As I was saying …

Our broken immigration policy

I recently had the chance to participate in a first-time effort to bring together a number of associations related to the housing industry as part of the International Builders Show in Las Vegas. The group was asked to identify issues of concern to their respective industries and suggest opportunities for collaboration. Nearly everyone talked about workforce issues, specifically how we find, train and retain workers.

There are a number of initiatives already in place, to be sure. NRCA, for example, is developing more online training programs tied to the broader idea of establishing a well-defined career path for roofing workers. We've also begun working with construction management schools to make more students aware of career opportunities in specialty contracting. And we are partners with three programs looking to find work for veterans.

Sadly, these are only small-scale remedies. The fundamental problem we face is a demographic one: The U.S. population is aging, and the traditional source of roofing labor—18 to 22 year olds—is not looking to the construction industry as a first choice for a career.

A recent article in the Dallas Morning News reported the average age of a carpenter is 49; the average plumber is 56; and the average stonemason is 69. And during the next five years, 20 percent of skilled laborers in the construction industry are expected to retire.