The 2023 International Roofing Expo opened its three-day affair with a powerful keynote address by author and award-winning speaker Chris Czarnik, who pulled no punches describing a labor shortage that will not just fail to abate but is poised to accelerate over the coming years. 

Billed “Winning the War for Talent: One of the Roofing Industry’s Biggest Challenges,” Czarnik wasted little time outlining the empirical tsunami set to wash over the American workforce as the youngest of the baby boomers edge closer to retirement.

“Here's the demographics of the United States: the baby boomer generation, my generation, provided literally unlimited labor for the last 40 years,” Czarnik said. “There [had] always been more people than there were more jobs; we provided unlimited labor so you didn't have to be good at recruiting.”

The following generation, Gen X, including those born between 1965-1980, is approximately 10 million people less than its predecessor, and its successor, the oft-maligned “millennials” — born between 1981-1996 — while larger in number than Gen X, still fails to make up the numbers deficit, Czarnik explained.

Couple that shortfall with a current unemployment rate of 3.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest level since May 1969 — and below market expectations of 3.6% — and the picture of a tight labor market is hard to ignore. 

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Czarnik conveyed to the capacity crowd how ongoing labor constriction means the days of “fish flying into the boat,” analogizing the hiring process to casting a line into the water, “are over.” The days of qualified applicants jockeying for a single position are from a bygone era. In today’s competitive marketplace for good talent, Czarnik says contractors need to apply the same mindset to hiring as they do to finding new customers.

“The next time you start blaming the world, it's the world's fault that you don't have people, that nobody wants to work, look at the 28 great people you have working for you today and ask yourself, ‘How can that be true?’” Czarnik said. “If you’ve got great people in [your] organization today, it's not the world's fault; it's yours.”

But the line was not meant to cast blame as much as present the situation as one requiring a recalibrated mindset. 

“That's okay. Don't take offense. You want it to be your problem. You do," he said. "Listen, if you didn't have enough customers, you wouldn't blame the customers."

And that last line was the thrust of Czarnik’s supposition: just as business owners would unlikely sit around, praying customers call for roofing services, nor should they hope that qualified candidates hopefully see a job opening and apply.

Underscoring how the damage leaving critical positions open can affect contractors, Czarnik denoted how the cost of not filling a position dwarfs the loss of revenue, upset customers, paying for overtime and missed opportunities for new product development, and territorial growth.

Solutions: aggressively market why workers should consider your organization similarly to how you sell your services to prospective customers. Ask current employees what drew them to your company, and build a persona of your ideal applicant. Czarnik even suggested using the phrase "no experience preferred" in your job postings and adding your current employee's hobbies. This paints a picture of your company's culture, attracting people that will fit.

"I'm asking you to blow up and re-imagine all of your job ads," he said, later adding, "Good job ads are about creating questions, not answering them."

It’s a mix of outreach, advertising and leveraging current employees. Happy employees, who enjoy their work environment and feel appreciated, will help in recruitment significantly more than a job board posting. 

The speaker’s bona fides are pretty unassailable: a former military officer with more than 20 years of experience as a human resource manager, career services manager and job search advisor, Czarnik authored “The Human Search Engine” after interviewing and working with thousands of job seekers nationwide; the book was subsequently presented to the 113th Congress as a national job search model.

His follow-up book, 2018’s “Winning the War for Talent,” served as a talent model for more than 2,500 organizations nationwide to transform the process of recruiting, developing, and retaining talent.

“Let me ask you a simple question,” Czarnik asked the audience. “Are you working as hard to find your next employee as your next customer?”

Reimund Kroeck of California-based Kroeck and Son’s Slate Roofing was among those who rushed to speak with Czarnik following his presentation. When asked what he would use from Czarnik's presentation, he simply grinned and said, "everything."

"He was very motivational," Kroeck said. "I want to get out there and conqueror the world ... it makes you feel good about being a roofer."