Training a new generation

Advanced Roofing shares how it created a roofing apprenticeship program


Skylines across the U.S. are growing rapidly as the construction industry experiences a boom in commercial and residential projects. But even with this growth following the Great Recession, the industry is facing a major problem that could cause havoc in production work schedules.

According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), there is a lack of available hourly craft and salaried professionals. During the summer of 2015, AGC conducted a national survey of 1,358 construction companies that revealed 86 percent of construction firms are having trouble filling available positions. To meet current and future workforce needs, the roofing industry is looking for ways to recruit more talent. One way my company, Advanced Roofing Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is accomplishing this is through the creation of an apprenticeship program in Florida.

The labor shortage

There are various reasons for the current labor shortage. Many workers left the roofing industry during the Great Recession, and the current workforce is aging. In Florida, many field roofing workers are in their 40s and 50s. As the baby boomer generation starts to retire, the industry is beginning to experience an even greater shortage of skilled workers. According to the AGC survey, poaching talent from a shrinking pool of skilled workers is another concern—36 percent of respondents have lost talent to other companies.

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), construction and extraction occupations are projected to grow 10.1 percent nationwide—from 6.5 million to 7.16 million by 2024. The roofing industry is expected to add 15,200 jobs by 2022 and with replacement needs, 42,900 job openings are projected.

Opportunities for new workers

Apprenticeship programs particularly can benefit those new to the workforce or industry. According to the Wall Street Journal, 2015 college graduates are in debt with school loans averaging $35,000. In contrast, a roofing apprentice in the Southeast Florida Registered Roofing Apprenticeship Program does not need to pay tuition for the program and earns a salary while working full-time during his or her training.

After completing the program, an apprentice graduates with a nationally recognized certificate and no student debt. The program also provides certifications in sheet metal fabrication, cranes and safety, and apprentices graduate as roof mechanics or leadmen on a crew, making $18 to $20 per hour. These occupations, with overtime, can yield an annual salary of $50,000 or more.

By participating in such a program, workers can trim years off the typical timeframe it takes to reach higher skills and earnings levels. In the ABC Institute (a training component of Associated Builders and Contractors) state-funded apprenticeship program in Florida, workers can achieve higher skills in five to 10 years on average.

Through the program, apprenticeship students learn many aspects of the trade they would not experience in the field during the early stages of their careers and gain the wider perspective needed to become well-rounded roofing professionals.

"A quality apprenticeship program gives students a career path, not just a job," says Rich Murton, an ABC Institute apprenticeship program instructor.

Opportunities for employers

By participating in the program, we've expanded our access to a pool of qualified applicants and helped shorten the learning curve to build skilled employees. In open-shop markets, it's an excellent opportunity to meet the need for quality training at a low cost and with a limited time commitment from staff. We expect the program will help reduce turnover, build future leaders at all levels and create employees who are enthusiastic about their work and their futures.

Engaging apprentices in their work can inspire and educate the workers around them, an added perk for our company. Foremen and direct supervisors also have a central team leadership role in setting a positive work environment for apprentices by allowing them to share what they've learned with co-workers and giving them time to practice their new skills in the field.

The apprenticeship program instills confidence in participants that one day they will be doing what the mechanics, foremen and supervisors around them do. As they learn more, apprentices can gain more respect for the profession and observe what it takes to become a well-rounded tradesman.

Creating a program

Advanced Roofing wanted to create a program that would condense an apprentice's early years in the trade, speed the learning curve and provide a clear career path. Here's how we did it.

Partnerships

For open-shop programs, partnering with industry, government and education resources is important. Partnering with the right construction organization capable of bringing logistical structure, classroom location and industry outreach is critical.

An important part of long-term groundwork is getting high school students thinking about construction careers. For roofing companies considering an apprenticeship program, we suggest working with existing high school construction outreach programs to help youth see the opportunities the field offers. In our market, the south Florida construction industry has partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America's Generals Club to give middle and high school students who are club members a view of career opportunities in construction.

Advanced Roofing became the catalyst for starting the apprenticeship program in Florida after we approached ABC Institute for its experience with working to establish apprenticeships and securing government funding, and we approached NRCA for its training expertise. Working together with other local roofing companies, our group formed a committee to develop and implement the program.

Curriculum

Once partnerships were established, we created the curriculum. Advanced Roofing worked with ABC Institute, NRCA and the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), an Associated Builders and Contractors education affiliate, to pull from existing curriculum materials.

The committee created a three-year curriculum it believes will get an apprentice to where he or she needs to be to begin a successful career within the roofing industry. A majority of the curriculum's first year was derived from NCCER's materials and includes general construction topics that apply to many trades. It also includes ABC Institute's "core education," with roofing information substituted for other areas of specialty, such as carpentry.

NRCA met with us to help create roofing-specific content for the program. We invited John Schehl, CAE, RRC, executive director of Roof Integrated Solar Energy,™ to Florida to work with us on the project. Through NRCA's involvement, our roofing apprenticeship program provides additional certifications, such as CERTA, which other ABC Institute apprenticeship programs don't offer. The resulting program is similar to union training as far as the number of hours of training and specific tasks covered. It also provides six to eight hands-on labs per year and is the only open-shop registered apprentice roofing program in Florida.

Southeast Florida's program

Year one of the Southeast Florida Registered Roofing Apprenticeship Program consists of 10 modules, including tools, pre-job setup, reading blueprints, and learning who makes products and what the products are made of. Hands-on lab experience includes the following:

  • Polymer-modified bitumen roofing
  • Single-ply roofing
  • Sheet metal fabrication
  • Shingle and tile roofing
  • Soldering and welding
  • Cranes
  • 10-hour safety certification

Year two goes further into first-year topics while skills are honed during on-the-job training. Class topics include how to perform and produce in the field, having a positive attitude and being an effective team member.

Year three consists of additional labs and practice plus classroom work on topics such as job setups, job types, job conditions and being prepared to handle the uniqueness of each job.

NRCA provided course content and materials to support its Roof Application Training Program from an introduction of built-up roofing and polymer-modified bitumen membranes to equipment, setup, calculations and measurements, insulations, single-ply roof membranes, field and surfacing, and flashings. Safety, waterproofing and roof repair instruction are included, as well as NRCA's guidelines for SPF roof systems and roof systems with rooftop photovoltaic components. NRCA also delivered a customized CERTA Train-the-trainer Program for the ABC Institute and was available to consult with the instructor for five months after training.

When creating a program, supplemental materials can be obtained from the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, Tile Roofing Institute, the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance and the Roof Coatings Manufacturers Association to be worked into the curriculum.

Other recommendations

We learned a lot while creating the Florida program and offer the following additional recommendations to make a roofing apprenticeship program successful.

Find the right instructor

Once a curriculum is established, find an instructor who can motivate people new to the industry and teach the curriculum as needed. With a 30-year roofing industry track record, deep pride in craftsmanship and proven motivational skills, Murton was selected by our committee and has been a valuable instructor.

Seek registered status

The Southeast Florida Registered Roofing Apprenticeship Program was approved by the DOL and Florida Department of Education as a registered apprenticeship program, which provides graduates with an industry certificate recognized nationwide.

Get other companies on board

Getting other roofing companies on board is a crucial element but can be difficult. Smart companies recognize the need to invest in apprenticeships and see the benefits of joining forces for training, but many companies take a shorter-term approach and just pay higher wages to skilled workers—a solution that only can last so long. If the pool of talent dries up, eventually there will be no one to pay.

Some companies are concerned they'll put people through the program who then will be hired by another company, which is a bit shortsighted. The industry needs more great people with solid training. Apprentices work for their companies during their training, and companies that create strong relationships with apprentices—investing in them and showing them a career path with that firm—are far more likely to retain their employees.

Seek funding

The Florida Department of Education funds tuition in the Southeast Florida Registered Roofing Apprenticeship Program. Participating companies pay for books, materials and fees and employ/sponsor the apprentices. Apprentices must be at least 18 years old, employed 40 hours a week and sponsored by a participating company. ABC Institute handles program administration.

Determine format

The state requires 144 hours per year of class hours for three years and at least 2,000 hours per year of roofing field work. Our program also has six to eight labs per year that meet on Saturdays. Weekly four-hour evening classroom sessions are held at the ABC Institute Training Center in Coconut Creek, Fla. Lab sessions are at the various employers' facilities. During hands-on lab sessions, apprentices learn about a wider range of roofing skills than they see on the job.

Spread the word

A major challenge is getting prospective apprentices aware of the program, interested and involved. The industry should make it a priority to get the message out by using all partners (companies, industry organizations, state departments of education and local public school guidance counselors, government workforce/employment agencies, and targeted churches and community groups). Use social media and other online channels, as well as publicity and other traditional communications.

Valuable lessons

Thirteen apprentices joined the Southeast Florida Registered Roofing Apprenticeship Program during 2015. Eight stayed and now are in the second-year class. All second-year students are fully committed and see the trade becoming professional careers. The newest first-year class has 10 apprentices.

During our program's first year, we learned the following valuable lessons:

  • Choose the right apprentices. Choose students whose goals and attitudes match the organization's objectives for the program. We have found employees with about two to 10 years' experience with a company are a good fit. For more experienced employees, be sure they don't want to limit their scope to repairs only and they will not back out if they have to work production because it is all part of developing them into competent roofing professionals. Longtime employees with 10 or more years' experience may be a better fit for NRCA's ProForeman Certificate Program.
  • Get the whole team on board. For an apprentice program to succeed, it's critical the entire organization supports it. From the foremen to upper management, all roles are important for developing an apprentice's skill set. Foremen, for example, need to allow apprentices the ability to practice their newly acquired skills in the field, as well as positively reinforcing their efforts to peers. Including foremen in labs is a good idea so they will know which skills are being taught.
  • Provide field experience. Ensure apprentices get enough field experience in varied skills. An apprentice cannot become a supervisor if he or she is specialized in only one area of construction. Prepare foremen and managers to accept the role of mentoring, teaching and, whenever possible, giving the apprentice opportunities to practice new skills outside his or her job description. Apprentices also welcome more labs and hands-on opportunities to practice the skills they're learning in class.
  • Support progress. It's important to understand many apprentices are working extremely hard in rather tough situations. Some may lack transportation and need to take a bus to class. Some struggle with reading and/or math. Work with them and simplify some issues (assist with transportation to class if needed). Students have lives and will miss some classes. Be prepared to have a pathway that allows apprentices to make up a limited, specified number of missed sessions.

What's next?

Currently in the program's second year, Advanced Roofing continues to work with ABC Institute and NRCA to develop and refine the second- and third-year curricula with hopes of intensifying the program to complete it in two years rather than three, which would be a great advantage for the apprentices and companies. The program sometimes is difficult for apprentices who work long hours before attending the weekly four-hour classes, so we are challenging ourselves to find a way to reduce the program to two years.

Advanced Roofing is excited about moving toward our third year when the first apprentices will complete the program. We know fulfilling the roofing industry's workforce needs is not an easy undertaking, but we believe apprenticeship programs are a great way to begin recruiting more great talent into the industry.

Kevin Kornahrens is vice president of administration for Advanced Roofing Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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