More than 220 representatives from the roofing industry gathered in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday for Roofing Day 2022, the first in-person fly-in event since the pandemic, to make their voices heard.
The annual two-day event, held by the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), invites roofing professionals to meet with their congressional representatives and speak about critical issues facing the industry. After holding a virtual Roofing Day in 2021, event organizers and attendees were happy to have an in-person event.
Even first-time attendees like Mike Christensen, director of operations for Korellis Roofing in Hammond, Ind., were ready for some facetime to talk through issues affecting their companies.
"We're here to get some insights into the on-goings of what it entails, how this day has come to evolve, pick up a few things and voice an opinion," Christensen said. "One of the things that piqued my curiosity is immigration reform ... we're struggling with that as far as there's a huge workforce out there we can't tap into."
On Tuesday, the NRCA hosted a welcome event featuring a presentation from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). In addition, Duane Musser, vice president of government relations for the NRCA, helped prepare the audience for their conversations with legislators and their aides the following day. He shared important details about three issues, all of which address a longstanding problem in the industry: labor shortages. It's an issue that even surpassed talks of material shortages, though contractors are still feeling the sting.
“We hear from our NRCA members all the time that if employers could get more employees, they could be doing anywhere from 10, 20, 30% more work," said Musser, garnering nods of agreement from audience members. "That’s significant economic activity that is being left on the table.”
The Issues at Hand
The NRCA and Roofing Day attendees are supporting reformations of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to ensure more job creators can take advantage of its benefits. The act helps job seekers access employment, education, training and support services to match employers with skilled workers. Funding for the act has only modestly grown since 2020, so in addition to increased funding, the roofing industry is requesting reforms that would cut through red tape for small businesses and allow for funding to be used for competency-based programs.
To further address the workforce shortage, Roofing Day attendees are advocating for changes to legal immigration in the form of the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act (HR 4288). This would establish a new visa system allotting more visas in times of economic strength and fewer during downturns.
“Our industry really is not seasonal, so what we need is a new visa that allows people to come to the U.S. to work when the economy demands it on a year-round basis,” said Musser.
As it has in past years, Roofing Day attendees are advocating for increases to Perkins career and technical education grants. These grants ensure more students obtain the training they need to enter the skilled trades, which in turn would close the workforce gap. In the past year, an additional $46 million was appropriated to the program.
Attendees are taking these issues and more to their representatives in a mix of in-person and virtual meetings with members of congress and their staff on April 6. Prior to the meetings, the NRCA organized multiple sessions to further educate and prep attendees, including a congressional chief of staff panel and presentations from Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Scott Ketcham, director of OSHA’s Directorate of Construction.
The issues were determined by the Roofing Day Advisory Committee, made up of NRCA and affiliate members who look at key public policies that would impact all segments of the industry. Returning attendees such as Rob Kornahrens, CEO of Advanced Roofing Inc., were optimistic about making a difference during this year’s event, though it was bittersweet knowing this would be the last one Reid Ribble would attend as the CEO of the NRCA. Ribble is set to retire at the end of May.
“For him to lead the NRCA and start Roofing Day, he deserves a good retirement,” said Kornahrens.