Montana has its fair share of unique roofing challenges. Seasonality limits timelines, while the varying landscapes and climates demand resilient roofing systems. However, the expansive state also faces challenges that roofing contractors everywhere understand.

Labor shortages continue to hamper roofing companies, compounded by the difficulties of recruiting younger generations more interested in being “influencers” than climbing onto a roof. But in the Treasure State, two gems are shining in the Montana Roofing Association’s crown, which indicates a bright future for the industry.

At its 35th annual convention in January, the MRA chose Morgan Thiel and Rachel Hoover as its president and vice president, respectively, marking the first time in the association's history women held both roles. The move represents the association’s desire to see the next generation lead the way and an increased effort to make roofing more inclusive.

“I feel like we’re in a unique space where we’ve both come from companies that have really championed women – about half of my company is women,” Hoover said. “I think that we’re seeing the desire to have more women in the space because of the unique things we bring.”

Thiel and Hoover participating in the 2024 National Women in Roofing Days in Las Vegas

Thiel and Hoover participating in the 2024 National Women in Roofing Days in Las Vegas. Photos courtesy of Rachel Hoover.

Madams President and Vice President

Thiel is a third-generation roofer — her father and uncle co-own Thiel Bros. Roofing in Sidney, Mont., and she grew up working at the family business during summers, something she continued to do in college. After finishing her post-secondary education, she returned to work full-time in 2018.

Her official title is project coordinator, but she dons several hats in the company, whether handling project paperwork, running machines or working on a roof.

“I felt very welcomed at every level in this industry. And I think that's a really good sign moving forward,” Thiel said. “I know a lot of women did push through more uncomfortable times for us to kind of get where we are, but yeah, I think that's a really positive direction that the roofing industry is going.”

Thiel Bros. Roofing is also a founding member of the Montana Roofing Association. As a result, Thiel attended MRA conventions as a child, especially when her parents ran the events. Two years after joining the company full-time, some of the members asked if she would join the MRA’s convention committee. She took them up on the offer, continuing a family legacy.

A year after that, Thiel became vice president of the MRA, a position she held for three years until she became president in 2024.

Hoover’s journey into roofing began two years ago when she joined Ace Roofing in Wilsall, Mont., as its director of marketing. However, it’s not her only connection to the industry. Hoover’s grandfather owned a roofing company in Montana, which was also a founding association member.

“It was really fun [connecting] with Morgan’s dad and uncle and hear stories about my grandpa,” Hoover said.

Ace Roofing’s founder and president, Jake Magalsky, had served as president of the MRA. In 2023, he asked Hoover if she would serve on the association’s convention committee. Hoover was glad to step into the role, where she worked alongside Thiel. When Thiel became president, Hoover was elected vice president and chair of the convention committee.

Her experience with event marketing, sponsorships, developing growth strategies and community involvement through Ace Roofing have made her an asset to the MRA.

“I’m not the one putting roofs on, but it’s an important role and something that I really enjoy doing,” Hoover said.

Although Thiel and Hoover may be a minority in the roofing industry, the duo’s rise to the top leadership positions is no fluke.

“I think that the members that voted us in obviously see the value in having some newer people that maybe are a little bit more innovative or looking at [how] we can change things to make things better,” Hoover said.

The Montana Roofing Association's annual golf outing

The Montana Roofing Association's annual golf outing benefits its Cameron Sauter Memorial Scholarship. The program has granted more than $40,000 in scholarships since 1994.

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

Changing things for the better includes bringing more women into the workforce. According to the National Roofing Contractors Association, in 2019, women made up approximately 2% of the roofing labor force, one point more than a decade earlier.

“A lot of people don’t really know about it as an option,” Thiel said. “We’re from a small town in a remote area, but a lot of people don’t really even know what we do or what working at a roofing company looks like until they come and try it out.”

In addition to the MRA initiatives, a Montana-Wyoming chapter of National Women in Roofing is slowly but surely growing in membership. Thiel, who heads the chapter, expressed that there can be difficulties bringing people together in such a massive state, but the efforts are paying off.

“We try to get a women’s lunch going at all our MRA events to grow that,” Thiel said. “It’s incorporating those events to give women a place in a [fairly] male-dominated industry.”

Thiel and Hoover emphasize education as one of the cornerstones of their approach, drawing inspiration from groups like the NRCA. Among their strategies are reaching out to people seeking a different career and working with schools to present roofing as a viable career path.

“Women are really good with technical details and tend to be better at taking care of paperwork and reports along with running a lot of the machinery we operate that is more detail-oriented, so there are definitely companies looking for women for specific roles,” Thiel said.

Looking to the Future

The efforts go beyond gender. The MRA is pursuing ways to reach other minorities in roofing and younger generations. This has included bringing guest speakers to its conventions and seeking information and resources from manufacturer partners.

“It’s shifting the perception away from ‘it’s a summer job’ to a legitimate career path, not just for women, but for men too,” Hoover said. “Most of the people in our organization didn’t think they were going to go into roofing, and they found a place and they made a good career out of it.”

Technology, as a solution for making roofing more efficient with fewer workers, continues to gain steam, though the construction industry is traditionally a late adopter. Montana’s diverse landscape and remote locations mean roofing companies vary wildly in what products they use, whether on the roof or in the office, so making suggestions to MRA membership isn’t one-size-fits-all.

“Everyone is struggling with workforce issues these days, so this is just one way we’re looking to solve that issue,” Thiel said.

Thiel admits her company might be “behind the curve” in implementing technology but understands why — companies with more extensive legacies have innate understandings of how their operations work, so the urge to modernize can become an afterthought.

“We’re pretty much always looking for something that can work for us; it's been a bit of a challenge finding programs that will fit what we do, specifically us because, since we're in such a remote area, we do a lot of different things to serve our region,” Thiel said.

By comparison, Ace Roofing has adopted various software programs to streamline its operations. However, Hoover cautions that companies must ensure they’re not bringing on tech simply because it is new.

The duo points out that adopting technology is more than using modern software and drones. The latest gadgets, tools and equipment make roof applications easier than in past decades, and as more advancements to roofing products hit the market, equipping crews with them can make the job more appealing to those who perceive it as grueling work.

“I think the other part of it, too, is I think we're all a bit unique. [Ace Roofing has] a fairly young team, millennials and some Gen Z, so I think those generations are very eager to implement new technology if it means working smarter, not harder, which is great,” Hoover said. 

The association’s approach to tackling all these issues is multi-pronged. For instance, Hoover said the MRA’s political committee has been active, meeting with state lawmakers and representatives as recently as last March to garner support for the industry.

“I think we’re involved in things on multiple levels, making sure we’re serving the roofers of Montana and serving our industry the best we can,” said Hoover.

Of course, it’s not all work and no play for the MRA. The association holds an annual golf tournament to support its scholarship and is hosting its third annual fishing trip at Flathead Lake in July.

As they lead the MRA into the future, Thiel and Hoover are grateful for the association and the support they’ve received from its membership. Both readily seek advice to fill the gaps in their knowledge.

“We have a lot of older members who have been around a long time and have a great deal of knowledge, experience, and wisdom that guide us a lot,” Thiel said. “We have a lot of people who have grown up, like me, [as] children of founding members that are in leadership positions now, which is cool to see, and then we also have quite a few new people stepping in … it’s cool to see different perspectives from different groups.”

Hoover agreed that having that depth of information has been invaluable.

“I feel like they've really kind of taken us under their wing; they've been mentoring us and giving us advice on the things that work [and] the things that haven't, and it's just been such an amazing wealth of knowledge,” she said.