As I was saying …

Lessons learned from abroad

This past October, NRCA Chairman of the Board Lindy Ryan and I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of a German organization, the International Federation of Roofing Contractors, that was held outside Cologne, Germany. Attendees mostly were from European and Scandinavian countries and represented contractors and manufacturers (who often are one and the same in that part of the world).

As is always the case with these trips, there are unexpected lessons to be learned. At the top of my list is this: The most pressing problem facing contractors in that part of the world is … finding workers. And that with 10,000 Syrians entering Germany every day. (We don't get much sympathy from Europeans about U.S. immigration problems.)

The Germans—and other Europeans—have a much different approach to workforce development than we do, of course. For one, not all high school students are encouraged to attend a university; many are encouraged to enter the building trades where, among other designations, they can become a "dachdeckmeister," or master roofer. There is a sense of pride that goes with the designation, and we have a lot to learn from them. But still, Europeans have the same demographic forces working against them that we do; basically, our countries are getting older.

We in the U.S., it seems to me, are guilty of being arrogant in our approach to international involvement. Too often, we think our counterparts want our technology, products and knowledge. But it's often the other way around—we always learn on these trips, and going in, we're never sure what we will learn.