Some roofing contractors are approaching worker training in unique ways
by Ambika Puniani
It's a challenge for roofing contractors to find qualified workers, but it is an even greater challenge to find new workers who are willing to learn the trade and stay in the roofing industry. Adequate training programs that show employees they have career paths in the roofing industry can help address this issue. And several NRCA-contractor members have implemented interesting, successful training programsfor new employees and seasoned roofing workersto meet their companies' and employees' needs.
These contractors have shared their training approaches with Professional Roofingyou may implement some of their ideas in your roofing company.
As the need for roofing workers grew and immigration laws became more relaxed, the roofing industry benefited from an influx of Spanish-speaking workers. Although grateful for a willingalbeit untrainedwork force, contractors had to adapt to their new workers' cultures and the language barrier. As a result, many had to re-evaluate existing training programs or devise new ones.
Reid Ribble, president of The Ribble Group Inc., Kaukauna, Wis., says his company now conducts training in Spanish and English. In fact, Ribble hired a person to translate Wisconsin's asbestos-training manuals into Spanish so more of his workers could be certified to handle asbestos.
"We also have paid to put our Spanish-speaking workers through English-language classes, and we have paid for English-speaking supervisors to attend Spanish classes," Ribble says.
Another issue related to training workers is that many have limited reading and mathematic skills. Therefore, teaching methods must be geared carefully to workers' learning levels.
"Before 1999, we did not have a formal training process for new hires," says Robert Poland, health and safety director for Bridgeville, Pa.-based Burns & Scalo Roofing Co. "With the onset of a manpower shortage in the construction trades, we decided to establish a formal training program aimed at semiskilled workers."
Jan Bostwick, human resources manager of CFE Inc., Elmira, N.Y., adds to Poland's view: "A main challenge is an inability to recognize and focus on individual workers' needs. We have to teach basic skills or accommodate those who lack basic skills."
Insufficiently meeting workers' needs, Bostwick says, can lead to placing workers in situations for which they are unprepared and, essentially, setting them up to fail.
"Our trainers are taught to observe trainees during each phase of training to determine whether a method is appropriate," Bostwick says. "We make no assumptions about learning styles."
A common problem for contractors who train their workers is a lack of motivation. Many workers may not perceive value in safety training, for example, and choose not to attend classes.
"It is difficult to convince employees that they need more training," Ribble says. "After working for the company for awhile, it seems workers ... get the idea that they know it all. But none of us does."
And it often is difficult to schedule classes during a busy season, such as summer. As a result, many contractors and local unions ask workers to attend classes before or after typical work hours.
Doug Jones, executive vice president of union-affiliated South Side Roofing & Sheet Metal Co. Inc., St. Louis, says attendance is the main problem facing his company. Because the local union's training classes typically are held Monday evenings, Jones believes many workers find attending such classes unappealing.
"After a long day at work, our employees are usually too tired or dirty to go to class," Jones says.
Although contractors face similar difficulties when training workers, there are innovative ways to approach training that help encourage workers and show them they add value to a company.
For example, Burns & Scalo has instituted what it calls the Burns & Scalo University. More than 25 courses are taught to new and experienced workers by Burns & Scalo's field supervisors and Poland, as well as manufacturers. The company holds semiannual safety seminars addressing fall protection, driver safety, drug awareness, propane safety, hoist safety and other issues.
In addition, technical roofing classes are held every Tuesday, and one-fourth of the company's workers attends classes. Curriculum is based on company experiences, as well as manufacturers' roof system installation recommendations.
The classes, which are taught in company classrooms and the field, also require workers to pass examinations that prove their practical knowledge. Workers earn credits for the courses they successfully complete, and credits correlate with their pay scales because mandatory core courses must be completed to be eligible for salary increases. After mandatory courses successfully have been completed, employees can take elective courses that earn them credits toward additional salary increases.
CFE also has an in-depth approach to training. The company established separate programs for new hires and experienced staff. New hires are placed through a rigorous training program that includes NRCA roof application training programs, company policies and safety courses. Throughout an employee's first year, he also will attend classes about CPR and first aid, defensive driving, using powered industrial trucks, on-the-job training and total quality management (TQM).
Employees who have been with the company for more than one year attend annual safety, health and environmental training; TQM classes; and refresher courses based on technical roof system applications. Employees' understanding and application of materials learned are judged by supervisors and the company's human-resources department, as well as a qualified trainer if necessary. Curriculum primarily is based on the company's experience though courses are supplemented with material from NRCA, manufacturers, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Bostwick explains that CFE's program is rigorous: "Employees who cannot meet competency requirements either repeat the program or are terminated depending on the training class."
The Ribble Group also has a stringent training program for new hires. Called NEWT (new employee worker training), the 12-week program focuses on company standards and procedures, as well as technical skills. Seasoned employees have review sessions based on NRCA's training programs.
In addition to contractors' efforts, the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers (UURWAW) recently launched a program that takes worker training to a higher level. Although the union traditionally has offered training services to roofing workers who want to reach certain skill and income levels, such as apprentices and journeymen, it recently expanded its training program to offer the opportunity to earn college credit for courses completed.
At UURWAW's George Meany Center for Labor Studies, which is a national labor college, students can earn up to 60 hours of college credit toward a bachelor's degree. Currently, UURWAW is training instructors to teach courses.
The George Meany Center's program is meant to build on training the union already offers. And some contractors try to do that, as well.
Bruce Fryer, chief executive officer for Fryer Roofing Co., Fresno, Calif., is a signatory contractor whose workers attend union-sponsored training classes. Fryer helped his local union expand its training by showing NRCA's training programs to his union representative. The two are working to introduce the programs into the apprenticeship training.
To encourage workers to attend training sessions, contractors have tried various incentive-based programs. Although all contractors interviewed pay employees for time spent in a classroom, as well as increased pay for successfully completing certain courses, other perks are offered.
For example, as part of Burns & Scalo's incentive program for no lost-time injuries, the company provides employees with apparel for reaching safety milestones. If an employee works one year without a safety infraction, he receives a hat. Awards are given for up to seven years of safety excellence. The seven-year award is overalls.
In addition, the company provides monetary awards for safety in each of its four divisions (commercial roofing, commercial sheet metal, repair and maintenance, and residential roofing), as well as names an outstanding foreman in each division.
Make the investment
The roofing companies mentioned in this article are doing some of the most expansive training in the industry, which, of course, costs money and takes time. But implementing some of these companies' efforts into your worker training program can make a difference between keeping an employee and losing one.
As Fryer says: "Contractors must consider the cost of not training workers and its effects on callbacks, employee morale and customer relations. They must insist on training and educating their work forces whether the training comes from the union or within their companies."
Ambika Puniani is editor of Professional Roofing magazine and NRCA's director of communications.
Tax incentives for worker training
by Jennifer Criscuolo
Although most contractors spend time and money training employees, few are aware there may be tax incentives to doing so.
In the Internal Revenue Code's (IRC's) Section 127, the term "educational assistance" means the payment, by an employer, of expenses incurred by or on behalf of employees for education available to all employees. Such educational assistance also includes providing employees with books, supplies and equipment, but it does not include payment for or the provision of tools or supplies that may be retained by the employee after completion of instruction or meals, lodging or transportation.
If the worker training you provide fits this description, you are eligible for a one-time exclusion from gross income of the cost of training up to $5,250 in one year. The one-time exclusion is per employee.
According to IRC's Section 162, union and open-shop companies can deduct all employee-training expenses from corporate income if they qualify as ordinary and necessary business expenses as opposed to capital expenses, which are not deductible. Union employers also can benefit from a 1958 Revenue Ruling (58-238) that states contributions made by an employer to an apprenticeship and training fund (pursuant to a collective-bargaining agreement) constitute business expenses deductible from income. There is no standard deduction amount under Section 162, but the amount you deduct needs to be added to the employee's taxable income.
NRCA has been advocating a simpler, more direct tax incentive for employers who train skilled workers. The proposal has been introduced as legislation, the Skilled Workforce Enhancement Act (SWEA), and would allow a targeted tax credit for small-business owners who provide long-term training to apprentices in highly skilled trades, including roofing.
For more information about SWEA or other legislative initiatives, contact NRCA's Washington, D.C., office at (800) 338-5765 or visit the Government Relations section of NRCA's Web site, www.nrca.net, to view current position papers. For further information about current tax incentives, NRCA urges you to seek professional guidance or contact the Internal Revenue Service at (800) 829-1040.
Jennifer Criscuolo is NRCA's director of federal affairs.