It’s difficult to find a roofing contractor who doesn’t moan and groan about the shortage of good, qualified workers. It’s a real crisis in many areas of the country. For the past few months, nationwide unemployment hovered below 5 percent. Economists consider 4 percent full employment. If you calculate the number of people on unemployment for six months or more — which some may consider  basically people with unemployable skills, we’re actually under the magic 4 percent figure for full employment. Yet many roofing companies operate the same way they did in the 1960’s and wonder why they have employment challenges. While there’s no magic wand that can be waved to find the perfect employee, much can be done to improve many roofers’ efforts.  

I recently had the opportunity to teach a foreman class as part of the Midwest Roofing Contractors Association Convention in Columbus, Ohio. It was an all-day session, so I had time to integrate exercises and interaction within the class. I paired participants into teams of two and asked a simple question — what a hard-working, new employee who knew nothing about roofing should know at the end of 30 days on the job? It was amazing to watch the group struggle with the question. It quickly became obvious that the majority of the companies represented in the room had no 30-day review system or process for onboarding a new employee.

This is a pretty simple question. At your next foreman meeting, take a moment and ask them what a new employee should know at the end of 30 days. You may be surprised to find out that no one is really giving the new hire clear direction.

If you’ve read the various research and statistics online regarding employee turnover, lack of onboarding and a bad boss lead the lists. Remember your first day on a job? Did they send you after a skyhook or left handed hammer? Unfortunately, we not only haze new employees, but also fail to realize what a big deal it can be to be a first-time employee. For most workers, their first day on the job is way more traumatic and stressful for the employee than the company.

Start with the Basics

So first, let’s define onboarding. It’s the process of strategically integrating new employees into company culture, systems and job requirements through training, mentoring, coaching and connection with management. In other words, what’s your company doing to help new employees succeed?

  • Do you welcome them aboard and introduce them to others in the crew?
  • Do you check in with them at the end of the first day?
  • How about a review at the end of the first week?
  • Do you give them targets on what they should know at the end of 30 days?
  • Have you assigned a mentor to help train them and explain the ins and outs of the company?
  • Does the new employee really understand what he or she needs to do to succeed?

Or does your company operate by the mushroom school of management? Keep them in the dark, throw lots of manure at them and hope they grow. Today’s employment market place is very competitive. It’s important to establish an environment where new employees can succeed. If not, they will simply go somewhere else. 

Another interesting thought: Who’s the new employee’s actual boss? In larger roofing companies, the owner and general manager rarely talk to new hires. So, who’s responsible for a new employee’s success? The foreman. Some foreman are good at this but many are not. I have a better question: Does a foreman even think onboarding a new employee is an important function of their job?

I doubt it. Is it written into the foreman’s job description? If not the foreman, does the project manager see it as his or her role? Who’s in charge of firing that new employee? Is that same person in charge of assigning mentors and training for new people? As companies grow, it’s imperative that there’s a clear understanding of who the boss is and who’s responsible for the employee’s destiny.

Next Steps

I propose a simple experiment. Go into the field and ask some of your new hires specifically what they think they need to know, or need to be able to do in order to reach the next level in your company. Next, ask them who their boss is and who’s responsible for their success. I bet in many cases you get vague answers and even worse, blank stares. 

Too many roofing contractors have little or no human resources department, and even in big companies that have them, it’s frequently seen as an administrative or office function. Human resources need not be complicated. It starts with some simple steps. First, establish what the employee needs to do to flourish. Next, assign someone to be responsible to mentor and help that employee succeed. Be specific and give the new hire and mentor a clear explanation of what they should know in 30 days. At the end of 30 days, review the mentor and new hire together.

Times have changed and it’s only going to get harder to hire experienced roofers. To succeed, you must look inward into your ability to get people up and running.