects. Courtesy of ToolBelt

The construction labor shortage has been the number one issue for the area’s booming industry over the past decade, with no solution in sight. However, in the Portland/Vancouver metro area, that is not the case. Last summer, ToolBelt Inc. launched its mobile app, simply called ToolBelt, in order the tackle the construction industry’s biggest challenge – limited production capacity. The app allows contractors to connect to skilled labor instantly.

And now, according to a recent news release from ToolBelt Inc., in just short eight months ToolBelt has been able to successfully harness 8% of the contracting market in the Portland metro area, allowing contractors to grow their business more efficiently.

ToolBelt was established by Josh Engelbrecht, CEO of ToolBelt Inc., as a solution for the labor shortage in the construction industry. Having been in the contracting business throughout the Pacific Northwest, Engelbrecht knew firsthand that finding skilled labor when you need it is a huge challenge and the traditional methods, namely word-of-mouth, are just too slow. This problem can be felt by contractors of all sizes not just in the Northwest but nationwide.

“In the construction industry, a lot of staffing is primarily relationship based – project staffing, staffing in general in the remodeling and homebuilding industries, is all based on who you know,” Engelbrecht said during a previous interview with the VBJ. “I realized that everybody’s production capacity is strictly limited by their direct network. That’s why, during the busy season, as a customer you might hear a contractor say, ‘I’m two to three weeks out.’”

Engelbrecht started digging a little deeper into this issue and began talking about it with subcontractors as well as other general contractors. He noted that subcontractors are also limited by who they know and who is in their direct network.

“I saw that there was this connection gap in the industry between general contractors, subcontractors and skilled tradespeople,” Engelbrecht said. “And there’s also this really big barrier to entry for subcontractors. Let’s say you’re a skilled painter and the job you had lined up isn’t starting for another few weeks, how do you quickly find another company to do work for? Or how do you muster the strength to go off on your own?”

Enter the ToolBelt app. The ToolBelt app connects general contractors and subcontractors through projects on its platform. The app also provides the ability to search the entire ToolBelt network.

Engelbrecht aligned with a veteran technology leader, Ross Barbieri. Having successfully created and sold several staffing-based platforms such as ShiftWise, Staffing Robot and Hively, Barbieri lent his labor proficiencies to the construction world. Together the team created a first-of-its-kind app for the busy contractor in the field.

“Let’s say someone wants to hire me to do their roof, but I know I’m too booked up to be able to complete the project in the timeframe that they want, but I don’t want to pass up this opportunity,” Engelbrecht explained in a previous interview with the VBJ. “Normally, I would start calling my network and trying to find someone who can take this project on. So, I’ve got all this phone tag going on, and sometimes it takes days, even a week, just to get a return phone call. And then you have to hope that person can fit the project into their timeline.”

“On ToolBelt, you can just quickly post that project and it goes out to all of the people you know,” Engelbrecht continued. “But not just the people that you know, it also goes out to all of the other people in that ecosystem. So, you can get back to your job, and I’ve just saved you five hours of phone tag. People looking for those jobs with that skill set can just hop on one central place.”

Engelbrecht went on to say that although homebuilding and residential remodeling is the most fragmented industry in the world, it is also the most collaborative industry in the world, and the core that connects general contractors and subcontractors is the projects.

“It takes a team in order to complete a project,” he said. “And that connection is not position based, it’s project based.”

ToolBelt launched in late August with a mobile app that connects contractors with skilled labor. ToolBelt’s pioneering technology was designed to be easier to use than a drill and is a vital part of its mass adoption. With the touch of a button, general contractors, builders and contractors are able to quickly and easily find skilled labor and work.

In addition to creating a marketplace for more than 1,700 local contractors with access to thousands of skilled tradespeople to find crews and work, ToolBelt has successfully facilitated hundreds of residential construction projects and positions throughout the region. Projects range from entire new-construction subdivisions, multi-family structures, to any size remodeling project. This success is due largely in part to strategic partnerships with some of the biggest names in the industry such as Beacon Building Products and Sherwin-Williams.

Eliciting contractor and industry feedback, the ToolBelt app has become a robust tool for residential contractors, large and small, to utilize daily to grow their business. The company was recently announced as a finalist for the Technology Association of Oregon’s 2020 Oregon Technology Awards. All regions across the country have reached out for ToolBelt’s technology. The company will announce expansion plans by end of Q3.

Read the VBJ’s first article about the ToolBelt app here. Visit toolbelt.work to learn more about Vancouver-based ToolBelt Inc. and the ToolBelt app.

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.