Green jobs continue to grow in the United States at a pace that exceeds the average rate of job growth throughout the country.  In the 2016 annual report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), there was a 22 percent increase in solar employment in 2015, with 194,000 jobs in solar PV alone. The IREA estimates that 57 percent of the U.S. solar jobs involve installation, with over 69,000 jobs in residential and 16,000 in commercial installations.

While growth in rooftop solar installations is encouraging — particularly in the states with subsidies and incentives, it leads to the question; Where are the men and women going to come from to take these new jobs? Even without the growth of solar jobs, roofing contractors around the country are struggling to hire, train and retain their current workforce.

Concerns regarding the depth of the workforce in the roofing industry are not new, but are reaching critical levels. Competition for workers is getting much more sophisticated, not just with other trades, but other industries, as well.

To complicate matters, for the last 50 years, there’s been a steady, predictable decline in the number of working men ages 25-54. This is obviously the largest demographic of those who work on the roof. As noted economist Nicholas Eberstadt points out in his new book, Men Without Work, one out of seven prime-age men are voluntarily not in the workforce. This is an alarming number and his studies identify sub-groups that are represented by even larger numbers of the non-working: Less educated men, never-married men, men without children at home and African American men.

The subtitle of his book is America’s Invisible Crisis, but this challenge is certainly not invisible to leaders in the roofing industry. Manufacturers continue their work to reduce the amount of labor to install roofs, but this is just one small step. Greater strides are being taken by various associations, organizations and contractors that have identified this issue as critical to the health of our industry and individual businesses. 

At the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) Industry Executives Roundtable midyear meeting in 2016, workforce issues stood out as a major challenge. Two teams are looking into proactive ways to attract employment seekers to roofing contractors. One team is the workforce solutions committee that’s learning more about how and why an individual might choose the roofing industry for their profession, so they can help attract potential candidates. The other team is creating a national training program, with the intent to provide training and certification for a career path in roofing.

The Roofing Industry Alliance for Progress is supporting the goals established by the NRCA in other ways. For the third straight year, the alliance will be conducting the Construction Management Student Competition. This year, six universities submitted their mock proposals as roofing contractors bidding on an actual project. Outstanding proposals were submitted by Auburn University, Colorado State University, Louisiana State University, Tuskegee University, University of Cincinnati and University of Florida. It was incredibly encouraging to see these teams of bright young women and men present their cases to the judges and audience at the International Roofing Expo in Las Vegas. You’ll surely be impressed with the next generation of leaders that are learning more about the challenges, complexity and responsibility involved with a high-profile roofing project. In the end, we hope to increase the exposure of roofing contractors and attract top-flight students leaving colleges for the working world.

Local and state roofing contractor associations have also taken note of the need to bring new people into the roofing business. Task groups are working together to “expand the pie,” inviting more people to come into the roofing trade, rather than “re-dividing the pie,” by poaching workers from local competitors.  

Many questions remain for roofing contractors. What are you going to do this year that’s different from last to attract new workers? What proactive steps are you taking to retain your best people? How can you reduce your turnover rates? 

Intentional plans to target available pools of talent is one way to find new employees. But you can’t stop there or you will continue to lose new hires. Creating an on-boarding program that welcomes, educates and prepares new employees for their work on the roof will help you attract and assimilate new hires to your company.

And, for those of you working on the roof, if you have a friend or relative that’s willing to work hard and learn, there’s a rewarding career and endless potential in this business. Why don’t you encourage that person to apply at your company today?