In March, I had the opportunity to speak about workforce development to an audience of roof consultants at an International Institute of Building Enclosure Consultants (formerly RCI Inc.) meeting in Orlando, Fla. During the course of the discussion, I asked them whether they believe the roofing industry has a problem with quality roof system installations. Nearly 80% of the attendees said "yes."
I thought the answer might be "yes," but I was taken aback by the 80% response. I wonder how roofing contractors would answer that question. I am pretty sure if I had been asked the same question when I operated my roofing company, I would have said I don't have a problem with quality roof system installations but many of my competitors do. That wasn't true, but it's natural to want to be the best. Yet during my time roofing, I noticed many roof system failures I saw were caused by faulty workmanship. There was the occasional material or design failure and lack of proper maintenance. But most often, the problem was because something wasn't installed correctly the first time.
Installing quality roof systems is much more complex than most customers and roofing workers realize. To an inexperienced worker, the first days on a roof can be overwhelming. There is a lot to learn. I hear from roofing contractors that most worker training happens on the roof. Practice while learning is one way to look at it. Workers often learn by observing more experienced workers on the crew. Add some manufacturer training and formal classroom education after work and the training is complete.
But this approach leaves a significant gap in training. After talking with hundreds of contractors, the primary gap in training I hear about occurs during the first six months of work for a new employee. Contractors try to take a totally inexperienced worker and make him or her productive as quickly as possible. The problem is there often is no one on the crew equipped to train and mentor the new worker. The job of training all too often falls onto the shoulders of the foreman, who also is under pressure to finish the job. The last thing he or she wants is a new person who has little skill to get in the way of production.