Champions of roofing

Students compete in a national commercial roofing contest through SkillsUSA.®

Since joining NRCA in 2021, my job has been to address workforce development issues facing the industry. Perhaps the most important initiative our team has undertaken has been establishing a SkillsUSA roofing contest.

SkillsUSA is a collection of students, teachers, advisers and industry professionals throughout the U.S. Founded in the 1960s, SkillsUSA partners with career and technical education schools to prepare students for careers in the trades. According to 2022 data, there are 4,696 schools with 372,817 active members who participate in SkillsUSA.

SkillsUSA’s programs are set up similarly to a science fair: Regional contests lead to state contests that lead to a national championship. About 60% of SkillsUSA members participate in construction and architecture programs. However, roofing was not included in SkillsUSA until 2022.

Mia Pulido, Hammond, Ind., placed fourth; Brandon Lopez, Simpsonville, S.C., placed third; Leif Dampf, Virginia Beach, Va., placed second; and Kyle Cameron, Hutchinson, Kan., was named national champion of the commercial roofing competition.

An NRCA initiative

More than 6 million people have participated in SkillsUSA since its founding, but most of them were never exposed to roofing and opportunities within the trade.

Hilary McPartlon, chairperson of NRCA’s CTE/Workforce Development Committee and president of McPartlon Roofing, Santa Fe, N.M., says: “When a child draws a picture of a house, they start with the roof.” But how will the child know he or she could help build that roof and have a rewarding career in the industry if the possibility is never presented?

To help fill the knowledge gap, in 2021, NRCA set a goal of getting roofing added to SkillsUSA. After NRCA and its partners took a dozen trips across the U.S., conducted more than 200 video calls and sent more than 1,000 emails during the past year, a commercial roofing contest was successfully added to SkillsUSA.

The new contest

The newly added SkillsUSA national contest, Commercial Roofing, involves students installing TPO membrane over the same mockup NRCA uses for the PROCertification® exam for thermoplastic installers. NRCA offers its Training for Roof Application Careers Thermoplastic Roof Membrane Installation package to help prepare students who have not received formal roofing training.

The first SkillsUSA Commercial Roofing state contest took place in Virginia in 2022 with the assistance of Sherri Miles, vice president of J.D. Miles & Sons Inc., Chesapeake, Va. This year, four students competed in the national championship held in Atlanta June 20-22.

National competition

NRCA leaders, members and staff assisted with and participated in the national SkillsUSA Commercial Roofing contest. Following is a series of journal entries I recorded during the competition:

June 19

Setup day: Today from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. we set up the Commercial Roofing contest and the Roofing Pavilion.

The goal of the Roofing Pavilion is to present many aspects of the roofing industry to SkillsUSA attendees—students, teachers, CTE administrators and everyone who can help bridge the gap between the roofing industry and a massive talent pool.

In addition to NRCA, IB Roof Systems, Grapevine, Texas; Johns Manville Roofing Systems, Denver; National Women in Roofing; RoofersCoffeeShop®; Roofing Technology Think Tank (RT3); SRS Distribution Inc., McKinney, Texas; and TAMKO® Building Products Inc., Galena, Kan., also sent representatives to be part of the event.

After we set up the Commercial Roofing contest, we helped set up for a TeamWorks event. During two days from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., four-person teams build a shed that has masonry, plumbing, carpentry, electrical and (now) asphalt shingle roofing components. The roof portion of the TeamWorks contest includes a hip, ridge, valley and edge metal. There are 42 states competing, which means there will be 42 sheds built from the ground up. Thanks to SRS Distribution and TAMKO Building Products for donating all the materials for the TeamWorks contest. 5 p.m.: The Roofing Pavilion is now set up except for the steep-slope mockup for the TeamWorks event; the contest area has four mockups. All the materials have been delivered to the contest and pavilion area. Johns Manville Roofing Systems has a great space set up to teach anyone who wants to learn how to weld TPO membrane.

Here’s hoping when we open tomorrow we won’t be neck-deep in avoidable mistakes, but “cautious optimism” is the term for the day.

June 20

Wow, roofing is the new kid at school who people seem eager to meet. We did get that steep-slope mockup delivered on time, and all day the Johns Manville Roofing Systems table has been occupied by students, teachers, advisers and administrators learning how to couple seams with a T-joint. The Johns Manville Roofing Systems installers who are here for the week have been on their feet over an air welder nearly nonstop.

Today the SkillsUSA TECHSPO opened and will run for three days. TECHSPO is the trade show portion of SkillsUSA where dozens of industries and hundreds of sponsors exhibit in three conference halls that also house contests. Our space was located between the TeamWorks event and Commercial Roofing contest.

On the Commercial Roofing contest side, today was orientation and the 80-question written test. Our judges explained the mockup and materials. The students did a safety brief, demonstrated how to properly put on a personal fall-arrest system, and explained what they’ll be doing on Wednesday and Thursday—the contest days.

There are four states competing in the Commercial Roofing contest: Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina and Virginia. One student will win a $1,000 prize and the title of National Champion.

The four competing students are similar in a lot of ways to any other group of teenagers. After about 20 minutes together, they are constantly joking to hide nerves, and they are excited their gift bags include screen protectors for their phones.

After the students’ afternoon break, I found them back at the competition area getting advice from the judges (courtesy of IB Roof Systems) for the next three hours. They reviewed some contest components with the judges, who went step by step and let the students practice with IB Roof Systems 60-mil TPO membrane (burning some pieces along the way), and did final prep for the contest that starts tomorrow.

We’ve given out hundreds of lapel pins to promote roofing to people, and National Women in Roofing’s table has been buzzing all day. RT3 has been piloting its drone and demonstrating virtual reality in roofing. NRCA Chairman of the Board Lisa Sprick, president of Sprick Roofing Co. Inc., Corvallis, Ore.; McKay Daniels, NRCA’s CEO; and Lisa Pate, executive director of the Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association Inc., are here, along with Amy Staska, vice president of NRCA University.

There are a lot of booths around us with displays that might have cost 10 times more than what we paid for ours, and they are only getting about 25% of the visitors the Roofing Pavilion is receiving.

At the NRCA table, we aren’t giving away anything fancy: lapel pins, cooling towels, leftover pens from National Roofing Week, flyers from NRCA’s Recruitment Toolkit and water bottle stickers. Our primary export this week is information, and it seems to be doing better than the hats, desk toys and giveaways that populate the other booths. We are presenting a unified industry as opposed to other exhibitors that are promoting their companies, making us a popular destination.

The students participating in TeamWorks were at our steep-slope mockup until closing at 5 p.m. being coached by individuals from SRS Distribution and TAMKO Building Products about how to install hip, ridge and valley materials. The roofing mockup on this year’s TeamWorks project is measurably more difficult than the previous year’s little eyebrow.

Tomorrow is the inaugural Commercial Roofing contest, with Indiana and Virginia students set to go first. Call time for the students is 8:30 a.m., so we’ll be there at 7 a.m. to make sure everything is ready.

June 21

Commercial Roofing Contest Day! Today the first set of competing students will install PVC on an 8- by 8-foot mockup (see figure).

Mockup used during an NRCA PROCertification® exam

An added challenge to the contest is everything is done in a massive conference hall with passersby peering into the contest area. As we are the “new kids on the block,” most of the construction teachers and advisers seem acutely interested in roofing, asking where we’ve been for 60 years.

TeamWorks kicked off at 8 a.m. with the din of framing and circular saws being much of the acoustic cadence of the day. In just a couple of days, what started as piles of materials set at 42 stations will become complete sheds.

The Commercial Roofing contestants arrived at 8:15 a.m. and did safety briefs with two judges from IB Roof Systems. Both judges are NRCA PROCertification Qualified Assessors for thermoplastic roof systems who oversee the hands-on performance exams that determine whether roof system installers are ready to become certified. During this period, the judges are not allowed to coach the exam takers. Most of the students have had less than six months to practice.

At 8:30 a.m., the Commercial Roofing contest officially opened. The first contestants were Mia Pulido from Hammond, Ind., and Leif Dampf from Virginia Beach, Va. Both have a modest amount of experience installing TPO membrane, but Dampf has a bit more experience.

Pulido seems to have a natural talent for welding, and Dampf has a talent for the parts of the work more similar to other trades. Both students were the champions in their states.

Pulido completed the mockup with about 30 minutes to spare. Although the state contests are a bit shorter (four hours rather than six) with an hour for lunch, she finished early and spent the remaining time checking her seams and cleaning up her mockup.

Dampf became a bit more hurried after seeing Pulido finish and sped up to make sure he matched her accomplishment. Dampf came in with more swagger than the other contestants. Being from Virginia, the only state that had commercial roofing as a state contest in 2022, he’s been exposed to the material longer and began to feel the pressure. Dampf finished with two minutes to spare. He wiped down the mockup and let out a sigh of relief. Both had times where smoke could be seen coming from their welds and both had some wrinkles, but they did well. If Thursday is like today, it’s going to be tough, as there can only be one champion.

At the Roofing Pavilion, it seems 750 pins and cooling towels are only enough for two days. The contest pins are becoming something of a commodity, with the roofing pin being the one no one has. As the day progresses, we start to see more students from other contest halls seeking the roofing contest.

The only hiccup of the day was some last-minute cancellations at the Roofing Pavilion, resulting in scrapping the solar roofing demonstration. During conversations with other exhibitors in the pavilion, everyone already has great ideas for next year’s Roofing Pavilion.

June 22

Today marks the end of TECHSPO and the final day of the SkillsUSA competition. According to the Johns Manville Roofing Systems representatives, they’ve gone through seven rolls of TPO just for the random passersby who wanted to learn. Word must have gotten out to the advisers and students in other halls. The Roofing Pavilion has seen students from other contests such as computer engineering, cosmetology, culinary, diesel mechanic, robotics and virtual reality gaming.

The two students competing in Commercial Roofing today are Kyle Cameron from Hutchinson, Kan., and Brandon Lopez from Simpsonville, S.C. Both contestants finish their mockups in about five hours—not bad. Results on the details varied. One had his termination on backward, and one burned and wrinkled his pipe boot so badly it looked like the back of a wrinkled shirt.

It’s now 3:30 p.m. and time to announce the winner of the first Commercial Roofing contest. Cameron from Kansas wins. Dampf from Virginia takes second. Lopez from South Carolina places third, and Pulido from Indiana takes fourth place. I can tell there’s some disappointment from the students after the judging is announced. It was close. On a 1,000-point scale, the margin was about 100 points between first and fourth place. The gap between second and third was particularly tight. Only one of the four contestants will graduate this year, so I hope the other three come back next year.

On the TeamWorks side, the growth from the previous year is breathtaking. There is underlayment and edge metal, and it even looks like most contestants tried to run a course instead of stacking the shingles all on a straight line. About 15 of the 42 mockups have roofing, and each of them would have been best in their class the previous year.

At 4:45 p.m. our neighboring booths start to disassemble, and we begin to do the same. I’ll be back in Hall A tomorrow to coordinate pickup of the mockups and pack everything that can be shipped.

On to 2024

This year’s SkillsUSA Commercial Roofing competition was a great success. We had a contest with good competition and a pavilion with decent representation of the industry and association. Next year, the event will be far more polished. The chair of the construction portion, who organizes everything in Hall A, says we’ll be as big as carpentry one day

NRCA University provides essential training opportunities that address leadership development, technology and safety to help build a robust workforce.

To learn more about educational and certification programs such as PROCertification,® Training for Roof Application Careers and the Qualified Trainer Conference or to become an NRCA PROCertification Qualified Assessor, go to

JOHN ESBENSHADE is NRCA’s director of workforce development.


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