When the customer you’ve been trying to land brings a high-ticket project your way, will a shortage of qualified talent cost you the opportunity?

It’s a dilemma nearly every roofing contractor faces as veteran professionals age, and recruiting the next generation only gets tougher. In navigating the challenge, our team at Advanced Roofing finds it’s not enough to offer solid, secure jobs. To compete in today’s battle for talent, we’re working to bring life-changing career opportunities to market in fresh ways.

That sounds improbable given the on-the-roof realities facing a new crew member. For hard workers determined to learn and advance, though, opening meaningful doors to a roofing career brings us the talent to keep pace with today’s project pipeline — and build a solid future.

How can roofing contractors reach and convince next-generation talent to consider our industry? We all know the litany of obstacles — sweltering temperatures, grueling physical work and an image that’s short on glamour. But through partnerships, creative outreach and consistently “walking the walk” with employees and in communities, breakthroughs are happening.

Create Region-Wide Apprenticeships

Roofing contractors don’t have to go it alone to establish sustainable, quality apprenticeships. In south Florida, the state’s only open-shop, registered roofing apprentice program just graduated its first class. During three years of work/study, the apprentices in the local Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Institute program came to see themselves as industry professionals.

We and the other companies participating are gaining journeymen roofers attuned to safety and new technology in far fewer years than before. Our firm’s graduates jump-started their careers without cost or tuition debt, earning as much as 40 percent higher pay in just three years and seeing clear paths to advance. We expect the program will help reduce turnover and build future leaders, and are already seeing apprentices’ enthusiasm about their roles.

Lessons learned along the way included:

Partnerships streamline the effort.

Think industry, government and education. In 2015, our company approached the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) and the local ABC chapter, looking to add roofing to the registered apprenticeship programs ABC already offered for many trades nationwide. Through a committee that included NRCA, ABC, and the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), an ABC education affiliate, we produced a roofing-specific curriculum. Through NRCA, the apprenticeship provides additional certifications for apprentices, such as Certified Roofing Torch Applicator (CERTA). ABC’s infrastructure and the curriculum’s quality made U.S. Dept. of Labor and Florida Dept. of Education approval of the registered apprenticeship doable, and the work/study program launched in fall 2015. Now, given the Trump administration’s push for more registered apprenticeships, the trend will likely grow.
In south Florida’s program, apprentices must be employed and sponsored by their company. The state pays the tuition. Apprentices work 40 hours a week, attend a weekly, three-hour class and six to eight hands-on labs per year, which apprentices tell us they look forward to. Our region’s three-year apprenticeship is similar to union training, based on the number of hours of training and specific tasks covered.

Choose the right apprentices.

We’ve found employees with two to 10 years’ experience are a good fit. Those whose goals and attitudes match our company’s are diligent apprentices — especially those who welcome learning about all aspects of our industry.

This issue goes beyond competition.

Other contractors in our market have come on board. We’re working hard to add more companies. Every contractor in a market competes for talent, but excellent training benefits all of us. I’ve heard other owners worry that if they invest in apprenticeship training, their apprentices could be stolen by other firms. Consider the serious, long-term risks to safety, quality and reputation of not providing great training.

Recruit and Fast-Track Veterans

Adding military veterans to our team has brought us disciplined workers with attention to detail and a strong will to learn. We’ve upped our efforts to recruit veterans, fast-tracking their orientation and initial skills training. After a few weeks in our veteran-specific training and mentoring program, those who’ve shown they’re a great match for our company and a roofing career can join the roofing apprentice program.

For veteran outreach, we’ve partnered with the Florida-based Learning Alliance Corp., an alliance of colleges and universities that work to bring corporate clients career development resources. Participating in job fairs for veterans is also effective. Roofing contractors ready to recruit more veterans can tap into a host of state and private sector organizations, such as Veterans Florida. Nonprofits around the country increasingly are becoming great resources linking companies and veterans, as does the United Way of Broward County, Fla. with its innovative Mission United program.

Add College Credits

New this summer, graduates of our region’s ABC registered roofing apprentice program are receiving 27 Industrial Technical Practicum credits from Broward College, our area’s state college. That’s just 33 credits (11 classes) away from an associate of science degree, and the additional courses can be taken online. Broward College makes the credits available to graduates of 15 organizations’ registered apprentice programs. It’s smart policy for our region, and it’s an opportunity we’re proud help make possible.

Find and Keep Higher-Level Hires

Since it realistically takes project managers about 10 years to fully master the role, hiring recent college graduates for the job means investing time and resources in training. Shadowing and mentoring are crucial.

Adding a full-time talent recruiting specialist has sharpened our focus. Also, a referral bonus program paid after 90 days to both the employee who gives a referral and the new hire helps draw qualified people at all levels. We’re widening outreach via Facebook ads and other social media, through high school and community career fairs and construction industry organizations’ career days.

Advocate for Immigration Reform

This spring, we joined 400 roofing professionals for NRCA’s Roofing Day in Washington, D.C., urging legislators to act on regulatory and immigration reform, plus technical education programs. Make your workforce needs known to your lawmakers — and plan to attend Roofing Day 2019.

Are You Walking the Walk?

Since all facets of a company shape its employment brand, be keenly aware of the powerful effects of physical plant, company culture and community involvement in attracting great people.

For example, as one of the nation’s leading solar contractors through sister company Advanced Green Technologies, Advanced Roofing demonstrates our commitment to green practices with investments including solar arrays and a solar carport at our headquarters that neutralize the entire power bill for our main office building. Keeping up the brand image means upgrading employees’ surroundings, from a covered parking lot and high-efficiency air conditioning system to automatic standing desks and natural lighting in offices. An inclusive, respectful culture and competitive benefits, from insurance and tuition assistance to vacations and company special events, reinforce the brand.

Whatever shape recruiting efforts take, recognize that progress will take time, but the results are critical to build roofing’s next generation of leaders.