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.
In response, NRCA has focused on two key initiatives. First, NRCA has developed a curriculum designed to compress the time between when a new worker is hired and when that worker actually becomes a productive and knowledgeable member of a roofing crew. We believe if we can shorten the time, the worker's likelihood of staying in the industry increases. This leads us to the second initiative.
Most roofing companies don't have people equipped to train their workers and, more importantly, develop an effective training and development program for the company. We have responded by creating NRCA Qualified Trainer Conferences specifically designed for this purpose. We have been testing this model with the help of our friends at Johns Manville, Denver, who have graciously provided training space in their Rockdale, Ill., roofing plant. To date, we have had more than 100 trainers go through the course. In 2019, we are taking the conference to a city near you. We want to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible for every roofing company to take advantage of the three-day class. You can find out more about the program at www.nrca.net/Qualified-Trainer.
Yet there is a rub. This system works best for those companies operating a traditional roofing company, one that provides labor and material using its own employees. But with a severe labor shortage, strict immigration control and rising insurance costs, many roofing contractors look elsewhere for labor. Conscientious contractors will need to align with their subcontracted labor force and spend some time evaluating what training, if any, is being done for the subcontract crew they just hired.
Protecting your company's reputation and managing quality installations can be difficult for roofing companies that rely solely on contract labor. NRCA ProCertification™ is another vehicle to use when contracting with labor you do not fully control. By requiring a certified workforce to perform your work, you not only protect consumers but also the investment in your own company and its reputation.
I have listened to your concerns about the roofing industry being commoditized and the value of your work being discounted. When the reputation of an industry can easily be harmed by a few bad actors, it is incumbent on the rest of us to provide a better consumer experience. When we do so, the entire industry is elevated and more people are drawn to join us. Worker certifications that authenticate a worker's skill and competency, having Qualified Trainers train those workers and a curriculum that provides a baseline of necessary knowledge are all things that are a reality for roofing contractors. Call us to learn more about these programs. You might be surprised by all the help available.
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