When it comes to proper installation of a roof system, learning the tricks of the trade is the first stop.

Eric Faust (left) applies hot asphalt under the watchful eye of Bob Drogosch (center) as Vernon Pitts (right) helps out. (Photos by Tom Watts.)

When it comes to proper installation of a roof system, learning the tricks of the trade is the first stop.

For Brian Gregg and Bob Drogosch, apprenticeship instructors at Roofers and Waterproofers Union Local 149 in Oak Park, Mich., teaching proper installation procedures is the “Holy Grail” in the industry.

Joe Hubbert prepares step flashing at the Roofers Union Local 149 Apprentice School in Oak Park, Mich.

“This is where it all starts,” said Gregg, an apprenticeship instructor who works for Schreiber Roofing. “There wasn’t a school like these 25 years ago. You get hands-on experience here. They learn all the stages of roofing: shingle installation, single-ply, hot tar mopping, coal tar pitch. You start here to get your journeyman’s license.”

Classroom Instruction

On Mondays, the apprenticeship school teaches built-up roof systems. On Tuesdays, it’s a class on EPDM. Wednesdays is reserved for single-ply installation. And Thursdays is hot coal tar mopping and asphalt shingles.

An apprentice student learns how to cut shingles.

“The guys who come here to learn are all apprentices,” Gregg noted. “They want to become a journeyman roofer, and if they complete the six stages of the class, they can go work anywhere in the United States.”

Drogosch is the apprenticeship coordinator at the school. On this day, he was teaching his students the finer points of hot coal tar mopping and built-up roof systems.

“Let’s go, the rain’s coming,” Drogosch told students, tongue in cheek, since the coal tar pitch mopping class was under a garage roof. “Let’s get moving.”

Apprenticeship instructor Brian Gregg (right) of Schreiber Roofing conducts a lesson on shingle installation.

“While they learn at the school, we teach them about the benefits of being a union roofer,” Doyle said. “Union contractors are better roofers. We have union roofers working all over the United States. Roofers want a good paying job with benefits and a pension.”

Apprentice Observations

Anthony Rivera, 33, of Burton, Mich., is hoping to earn his journeyman card by completing the six stages of apprenticeship school in Michigan.

Apprenticeship Coordinator Bob Drogosch provides tips to an apprentice student.

“Today I’m going to split a drain and put in a four-ply roof system,” Rivera said. “I’m at level 5 - close to becoming a journeyman.”

For Rivera, learning the roofing trade means a way of supporting himself and his family, but it’s the type of roofer he wants to be that provides motivation.

“I mean, first of all, you put a good roof on and you have a satisfied customer,” Rivera said. “The hands-on here makes you a better roofer when you get out there.”

Rivera said he has already completed his hands-on apprenticeship experience in single-ply, EPDM, TPO, and PVC. “Coal tar pitch today,” he said. “The main thing you got to learn is built-up roof systems.”

Rivera also provided a “shout-out” to both Drogosch and Gregg, his instructors this year. “I couldn’t have made it without either of them,” he said. “Nobody makes learning simple like they do. They both explain everything we need to know. I appreciate that.”

An apprentice student decked out in a safety harness takes part in some hands-on training.

Vernon Pitts, 33, of Flint, Mich., arrived at the Roofers and Waterproofing Union Local 149 with one goal in mind. “I needed the experience,” Pitts said. “I started in the roofing business three years ago, but I knew I needed to become an apprentice to find work.”

Joe Hubbert, 33, of Taylor, Mich., is in the early stages (level 3) of apprentice school and was working on step-flashing installation on this day. “I want to be here because I wan t to become a journeyman,” Hubbert said. “I’ve been non-union too long. I want to get a pension - to make money you got to be union. I want to make money roofing.”

Matt Pinkowski, 31, also of Taylor, said he wants to learn proper roof installation procedures so he can be a valuable asset to a company. “I’m going to benefit becoming a journeyman,” he said. “Here they teach you the hands-on you need. I’ve already been through the first stage (safety), so I’m looking at the next one now.”

Roofers Union Local 149 agent Bob Doyle says the apprenticeship program is a win-win for journeymen roofers.

Challenging Times

Dean Kucharski, 40, an apprenticeship instructor who works for Newton Crane Roofing Inc. in Pontiac, Mich., is a 22-year veteran in the roofing business, and in his third year as an instructor at the school.

“We take apprentices right from the classroom to learning hands-on,” Kucharski said. “I prep these guys for the big mock-up room where they learn as much stuff as possible.”

The mock-up room consists of a model of a roof on a smaller scale. Apprentices are still required to be properly tied off with safety harnesses, and virtually everything that is performed on a traditional roof is taught on the downsized model roof.

“These guys have to become diversified in many different systems,” Doyle noted. “When they reach the working world, a foreman will ask them, ‘Can you do this?’ If you did your book work here, learned safety, and completed the six stages of the school, you will be able to do anything the foreman asks you to do.”

Gregg said perhaps the biggest challenge of the school is abiding by all OSHA regulations and standards with apprentice students. “We try to go with all OSHA standards,” he said. “We teach them from the start that OSHA rules must be followed.”

Eric Faust, 25, of Waterford, Mich., knows how important it is to learn proper installation procedures. Now in his sixth and final stage of apprenticeship school, Faust found solace mopping down a roof with coal tar pitch. “After this I’m going to become a journeyman,” Faust said as steam from the hot tar produced a setting that will become all too familiar. “That’s why we’re here. To learn and get to work.”

For more information on Roofers and Waterproofers Union Local 149, 10621 Capital, Oak Park, MI 48237, call 248-543-3847.