In my "Framework for a new workforce" article in Professional Roofing's February 2016 issue, I explored the history of roofing industry labor shortages and recent events that have led to the current workforce crisis. At the time, NRCA's online Career Center was introduced as one tool to help address the current labor shortage, which is different from any labor crisis previously experienced by the roofing industry. For this article, I will present a framework for building a competent, sustainable and high-performing workforce that can help address the current crisis and continue supporting the industry through future economic cycles.
Understanding the issue
The most frequent comment I hear when discussing the current workforce crisis with NRCA members is something like this: "Yes, we need to do more training, and we need to do it now." Unfortunately, every employer has a different understanding about what workforce development is and has different training needs, and few know how to go about doing it effectively. To further fragment the topic, the degree to which employers want to be directly involved in workforce development also varies significantly. Some industry employers prefer to hire workers trained by others; some want to sponsor and host their own training programs; some choose to partner with other local employers and operate their own formal registered apprenticeship training while remaining open-shop employers; and some simply prefer to be signatory to a local union training center.
Whichever approach employers choose, training alone will not build a workforce; it only is one component of the entire human resource function. A training program does not recruit workers though having one helps recruiting efforts. Likewise, it can help retain workers, but it is not an employee-retention program. To further confound things, training often is misconstrued as education, mentoring, coaching and other methods for improving worker performance. Therefore, it may help to define training within a larger framework that uses a human performance technology approach to comprehensive workforce development.
What is human performance?
Roofing contracting companies come in all sizes from smaller shops that sustain a workforce of four or five employees to large contracting firms that employ more than 1,500 workers nationwide. But to be successful, they all have to manage their workforces effectively and in compliance with the law. In other words, they all need human resource development.
Human resource development is the framework for helping employees develop their personal knowledge, skills and abilities to empower them to achieve competence. Examples of human resource development activities include employee training, employee career development, performance management and development, coaching, mentoring, succession planning and organization development, to name a few. The focus is on developing a superior workforce so the organization and individual employees can accomplish their work goals in service to their company's customers.
A major challenge currently facing many employers is present-day workers do not learn in the same ways employees used to learn. According to a research study of 405 corporate learning professionals sponsored by the Association for Talent Development and the Institute for Corporate Productivity: " A robust 59 percent agreed that learning in 2020 will take place in ways that we can't imagine today. Alarmingly, a mere 38 percent of those surveyed felt that their organizational learning functions would be ready to meet learners' needs five years from now. Even more concerning, most learning functions aren't currently taking steps to correct this situation."
Small- and large-sized roofing contracting companies should be aware the emerging workforce expects to learn and develop their careers differently, and an effective strategy for meeting the rapidly changing world of human resource development is to implement the most current technologies.
Human performance technology, according to the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), is " a systematic approach to improving productivity and competence, uses a set of methods and procedures—and a strategy for solving problems—for realizing opportunities related to the performance of people." There are many specifics and best practices that, together, form the basis for human performance technology that we will apply in our workforce development framework.
What is training?
Education and training are terms that often are interchanged, but they are not interchangeable. They are different activities intentionally designed to produce different results.
Training develops behavior-changing skills that help individuals in their immediate work and may include changing one's attitudes toward the work. Cynthia Paul, a professional instructor for Denver-based Fails Management Institute, a construction industry training provider, brings clarity to the difference between education and training in an effective and unique way by asking a simple question: "When your son or daughter is in about eighth grade, would you want him or her to receive sex education or sex training?"
By its nature, training improves skills and abilities in measureable and specific ways. For example, training can result in a worker installing more asphalt shingle roofing squares per hour while meeting specific quality standards and without injury to oneself or others. Training content is designed to deliver these kinds of specific results, but having training content is different from having a training program. A training program is an ongoing process driven by a clearly defined set of policies, rules and administrative processes unique to the work of an industry and specific to an employer. When you consider training is totally dependent on finding workers to train in the first place—not to mention keeping them in the industry once recruited—a framework for workforce development begins to reveal itself.
What is workforce development?
A comprehensive workforce development program can survive the ebbs and flows of the economy and significant demographic changes, is resilient enough to quickly adopt new technologies and is sustainable over generations. It comprises four primary components: proactive recruiting, systemized onboarding, training and effective retention programs.
The recruiting function in human resource development may seem an obvious and necessary function. However, historically, the roofing industry has not recruited well primarily because it never had to recruit well. Word-of-mouth recruiting has served the industry well for generations, but the current workforce crisis will require more proactive and structured recruiting activities as part of any successful workforce development program.
Effective recruiting begins with engaging youth in their early childhood education where fundamental life skills such as basic math, language, vocabulary, social skills and responsible work ethics form the necessary ingredients for a competent future workforce.
An example of engaging youth in their early education is work done by the Zentral Verband Des Deutschen Dachdecherhandwerks (Central Association of German Roofing Work) that developed a children's coloring book that introduces the idea of roofing as a career at an early age. German roofing workers enjoy a high level of respect as true craftsmen among the general public thanks in part to this basic workforce recruiting tool.
Recruiting activities may include a contractor meeting face-to-face with prospective workers to tell them how great the career opportunities are in the roofing industry and why the candidates should work for them.
The opportunities to do this may include attending local job fairs; engaging direct commercial marketing channels, such as local radio and television ads and through social media outlets; doing presentations at local high schools, libraries and community centers during "Career Day" events; volunteering at a local vocational school to teach a roofing topic in an entry-level construction program; and direct mail campaigns.
Effective recruiting strategies should include activities that engage a wide spectrum of labor sources. To become familiar with these sources, employers should engage state and local workforce investment boards, veteran organizations and/or nonviolent offender rehabilitation programs, to name a few.
Another important activity for successful recruiting is to partner with workforce developer organizations such as the Helmets to Hardhats or Hire Our Heroes veteran organizations. NRCA recently established relationships with The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS) and the Hero2Hire initiatives through U.S. military organizations. These organizations provide support services to about 450,000 U.S. National Guard men and women, including career counselling and job placement for veterans returning from deployment. EANGUS describes a typical returning veteran as predominantly drug-free, having a driver's license, possessing an exceptionally strong work ethic and highly trained in many disciplines, including construction. They also report this population has one of the highest unemployment rates compared with the general population, in some areas up to 25 percent.
The roofing industry also needs to be aware of its workforce's rapidly changing demographics. According to the Department of Labor's (DOL's) February 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Latinos working in the roofing industry represent 58.1 percent of the total workforce. This demographic trend has grown during the past 20 years and may be attributable to the Latino culture's traditional word-of-mouth job-recruiting practices engrained in its strong family and social traditions.
The Latino workforce is more important than ever to a healthy and productive roofing industry, yet the industry has done little to recruit, train or try to understand and meet the needs of this dynamic and loyal labor source. Hiring from this labor source currently is a bit confounding because of many ineffective and overly burdensome federal immigration laws. NRCA's Washington, D.C., office staff are working hard on behalf of its members to help reform U.S. immigration policy.
Systemized onboarding should be an intentional component in any workforce development program. It makes no sense to go through the effort and expense to recruit and hire new employees and then put them directly in the field in an unfamiliar work environment, unprepared to perform and without clarity about what is expected of them. This approach to onboarding is disparagingly referred to as the "baptism by fire" method. Yet, in general, treating new hires in this manner occurs too often in the U.S. workforce.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), half of all hourly workers leave a new job within 120 days. SHRM's report, Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, states: "Research and conventional wisdom both suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. The faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm's mission."
According to this same report, there are two approaches to onboarding: formal and informal. Informal onboarding is the process by which an employee learns about his or her new job without an explicit organizational plan. Formal onboarding refers to a written set of coordinated policies and procedures that assist an employee with adjusting to his or her new job in terms of tasks and socialization. SHRM's research data show companies that have formal onboarding programs are much more effective with building a competent, sustained workforce than those that do not have a formal onboarding process.
Another 2007 study conducted by The Wynhurst Group, Washington, D.C., a human resource consulting and coaching firm, found newly hired employees exposed to formal onboarding processes are 58 percent more likely to still be at the companies three years later, increased performance by 11 percent and increased discretionary efforts by more than 20 percent.
Training has been a vital and necessary component of workforce development in craftsmen trades since the fifth century B.C. when philosopher Lao-Tse (also known as Lao-tzu) wrote: "If you tell me, I will listen. If you show me, I will see. But if you let me do, I will learn."
This philosophy is fundamental to achieving behavior change and competence, the basis for which all training exists. This article does not explore adult learning theories, instructional design best practices or training implementation strategies though these topics are essential for quality training. Rather, the roofing industry considers its approach to the topic of training as a strategic process established by a consensus of all stakeholders about how the work should be done based on an intimate knowledge of the work. This process results in training standards.
Training standards provided by DOL's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) should not be confused with an industry's standards of work. ETA's standards establish minimum requirements for processes and administration of registered apprenticeship programs that comply with the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, though they do provide some insight about how training standards can be adopted to meet local and regional needs. It is important to realize simply complying with ETA standards does not result in competent performance. The framework we have been discussing focuses on competent performance—the heart of human performance technology best practices—and doesn't just follow a process.
Effective retention programs
The importance of effective employee-retention programs cannot be overstated. Similar to other framework components, retention is not a standalone concept. It is an overarching organizational strategy entwined within all aspects of its workforce development efforts—recruiting, onboarding and training. Further, most employers typically measure retention effectiveness by a single metric such as percentage of new hires that remain employed during a certain period of time. But this metric is not the only measure of success; there are more compelling business reasons for developing an effective retention program.
According to Retensa LLC, a New York-based employee-retention consulting firm, turnover cost can represent more than 12 percent of pre-tax revenues for the average company and nearly 40 percent for companies at the 75th percentile for turnover rate. Their research implies a company's profitability may be 28 percent higher when it implements effective retention strategies.
Further, based on 17 independent corporate studies, SHRM determined the turnover cost for every U.S. worker who earns $8 per hour is about $3,500. Turnover costs in the roofing industry may be far worse because a new roofing worker's pay typically is higher than the figure used as the basis of SHRM's study.
The industry is facing fierce competition for workers who possess even the most basic competencies such as reading, writing and basic math. It is competing for these same candidates with other construction industry specialty trades and with the hospitality, food service, manufacturing, transportation and other industries. Once onboarding is complete, roofing contractors should consider doing all they can to retain good employees.
While I was working on this article, National Public Radio broadcasted a story about the Hilton Worldwide hotel chain announcing its new "parental leave policy" that offers certain paid maternity leave benefits for all employees—men and women—who work for the organization as one of their effective retention strategies. This example demonstrates why Hilton Worldwide may be a more attractive employer to the same workers the roofing industry is trying to recruit and retain. It also demonstrates the interdependence of the components in our workforce development framework.
To develop an effective retention program, asking the following three basic questions can help reveal the unique character of your company:
The answers to these questions are different for each company, which is why no turnkey "silver bullet" retention program exists and each company needs to develop its own. A roofing industry employer can develop a personalized retention program by asking these difficult questions through blind employee surveys, exit interviews and researching what its competitors are offering in their local markets. Knowing what motivates employees to accept and leave a job will help guide decisions for structuring and implementing an effective retention program.
Putting it all together
Judith Hale, Ph.D., president and CEO of The Institute for Performance Improvement, has been recognized internationally as the authoritative voice on workforce development, industry credentialing and performance-based training and development initiatives for more than 40 years. She has served twice as president of ISPI and has provided performance consulting and credentialing program services through her consulting firm Hale Associates, Downers Grove, Ill. Hale's philosophies about training and workforce development are anchored in performance-based outcomes and not dependent solely on passing tests or following processes.
Hale shares her approach to workforce development as: "[It] begins with a group of industry stakeholders reaching a consensus about standards [of performance] at different levels of a job, beginning with fundamental skills. Doing this requires a serious understanding of the work and an even deeper understanding of the interface between the technologies and how the work is done. Advances in technology are forever changing the world of work and what people are being asked to do. Further, [the standards] need to match real job conditions and criteria. Once standards are agreed, you can begin developing a curriculum."
She then describes the relationship between standards and curriculum: "A curriculum needs to be scalable, providing a clear vision for how people can progress [their careers]; a stair-stepped approach, if you will. Skills and abilities are now more diverse than ever."
It is easy to relate how the fast-changing skills described by Hale apply in the roofing industry. So how can roofing training keep up with the rapidly changing work of the industry?
Hale suggests: "You need a feedback loop to confirm workers have learned it, building into the training a formative evaluation process that constantly provides metrics by which you can determine if competency is being achieved. Traditional training approaches historically screen people out. Now, the need is to assess them along the way and help ensure they are learning at the rate expected. The goal is not to fail people; rather, to ensure they succeed so that your industry builds capacity. It is too difficult—if not impossible—to prescribe a competency model because work is no longer static."
The workforce development approach described by Hale offers great insights about how NRCA can develop an effective framework to address the roofing industry's workforce crisis and develop a standardized training program for the changing needs of every industry employer.
NRCA is working toward a standardized performance-based training program, and more information about the initiative will be announced later this year.
Leading the change
The days that allowed roofing companies to remain stagnant and assume their workforce issues would self-heal are long gone. There are simply too many uncontrollable factors that are restraining our traditional business models' abilities to succeed: The U.S. education system has not succeeded with preparing our youth to enter the present-day workforce; new technologies are affecting how roofing and waterproofing work is completed; immigration dynamics and fast-changing demographics are altering how learning occurs and workers achieve competency; and global influences affecting our industry's supply and demand no longer are predictable.
The framework presented in this article represents a complete overhaul of the industry's approach to workforce development that can help overcome these uncontrollable factors, and NRCA members are excited to be leading this change. Such a change will require engaging all stakeholders in the process of developing and implementing new programs, products and services that will help build a competent, sustainable and high-performing workforce to meet the industry's needs for generations to come.
John Schehl, CAE, RRC, CACP, is executive director of Roof Integrated Solar Energy.™
The four C's
There are four main building blocks of successful onboarding, commonly referred to as the four C's: compliance, clarification, culture and connection.
Compliance is the lowest level and includes training employees regarding basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations, such as meeting the minimum Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety-training requirements.
Clarification refers to ensuring an employee understands his or her new job and all its related expectations. Job descriptions often are used as a tool to accomplish this. Providing and reviewing a job description is a useful tool in the onboarding process. NRCA currently is developing standardized roofing work job descriptions, many of which are available on NRCA's online Career Center at www.nrca.net/job-descriptions.
Culture is a broad category that includes providing employees with a sense of organizational norms, formal and informal, such as learning an organization's management hierarchy and the personalities of co-workers and managers. Results from a study about onboarding programs conducted by The Aberdeen Group, Fort Wayne, Ind., an independent global research and analytics company, reinforces the notion that including cultural assimilation with new hires increases the effectiveness of onboarding programs. The study reports 66 percent of companies with onboarding programs claimed a higher rate of successful assimilation of new hires into company culture, 62 percent had higher time-to-productivity ratios and 54 percent reported higher employee engagement.
Connection refers to the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks new employees must establish. In other words, new hires need to feel connected and be accepted as part of a team.
Onboarding best practices
The Aberdeen Group presents the following key questions employers should consider asking before building their onboarding programs to help achieve program success:
The following is a checklist of onboarding best practices: