Our meeting with the CEO of the China National Building Waterproofing Industry Association (CNBWIA), Mr. Zhu Dongqing, took place on the last day of China’s four-day long Workers Day (May Day) Holiday. We were leaving for Xi’an the next morning so he very graciously agreed to change his holiday plans to meet with us in his Beijing office.
I was not there for a formal interview but interested, as always, with the state of the roofing (building waterproofing) industry in China. He was likewise interested in discussing some of the issues we are dealing with (or have dealt with) in the U.S. I presented Mr. Zhu with a brief written report on some of the issues we have been reporting on recently in Roofing Contractor. This was not an exhaustive “State of the Industry Report”; just some highlights on a half-dozen or so topics.
As has been the case for several years in the U.S., the conversation went to our lack of a sufficient workforce and the aging out of our skilled roofers. Zhu’s response (paraphrasing) was, “Ha! You think you have skilled worker shortages?”
I explained how our workforce is made up of a growing number of immigrants and how we have improved training by addressing the needs of contractors employing Spanish-speaking workers with cultural and language training. For years we have had Spanish-language training manuals published by associations and manufacturers.
Zhu explained to me that their roofers come to their jobs from family farms in the country. They are not only unskilled, but there is a high rate of illiteracy and language barriers in some cases.
I responded that the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) is beginning to certify workers who are already trained and skilled and offering training to new roofers. In addition to this NRCA is focused on the career and technical education system to assist with training the next generation of roofers. The NRCA and CBWIA have been cooperating for years, so Zhu was familiar with these efforts.
Zhu said his association has likewise started a training and certificate program. He went on to say that they have successfully trained and certified 20,000 roofers. He also said there are 1.5 million building waterproofing workers in China and that the quality of their work is far below the standard his association is striving to achieve.
I’m going to continue to push workforce development in our country because I believe it is undeniably our biggest obstacle to producing a growing quantity of quality roofing work. But I will be a bit more humble when I consider the scope of our problem in light of what China is up against.
The discussion of skilled workers led us to the heart of what Zhu wanted to discuss. He wanted to know about warranties on low-slope roofing. His concern is a way to offer, in his words, “quality assurance”. Not being an expert on roofing warranties, I had to insert a lot of qualifiers into my comments.
Owing to the back and forth of a conversation with a translator in between us and the constraints of time, we did not get all the way through the discussion. Frankly, I had more questions than answers.
To begin with, in my opinion, warranties are borne out of competitive situations. I attempted to explain how the highest level of warranties are legal agreements, the parties of which include the contractor, manufacturer, and building owner (and toss in others with interests, including designers, consultants, bonding companies, insurers, etc.). Long story long: my lack of specific expertise on the topic was exceeded by the complexity of the topic itself.
Following our meeting with Mr. Zhu we were joined by several of the CNBWIA staffers and some association members who were working in Beijing. We continued our chat about warranties and roofing workers in the U.S. and were treated to a traditional Chinese meal at a nearby Peking Duck restaurant. By “traditional” I mean friends and/or family gathering together to talk and eat way too much food.
As to bringing the discussion of warranties in the U.S. to a conclusion; Zhu gave me an assignment to write an article on the topic for his association publication. I have already decided to accept the challenge, but it will be curated by me, not written by me. My plan is to bring some contractors, attorneys, manufacturers, consultants, insurers, and building-owner representatives into the discussion. This is going to take a few minutes.
I think this will be a good exercise for me, but not sure how much good it will do for the industry in China. Their construction methods and laws are so different from ours. But people trade with people. Dealing with continuous building leakage problems in the industry, top manufacturers and contractors are looking for ways to make their case for quality assurance.