The demographics are overwhelming. Forty-five percent of all roof installers in the United States are Latinos. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020, more than 74 percent of the labor force growth across all sectors will consist of Latinos, and the construction trades will comprise a big portion of that total.
Roofing contractors that ignore the numbers will face significant labor and growth challenges for years to come, warned Ricardo Gonzalez, founder and CEO of Bilingual America at the 2015 Best of Success seminar.
“This is the reality we’re in. You don’t have to like the reality or want the reality, but that doesn’t change it from being the reality,” he said. “You can’t manage fantasy.”
Gonzalez offered his research and conclusions to the room full of contractors from three distinct viewpoints: the Latino perspective; the non-Latino perspective; and the corporate perspective. The majority of conclusions were gleaned from a study that Bilingual America recently conducted of 70 non-Latinos and 70 Latinos from various companies around the country that underwent cultural training.
The results showed a huge disconnect between corporate leaders and the supervisors and managers they employ when it comes to handling the Latino workforce. And much of it had to do with mindset. Many Latino participants believed they were singled out by their company for leadership training because they did something wrong, when in reality it was the exact opposite.
“We had to explain to them that, actually, the company believes in you and your potential,” he said.
Understanding the viewpoint and fear many contractors have of competition among Latinos is also critical.
“If you have Latino supervisors and foremen who have this view of competition and you bring really good talent into your company to be underneath an undeveloped leader, that leader will make life very difficult for that talented new person,” he explained. “You have to develop this middle Latino manager because if not, you’re going to have a lot of turnover.”
Addressing workforce shortages, immigration and other related issues were key points touched on by Bill Good, CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA).
“Five years ago we were talking about the issue of finding work in this industry, and that seems to have gone away,” he said. “The fundamental problem we have now is where do we find workers?”
In addition to the changing Latino demographic, the roofing industry is also impacted by the aging demographic of the worker. The average age of a union apprentice roofer in the U.S. today is 29 years old, he said.
“Our pool of labor has hanged,” Good explained. “We’re not getting the 18-22 year olds we used to rely on coming into the industry. It’s a big deal and it’s a big problem for us.”
To combat it, Good said the NRCA is working with multiple groups and leaders like Gonzalez to change the nature of career development for the Latino workforce. The organization is also creating a digital career center for employers on how to recruit, train and retain good employees. It also includes a partnership with two different companies for consistent job listings.
Good said the next step will be trying to structure a national training initiative that covers hard and softer skills in the roofing industry, including communication, leadership skills and career planning.
He added that within the past year, the NRCA reprioritized its membership model to better deliver services and information digitally, allowing access to information at any time.
Other areas of focus continue to be:
- Building codes
- Risk management
- Technical resources
- Government relations
“We’ve got to be strong as an industry and we certainly have an opportunity to do that. A need to do that.”