On June 15, President Trump issued an Executive Order to expand and streamline registered apprenticeship programs operated by the Department of Labor (DOL). NRCA welcomes this initiative, which has great potential to help roofing contractors address their future workforce development needs, and looks forward to working with DOL as it develops a proposal to implement the Executive Order.
President Trump's Executive Order to expand and streamline apprenticeship programs is desperately needed to address the workforce shortage that has reached a crisis point within the roofing industry. As a result of an aging workforce and a nationwide effort among high school guidance counselors to promote college education vs. the trades, the problem will become even more acute moving forward. Additionally, the enormous rebuilding efforts after the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico will further exacerbate workforce shortages in the affected areas.
Although there are numerous opportunities for jobs that pay well in the industry (the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the mean hourly wage for roofing workers was $20.23 in 2016), NRCA members indicate a persistent lack of candidates to fill job openings is the largest limiting factor to growing their businesses.
NRCA members consistently report they could be completing at least 10 to 20 percent more work if they could find the necessary workers. This translates to $3.6 billion and $7.2 billion, respectively, in lost economic activity annually within the roofing industry. This situation is detrimental to the industry and, more broadly, to economic growth throughout the U.S.
President Trump's Executive Order proposes expanding apprenticeship programs through the development of innovative training programs by third parties such as trade and industry groups, companies, nonprofit organizations, unions and joint labor-management organizations. NRCA believes new rules for expanded and streamlined registered apprenticeship programs, if structured properly, will be critical for addressing the future workforce needs of the roofing industry, as well as other industries.
NRCA is working with industry stakeholders to develop a new model for workforce training and development that is built on competency and performance-based credentials. When completed, NRCA's ProCertification Series program will provide standardized industry training curricula. The curricula are being designed for adoption into any existing registered apprenticeship program at the federal or state level.
NRCA's efforts are an ideal example of an innovative approach DOL should consider as it seeks to address workforce development needs through expanded apprenticeships.
For example, many nationally and internationally recognized consensus-based guidelines and standards already exist, such as the American National Standards Institute and the International Standards Organization, that could be referenced or adopted to help ensure apprenticeship program quality, reduce the burden of developing new guidelines and standards, and accelerate the rulemaking process.
Given the widespread workforce shortages in the roofing industry, it is clear traditional time-based registered apprenticeship programs are not sufficient to meet current workforce demands for many industries in the 21st century. Current programs should be supplemented with new, innovative performance-based training programs that are adaptable to rapidly changing markets.
Finally, NRCA believes the development and implementation of innovative strategies could enable increased collaboration between employers and labor unions that would benefit employers and workers.
A potential setback
Although NRCA is excited about the potential of President Trump's Executive Order and its benefits, the Executive Order includes language that may exclude new programs in industry sectors where registered apprenticeships are deemed to be "already effective and widespread."
This language apparently was included at the request of some labor unions that wish to exclude the construction industry from participating in any new programs created under DOL's forthcoming proposal to protect existing apprenticeship programs from competition. NRCA agrees many existing registered apprenticeship programs within the roofing industry are effective, but existing programs unfortunately are not widespread and do not meet roofing industry needs.
NRCA strongly opposes any effort to exclude the construction industry from new apprenticeship opportunities and is working with key lawmakers in Congress who share NRCA's interest in making sure the construction industry is not excluded. As DOL proceeds with implementing the Executive Order, Congress will be involved in its oversight capacity and may choose to pursue legislation related to apprenticeship policy.
DOL is in the process of establishing a task force to advise Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta regarding the Executive Order's implementation. NRCA CEO Reid Ribble has applied for a position on the task force, which would provide a great opportunity to work with DOL officials to develop a proposal geared toward the needs of businesses facing workforce-related challenges in the current, rapidly changing market.
NRCA looks forward to working with Acosta and other DOL officials as they work to develop new approaches to apprenticeship programs that will enable more people to enjoy rewarding career opportunities in roofing and many other industries. NRCA will continue pursuing this goal and other strategies designed to help NRCA members address their current and future workforce development needs.
Duane L. Musser is NRCA's vice president of government relations.