Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Who among us doesn’t dream of being part of a growth industry where sales are solid and the backlog is robust? But once achieved, how sustainable is it when the available labor force is shrinking and growing old at the same time?

The annual Roofing Contractor State of the Industry Report seems to represent a tale of two industries. One that’s thriving and growing where optimism for the future abounds, and one that seems very much like an industry in trouble; an industry in decline.

On the plus side, respondents to our survey reported decent year-over-year sales growth in 2016 and the expectation of growth in 2017 and beyond. This emerging trend should be encouraging to all of us who make our living in roofing.

On the negative side, concerns over labor, insurance, and government regulation seem even more pronounced than in years gone by. And I don’t recall a year when these three issues weren’t on or at least close to the top of the list of concerns for roofing contractors.

 The level of business available, the supply and demand equation, is largely out of our control. We do, however, have control over our various enterprises as we manage sales and production; both of which take people.

People — where are the people we need to take advantage of this robust construction economy? Where are the people who will be the next generation of leaders in the roofing industry?

So how do you change the culture in an entire industry? How do you move from “tribal” to “global” training and people development? By shifting to long-term thinking. Many of the roofing contractors I encounter take the short-term view of their business, focusing primarily on the work at hand and not on building the future of the enterprise. The problem with short-term thinking is that it addresses neither short nor long-term problems. Long-term thinking produces long-term solutions. 

As the roofing industry matures, I believe contractors who take the long view will ultimately take control. I realize that “ultimately” may mean a very long time. Trade associations to date haven’t been able to institutionalize worker training and career path systems. Not suggesting they can’t do it, but they simply haven’t been able to build the inertia it takes to establish, promote, and drive a comprehensive program.

So perhaps the solution begins one roofing company at a time, and it can be a frustrating process. You may hire 10 to get one who really wants to roll with you and grow in the business. That number may be 20 or even 100. I still believe that a commitment to worker growth that comes from training and mentoring is worth the effort.

Well-trained workers produce better work. They’re more confident in themselves and will help train the next generation. They work safer and cost less to insure, perhaps enough less to make you more competitive while maintaining the ability to pay them more. And they become part of a more sustainable enterprise while making a better life for themselves. In my view, that’s a win-win-win.