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It’s important to give new field employees something to work for

  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

“Average leaders give people something to work on. Great leaders give people something to work for.”

—Simon Sinek, author

When hiring new field employees, a typical roofing contractor can expect as many as nine out of 10 new workers to leave the company before the six-month mark. Logic would say a company should not direct training resources toward 10 people if nine will leave. It seems like throwing money out the front door and, perhaps, into a competitor’s door.

But Sinek proposes another approach to consider: Give people something to work for, which, for field workers, is a career.

As part of your onboarding program, it’s important to explain opportunities employees have within your company and the basic steps for following the trajectory that fits each worker’s skills set and interests. You also should provide quality training so new employees can see they will be equipped and empowered to take steps leading to a newly imagined career.

Giving employees something to work for also means providing an attainable vision of the future. The vision could be having an excellent career in a solid company, but without making it attainable, it’s nothing more than a pipe dream. When new employees can see from their first moments their company will help them attain this vision, they will progress from being surprised to steadied to stabilized and, finally, to being stimulated by their work, the company and all they are capable of accomplishing.

Surprise them

Providing quality training for new employees shows them your company does things differently from your competitors and you believe in equipping your people to achieve excellence. The hope is the investment will result in terrific, long-term employees, and it’s good for employees to know your intentions.

Engagement efforts such as a welcoming environment, learning new employees’ names, providing lunch during orientation and offering company swag for family members will go a long way toward making new employees feel valued. Pleasantly surprising employees as they enter their new workplace results in good feelings in the immediate moments and the future.

It’s worth noting a training regimen that starts on Day 1 might be overwhelming for some, and they will leave your company immediately, but you will save the time of wondering whether they are ready to achieve their goals. Those who stay become increasingly loyal as you demonstrate your commitment to making them better in exchange for their commitment to learning, working hard and helping make the company better.


Do you remember how it feels to start a new job? It can be disorienting and humbling to ask a lot of questions, follow others to know when and where to eat lunch, or ask people’s names three times. These are things every new employee faces, and most companies will do what they can to help make new employees feel welcome. But also consider how it feels not knowing much about the job you will be doing.

If someone has not worked for a roofing company before, he or she may have no idea what to expect. And even if a new hire has seen roofing work from afar, it is not something people on the ground can observe closely, so many new employees never will have seen the work they will be expected to do. It is important you provide new employees with quality training during their early days so they learn about work processes and the skills necessary to do their jobs well.

Early training also helps create better interpersonal environments with crew members. All crews have their own personalities, but even the most easygoing group of roofing workers has driven, production-oriented individuals with little patience for ignorant newbies. New employees without skills or knowledge to identify tools and materials are a drag on production and can be more of a nuisance than helpful. In some companies, new employees are put on jobs where crew behavior is intimidating or cruel. It will not take long for these employees to decide to find another company or industry.

During early training, new employees will not become fully functioning roof system installers, but they can learn the layers of a roof system, what flashings are, names of tools and equipment, and other information that allows them to be somewhat helpful at job sites. It gives them schema for observing work going on around them and helps them learn more quickly and ask better questions. In turn, they can earn respect and develop a sense of fitting in sooner.


Psychologist Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs indicates humans thrive once they develop a sense of security.

His model, based on analysis of highly successful individuals, maintains growth develops through stages, one atop the other, and full movement to higher stages only can occur when levels below are satisfactorily fulfilled.

The bottom three levels are intertwined and, ideally, a person experiences them simultaneously. Physiological needs, security and belonging all are required in some proportion for humans to survive. Most people can agree if a person does not have water or food, the survival instinct is fully consumed with finding these basic ingredients. Upon gaining some sense of basic security, a person can turn his or her attention to belonging and esteem. In other words, when a person feels unsafe, he or she is not motivated to be part of a team or do a good job.

Similarly, new employees need the security of these lower levels to feel stable in their new jobs and often do not have it. NRCA has facilitated many foremen leadership classes and discussed what Maslow’s hierarchy looks like through the lens of a roof system installer (see figure).

New employees temporarily will feel grounded by having been hired. They have a job and the promise of a paycheck! This fulfills their physiological job needs. Next, they need security. This will be addressed, in part, by the tangible security of fall protection and other safety measures on hazardous job sites; however, safety is not only physical. Although not often discussed in roofing circles, people require some level of emotional security, as well.

Emotional security at work can include lots of things. Chief among them is understanding what is expected in terms of work performance and having some idea how to meet those expectations. Being expected to figure out the myriad of activities on an active roofing job site and how to be a part of those activities with little to no roofing knowledge or skills is a disastrous setup for new employees (as well as veteran employees). Not many people will weather this emotional gauntlet; perhaps those nine out of 10 workers leave because of this. Contractors and foremen then will bemoan how few people are cut out to work hard or blame it on the younger generation’s lack of work ethic. After all, others have survived this same situation.

But what if you provided some of the missing pieces by offering training to field employees the minute they walk in your door? To help contractors train new hires, NRCA developed a top-notch training program for new roofing workers. NRCA’s Training for Roof Application Careers includes training addressing roof systems, terminology, tools, and even lessons about being on time and ideas for showing initiative. TRAC also discusses things you may consider commonsense (which are not), as well as provides new employees with some mental tools for navigating new situations.

Having these tools goes a long way toward equipping new employees with the security they need to manage their initial days. It still may be uncomfortable, but knowing the company intends to help them succeed can bridge the temporary and unavoidable insecurity. Training is securing.


Having new employees feel stable and secure means you likely will retain more of them than you would otherwise and they are integrating into their crews; it might mean your foremen are less frustrated when you send them new laborers, too. But you want as many top-notch installers as possible and not just a cadre of steady workers.

In a recent conversation I had with an NRCA member contractor, he said he does not train new employees right away because he wants to see which ones show genuine interest. He argued some people are happily suited to loading materials and performing housekeeping duties for several years, and those who want to do more will show their preferences—at which point he will train them.

On one level, he is correct. Certainly, there are employees who would be content long term with the work and pay scale of laborer. But why the “wait and see” approach? Training new employees will help you see their interests and intents sooner than later.

Key things to observe during new employee training include:

  • As they navigate training, whether online or in person, do they seem to be learning?
  • Are they eager?
  • Are they asking questions?
  • Are they progressing?

A few weeks into training, ask them what they are learning and how they are feeling about the work. If a new employee is not energized about his or her training and/or work, it does not mean he or she is not an asset to your company; however, you likely will find some new employees who are genuinely engaged and excited. You can know who your rising stars are much sooner than waiting to see how they work out over time.

Delaying training is like standing in a room of future business colleagues waiting to see which ones will reach out their hands to shake yours. Meanwhile, these potential colleagues are consumed with trying to understand how to connect in a new environment and may not know how to show their interest if it is not obvious.

Rising stars want to be stimulated and engaged, and if they are not, they are likely to leave.

A win-win

For some, it may not make sense to invest in untested employees; however, hiring employees already requires investment. Many individuals in your company direct time, attention and resources toward paperwork, drug tests, safety videos, etc., not to mention the foremen and crew members who must integrate new people into their work plans and processes. Will nine out of 10 leave? Yes, certainly if new employees find themselves confused, uncertain and possibly insulted.

However, if you direct training resources during hiring and initial tenure and your employees know they are being equipped to alleviate uncertainty and feel the company is helping ensure their successes, you may not keep 10 out of 10 but you will retain more than before.

Remember: Rather than focusing on giving people things to work on, they will be empowered when they have something to work for.

AMY STASKA is vice president of NRCA University.


Hayley’s crew’s new job is a long-haul drive. They’ll be staying at a local hotel for a few nights but decided to leave at 2 a.m. today, this first day of the job, so they could get started as close to 7 a.m. as possible. She figured they’d break a little early because everyone would be tired but still get in a good day. A few hours from their destination, Mauricio called to let her know their truck was having problems.

What’s going on with the crew’s second truck? How will it affect the day’s plans? How will Hayley handle the situation?

This is the beginning of one of several scenarios in NRCA’s Foreman Management Training program, the newest addition to Training for Roof Application Careers.

Comprising the same four pillars as the NRCA ProCertification® exam, this training exposes foremen to lessons about managing crews and job sites within the arenas of customer service, productivity, quality and safety. Within each pillar, participants navigate ideas related to planning, considering their crews’ abilities and coordinating the work. Participants engage with multiple case scenarios that also can be downloaded and debated with fellow foremen or others within a participant’s company.

To learn more about TRAC, go to nrca.net/trac.


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