About two dozen roofing contractors stepped out from the scheduled presentations late in the afternoon of day one of the 2015 Best of Success to make history. For the first time since its inception 11 years ago, the conference hosted a session specifically for Latinos in the workforce to discuss the state of the industry. All in Spanish.
Facilitated by Ricardo Gonzalez, founder and CEO of Bilingual America, the two-hour session became fertile ground for an open discussion about the challenges of the industry from their perspective. Discussion points included Gonzalez’s six keys to success in the U.S. corporate structure; overcoming language and culture barriers in the workplace; and the importance of changing mindsets to help breed personal and professional growth.
Given the growing prevalence of Latinos in the roofing industry (estimated to be between 70 and 90 percent of the workforce in some areas of country), the need for such development is overwhelming.
Gonzalez said that recent research he conducted for the Roofing Alliance for Progress showed that nearly 87 percent of Latino roofers have not attended any educational seminars or courses in their careers. Roughly 80 percent have never attended a trade show or industry event.
Part of that is the focus on obtaining and completing jobs, and part is also a reluctance of some business owners to encourage participation out of fears of poaching and turning employees into future competitors. Both are unhealthy attitudes for the industry as a whole, Gonzalez argued.
“We need to recalibrate the leadership model in the industry and leave this mentality that Latino workers here are just to produce,” Gonzalez explained. “The numbers, the demographics are so strong that if we don’t develop them, we have to ask ourselves, where will the industry be going?”
Unseasonable rain in the desert helped with availability, but some companies didn’t want to miss the special opportunity.
“When Roofing Contractor planned the breakout session I was eager to expose some of my guys to Ricardo’s message,” said Chuck Chapman, president of Tecta America Arizona. “And they were very impressed with what he had to say and they wanted to do some additional work with Ricardo.”
Chapman said four members of his team are currently taking Bilingual America’s “Success with Hispanics” course.
“We love it,” Chapman said. “And following that, I’ll have some of my field leaders take some classes from him as well.”
In addition to working with Gonzalez — most for the first time — the group also had an exclusive opportunity to meet and hear from leading voices in the roofing industry, including KPost President Steve Little, Greg Bloom of Allied Building Products, and Bill Good, CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association.
“To have them there and convey a message that they support the Latino workforce and are committed to their future development was very important. That’s something they’re going to take away and remember,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said he’s maintained contact with multiple participants and believes there’s a groundswell of support that could turn the breakout session into a springboard for further momentum and change.
They’ll also remember and appreciate that organizers conducted the session in their native Spanish.
“Leadership is a skill, a mindset, but it’s also a matter of the heart,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an emotional representation of where you’re coming from, and if you’re bilingual, you’re always going to react to things more deeply when it’s conveyed in your native language.”
“If we’re going to recalibrate this leadership mindset in the industry it has to be an emotional experience as well as a professional one.”