Reid Ribble has been on the campaign trail before — carefully balancing the need for diplomacy with the ability to stand firm on messaging that conveys his passion and conviction when talking policy in public.
But even three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives may not have fully prepared the CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association for the grassroots initiative he’s planned to help build and uplift the roofing industry. Ribble, the former roofing contractor from Wisconsin who returned ‘home’ to roofing at the start of 2017, is getting ready to unveil what he believes could be a watershed moment in the roofing industry’s history and he’s looking for roofing contractors to buy in.
Ribble electrified the crowd comprised of hundreds of roofing contractors and industry professionals at the 2017 Best of Success conference with responses that were part-stump speech and part therapy session for those passionate about uplifting the industry by first looking within.
After watching other professional trades achieve success with various lobbying efforts during his six years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ribble — a roofing contractor for more than three decades — said he believed it was time for roofers to change the perception of the industry both in congress and in households and boardrooms across the country.
He used the platform of the Best of Success stage to layout two new initiatives to help get that done, while at the same time trying to tackle the industry’s need for skilled workers.
During the first quarter of 2018, the NRCA will unveil its first-ever certification program for roofing contractors. The unprecedented initiative, if maximized, has the potential to transform the roofing industry in United States forever, said Ribble, who’s vision is to have roofers on par with the electricians, carpenters and other fields to develop a workforce.
“We believe this will be the single most transformational event for the United States roofing industry in its history, because we’re finally going to put ourselves on par with virtually every other construction trade out there. And that’s significant,” he said.
The process began with trainer instruction last October, and will be rolled out through different regions of the country this year.
The curriculum will be audited to meet national accreditation standards. Ribble said when complete, the program will create certifications in 19 different roofing disciplines, starting with the most popular in both residential (steep slope asphalt shingles) and commercial (low slope systems like TPO and PVC) segments of the industry.
In order to achieve national accreditation, the program must pass rigorous benchmarks and testing. Recertification will be required on a 36-month cycle, Ribble said, so roofing contractors will have time to adjust to technological advancements in products and installation techniques. Recertification programs will be administered online in an effort to keep costs to the contractor low.
Courses will be designed by region in order to better address specific issues such as weather and other market conditions. Costs of the program for contractors are still being determined. Officials said they’re using the train-the-trainer model that works effectively with the CERTA program. Costs can be cut further by letting the trainers set the prices for the work in their respective markets.
A national certification program that not only holds workers accountable for their skillset but lays out a career path could hold the key to the industry’s growing workforce challenge.
“We cannot draw enough people into this trade, and there’s a whole bunch of reasons for that,” Ribble explained. “One thing we do know is that if we make the industry more appealing from an education standpoint and make ourselves equal with the plumbers, electricians and other trades, we can make progress.”
Ribble said he budgeted $15 million and a team of NRCA administrative and educational staff to back the program, which should roll out to roofing contractors across the country beginning early next year.
The initiative is also designed to retain roofing contractors and stabilize the industry when the economy slows. For the first time, certified roofing contractors could become a portable workforce that responds quickly to major spikes in roofing demand and recovery efforts following devastating storms like hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Vocal and Visible
The other key initiative Ribble discussed began shortly after he took over as CEO. He launched the One Voice effort with the idea that different segments of the roofing industry needed to consolidate and coordinate their messages to policymakers. Whether it was safety regulations, immigration reform or trade imbalances that impact the cost of raw materials, the industry wasn’t speaking clearly with one loud voice on Capitol Hill, and therefore roofers remained virtually unheard.
“The roofing industry, for the most part, in Washington D. C. is virtually invisible,” Ribble explained. “We’re going to embark on changing that, by the way, and changing it with your help. But the reality is, when the electricians would come to Washington, they would fit 20 electricians or representatives from the manufacturers in my office.”
He challenged roofing contractors in the audience to say as much to their own members of congress face-to-face this March, when the NRCA plans to make a coordinated visit to his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. The goal is to have 20 roofing contractors or employees from roofing companies in every state across the country show up.
“If we can get hundreds of them or thousands to come out, it’s an absolute game changer,” Ribble said. “You wonder why you don’t get what you want? You don’t get what you want because you don’t show up. And we’re going to help you with that.”
He explained that there’s a big difference when professional trade associations go in to see a policymaker with the authority to represent the entire roofing industry — a nearly $100 billion enterprise with half-a-million workers — than as separate voices for workers, distributors and manufactures. Multiple companies have become NRCA members since the executive board changed its bylaws at Ribble’s urging. The move opened 20 percent of membership slots to non-contractors so that those voices can be at the table for critical decisions.
Now, roofing associations, distributors, professional consultants, and manufacturers are eligible to become full members fast.
“If we want to effect change, we as a roofing community, must speak in one voice — all of us at the table willing to effect change,” he said. “What’s kept us from doing this in in the past is that we felt it was too big of a project, it would take too long to do. Well, I’ve discovered in life that the hardest part to get some place is taking that first step. I’d say the roofing industry is not just ready for it, they’re anxious for it.”
Roofing contractors can help by getting involved and doing what they can to collectively change the perception of who they are and what they do, so that customers can actually begin to trust them as professionals.
“You and I must change this … because we’re the only ones that can change this,” he said while rising from his chair. “You can’t expect gov’t to change this or any outside agency to change it. Only you and I can change how the American people feel about us. And as we begin to elevate what we do and change the industry and reshape it, we’re going to change the entire brand of it. If we focus on just protecting the consumer you’ll be astounded by how people will view us. And how different it will be.”
If the multiple standing ovations he received from roofers young and old alike were any indication, Ribble’s on the right track.
“This is honestly the most encouraged about NRCA that I’ve felt in a while,” said RC’s 2015 Residential Roofing Contractor of the Year Tim Leeper, of Tim Leeper Roofing in Nashville, Tenn.
Matt Gutierrez, a 25-year-old project manager with SHELL Roofing in Chino, Calif., called Ribble’s message about the importance of a roofers’ self-worth the pinnacle of the two-day conference.
“That speech was inspiring for me being young in the industry, and I felt it leaving the room,” he said. “All of these different moments gave me a larger goal in roofing, it made me hungry to be an industry leader.”