Roofing contractors as well as roofing distributors and manufacturers have been telling us for a decade that the number one problem facing the industry is a shortage of skilled roofing workers. This issue has been a topic in all our print and online media as well as at our annual Best of Success Conference.
We have seen a plethora of great ideas for recruiting and retaining roofing workers, but the problem persists. Not just for roofing workers, but skilled trade workers of all stripes. The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) has offered its members training programs for many years and has recently embarked on a program to raise the level of the entire industry as a way of rewarding skilled roofers and attracting other potential roofers into the trade.
NRCA’s ProCertification™ program promises to raise the profile of roofing as a legitimate skilled trade, but it will take years for this to make an impact on the worker shortage. It is a good thing the process has begun, but all stakeholders in the roofing industry need to reach for any lever to bring in fresh troops for the near term as well as the long term.
For the third year in a row, Roofing Contractor attended the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLCS) in Louisville, KY (June 24-28, 2019). This year there was a difference as we were joined by others with NRCA and its foundation, the Roofing Alliance. NRCA has entered into a partnership agreement with SkillsUSA to begin the process of connecting the roofing industry with the career and technical education community.
The partnership with SkillsUSA is designed to put the roofing industry in touch with over 4,000 construction classrooms in middle to post-secondary trade schools. Most of these classrooms are at the high-school level. Arguably another long-term play, this partnership seeks to raise the awareness that roofing is a skilled trade with a promising career path. More importantly, it is set to raise awareness of roofing among students who are already poised to enter the construction field at the beginning level.
SkillsUSA is a national membership association serving students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations. SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers, and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. SkillsUSA helps students excel while preparing them to begin their trade employment “job ready”.
With roots dating back to 1965, SkillsUSA presently has a membership base of over 360,000 students and advisors organized into over 19,000 local chapters and 52 state and territorial associations. Counting alumni members and others, the membership annually totals 421,000. More than 600 business, industry, and labor organizations, now including the NRCA, actively support SkillsUSA at the national level through financial aid, in-kind contributions and involvement in SkillsUSA activities.
SkillsUSA improves the quality of the emerging workforce through the development of skills that include personal, workplace, and technical skills grounded in academics. SkillsUSA’s vision is to produce the most highly skilled workforce in the world while providing every member the opportunity for career success.
Every year state affiliates of SkillsUSA conduct skills training competition among their student members. The winning students and/or teams are invited to the NLCS. The event brought together over 6,400 student competitors, 1,476 advisors (instructors), 4,000 friends, family, and general public, for a total attendance over 19,000.
In addition to the skills competitions, the NLCS features a 150-booth trade show that allows industry partners to showcase their products and employment opportunities. There were no roofing opportunities showcased at this year’s event, but perhaps there will be in the future.
Earlier this year Roofing Contractor attended the skills competition put on by the Georgia chapter of SkillsUSA in Atlanta. There were no roofing skills competitions, but the industry was well represented by members of the Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association of Georgia (RSMCA). The trade show there included tables set up by contractors and suppliers to greet students as well as giving them the opportunity to weld some TPO/PVC and don a harness to hike up a sloped shingle roof.
The skills competitions are amazing; especially in the construction trades. The logistics to stage a competition among 6,400 students are complex but handled with military efficiency. Truckload after truckload of equipment and materials begin to arrive two days before the action begins and are gone the day after the competitors have crossed their respective finish lines.
All the competitions are conducted according to a specific set of rules and standards. As there is presently no roofing competition (nor has there ever been), a few things must happen in advance. First, there must be at least two classrooms somewhere in the country teaching an accredited course on some type of roofing skills. Next, standards and rules must be formulated to come up with a competition that can be conducted within a limited space and amount of time. All SkillsUSA competitions are vetted by a committee of professionals engaged with the organization.
To produce a roofing competition, it will take a partnership between the roofing industry and SkillsUSA. Since the partnership between SkillsUSA and the NRCA is still new, it will take some time for this to come together.
The roofing industry has always been active in training its people. Our way of training has been, for the most part, tribal in nature. The new roofer learns from the old roofer. Bad habits and practices along with the good. Over the past several decades the industry has made great strides with manufacturers and roofing associations making all manners of training available, and most of it in two languages.
All the good training being used today must continue. It is essential that all existing efforts move forward and keep improving. And we must continuously build people from within, but in a time when the workforce is already short and diminishing, it is time to bring on talent from all potential sources.
Would it not be great if 50 years from now there were people working in the roofing trade who could proudly say they were national champion roofing competitors when they were in tech school? That’s a long way off, but the only way to make a 50-year journey is to take that first step.