Workforce development has been Topic A since the end of the Great Recession. It’s also been an ongoing topic of conversations I’ve had with roofing contractors for over 40 years. The task of finding, training, and retaining talent has never been easy, and in today’s economy it’s tougher than I’ve ever seen it.

The good news is there are some best practices when it comes to workforce development that can improve your results if you focus on them. The bad news is, as an industry, we have not done a very good job developing our workforce and now find ourselves with an aging population of skilled roofers without a great plan for replacing them.

I believe the answer to developing a new generation of skilled roofers is going to require a tremendous amount of work — beginning with the existing pool of potential workers and starting at an early age. The roofing industry needs to begin the tough work of bringing the message about the great career opportunities in roofing to the technical school systems; from middle school through high school and post-secondary technical colleges and universities.

The idea that we recruit potential roofers in middle or even high schools may sound outrageous, but your competition for skilled labor is and has been working this market for years. Your competition includes plumbing, HVAC, electrical, road, mining, manufacturing, and many other industries.

The differences between roofing and some of these industries are great, and it may be tough to compete with some of them. But you’re not going to win if you don’t show up to play the game. The roofing industry has a great story to tell young men and women entering the workforce; we just need to do a better job of telling it.

Get engaged with your local school district. Get yourself invited to come and speak to groups of technical school students. If their teachers need training and resource materials to speak with their students about jobs in the roofing industry, deliver it to them.

Obviously, there are many other sources for potential roofers, beginning with the great roofers you employ today. Also, I firmly believe you must always, always, always be a recruiter. There must never be a time in your life as a roofing contractor that you aren’t seeking your next great roofer. I don’t care if you have open positions and little need to hire any more roofers, you must still keep a “little black book” of potential prospects close. That goes for everyone on your leadership team, too.

I don’t claim to have all the answers for workforce development for the roofing industry. I just want to get you thinking outside the box and taking the long view. Many roofing contractors struggle with taking the long view. It’s easy to lose out if you don’t focus on what’s happening today in your roofing business. But the very future of this industry is at stake, because if we don’t have tradesmen, we don’t have a trade.