What are we doing to prepare the coming generation to take our place?

I had the high honor recently of attending the commencement of the Florida Community College at Jacksonville class of 2003. My reason for being there was to see my niece, Ms. Angela M. (Angie) Miller receive her Associate in Arts degree.

This commencement was a real celebration of the determination of the human spirit. The youngest graduate was 18 and the oldest, 76. Angie, 24, has been beating the odds all her life, beginning with her birth. Weighing in at three pounds, she had to struggle for months just to stay alive. She did, and has since led a successful life in spite of various disabilities associated with cerebral palsy.

Not to take a thing away from Angie’s accomplishments, but she could not have managed this or many of her other courageous feats without the full support and backing of her mom and dad (my sister Terry and brother-in-law Albert Miller).

This is an inspiring story, but what does it have to do with the roofing business?

Emily Stover DeRocco, assistant secretary, Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, delivered the commencement address. Some of her comments regarding the aging of the baby boomers caught me by surprise. At this point, the youngest boomers are in their 40s and the oldest are approaching their 60s. We (I’m right in the middle of this group) boomers will be heading for our beach or mountain places in droves beginning in the next decade.

Who is going to take our place as the key owners and managers in the roofing industry? More importantly, what are we doing to prepare the coming generation to take our place?

In any labor-intensive enterprise such as roof contracting, training and education are always high on the agenda. Finding and training roofing workers proved a significant challenge in the 1990s and continues to be a nagging problem. A shortage of experienced managers coming into our industry in the next 20 years could make the ‘90s look like a walk in the park.

The time to re-focus on higher education for our future managers is now.

As individuals, parents in particular, we must do everything we can to empower and encourage our young people to set and pursue challenging educational goals. Major firms in our industry should revisit their internal higher education initiatives. You should increase tuition assistance as well as beef up scholarship programs for your employees and industry associates.

All of us can participate by way of our local, state and national trade associations who have, or certainly should have, an ongoing scholarship program for members and their families. My son, Jordan, has been the recipient of scholarship help from the Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association of Georgia (which is most appreciated by his mom and dad).

Help spread the word throughout our industry. Get in touch with the leaders of your roofing association(s). Remind them that the “boomer bubble” isn’t tomorrow or next week, but is out there ready to burst at a time in our future that, if we are not prepared, may cause us decades of woes. Ask them to add a discussion of their higher education initiatives on the agenda of their next meeting. Encourage them to take radical measures to increase them in every fashion and keep them up front as a key issue for the next several years. And please add congratulations from Roofing Contractor to the graduates around your house or shop this year.