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Best of Success Seminar: Building Your Bench Strength From Within

John Kalkreuth

December 9, 2015
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As a third-generation roofing contractor who grew up in and around the family business that he ultimately took over, John Kalkreuth appreciates the need for developing homegrown talent.

It’s part of what’s helped him and co-principle, Jim Hurley, to grow the Wheeling, W.V.-based Kalkreuth Roofing & Sheet Metal into the sixth largest roofing company in the country. As the business grew, the need to shift successful employees to other aspects of the business without creating a major void in productivity posed a serious challenge.

“Whether you’re a residential contractor or a commercial contractor, we all need to build our bench strength. And that goes for the teams in the office as well as in the field,” Kalkreuth said before a room of captivated roofers at Best of Success 2015.

He described two approaches to building your bench. One is the reactive approach, where company leaders call headhunters, recruiters and others on the peripheral of the industry when a critical position opens. He said in his experience, it seldom works because of the time and effort it typically takes to train and infuse someone into the company’s culture.

The second method is to be proactive and identify talented individuals in the company to promote from within. To do this, however, they have to find the talent and get them hired into the company in the first place.

For years, the company has relied on a steady stream of talented and motivated college students to provide the strength, support and flexibility that Kalkreuth said it couldn’t otherwise get without dedicating a tremendous amount of time and resources.

Kalkreuth implemented a process where the company works with colleges that have construction management degree programs to cultivate the corporate leaders of tomorrow.

It’s called a co-op program – named after the degree requirement for most schools as part of their curriculum. Currently, 70 percent of estimators and project managers within the company are graduates of the program.

“Without them I don’t think we’d be here,” Kalkreuth said. “The key is we mentor them, coach them, supervise them and let them go. The learning curve is very, very short and they learn to do a lot.”

The first success story occurred in the 1990s with a co-op candidate who finished the program and was hired in with the company right away upon graduation. He’s now vice president of their Maryland division.

Co-op participants are paid an hourly wage, and the company covers housing and fuel costs for transportation as part of the program. Kalkreuth said it costs about $3,200 a month per student, on average.

There are currently 98 schools that offer degrees in construction management, and Kalkreuth is working with 10 of them to regularly fill candidates for its co-op program. Many of them start the program with the goal of working for a general contractor, but some switch to roofing once they’re exposed to the industry.

“It’s not cheap, but we feel it’s a great and worthy investment,” he explained. “We need to build the next leaders in the industry, and this is how we see them. They’re technologically competent, they’ve chosen a career path, and they’re not necessarily interested in roofing unless we show it to them.”

He added that there is a person on staff dedicated to finding and screening eligible students who need to complete co-ops for their degrees.

Interest in the program is strong and growing, more than 75 percent of current enrollees are repeat applicants, and  Kalkreuth said the company hired 21 participants over the summer for full-time jobs across its five locations -- the largest amount since the program started.

“We’re building from within,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about resume dating anymore because we can go with people that have been working with us for two or three years. They know us, they know our system … and they can flow right into our system.”

 

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