DamatoOr should I leave the “happy” part out? Thankfully (finally) women are stepping into the light and finding their way in the roofing and construction industry. It has been a very long time coming and has a very, very long way to go in my opinion. Maybe not time for a celebration yet, but we’re working on it.

In an effort to leave the roofing industry a little better than I found it, I have chosen “workforce development” as my main mission. No longer employed in a nine to five job (in 45 years it was never nine to five… more like seven to six and often included Saturdays), I now have time to follow other pursuits. Is there any doubt that building a skilled workforce to carry the roofing and construction industries forward the most important issue of the day?

Well, it was one of the top issues for roofing contractors when I started in 1974 and has been a topic of discussion ever since.

I am pulling every lever I can find, presently focused on bringing the roofing industry and the career and technical education community together. Since roofing contractors have historically managed worker training on their own via programs offered by roofing associations, manufacturers, and good ol’ OJT (on the job training… tribal training, that is), looking to career and technical schools for help would be a new thing for roofing.

If the industry does not enter some uncharted waters and keeps sailing along the same route, the problems associated with recruiting, training, and retaining workers are going to keep getting worse and worse. It would be a classic case of Einstein’s other theory: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

Now why would the construction and roofing industry not embrace women workers? I hear the voices of plenty of folks who continue to insist that it simply will not work. They cannot work in crews with men, they do not possess the physical ability to work outside with heavy materials. Well, there are a lot of things a woman, even a small woman, can do on the roof. And part of solving the workforce dilemma will be figuring out how to enable them to do it all.

Here are some suggestions on how you start to bring women onto you roofing jobs. Start by realizing that the women who step onto your job will most likely be “keepers” or “tossers” based on your existing team. You need to start with your culture to make sure your team will be not only accepting of women workers, but welcoming. They may require some accommodation, but I am convinced that if a foreman wants to run a team that works, he (or she) will figure out how to make it happen.

A foreman that is “presented with” a woman to add to his crew, without any training on how and why to do it, will make short work of them. Not exactly a win-win.

So here’s your challenge: Want to celebrate Women in Construction Week? Start by figuring out a plan to bring some or more women onto your team the same way (with some modifications as noted here, and perhaps others) you would a young man. Continue to ignore the other 50 percent of the workforce and do so at your own peril.

PS: If you want to meet some great women leaders already working in the roofing industry, join the National Women in Roofing for a luncheon on April 3 at the Roofing Day in D.C. event sponsored by NRCA. Click here for details.