Time for innovation

The roofing industry must continue to find new ways to fulfill its workforce needs.

In early June, I received this email from a member: “Just to let you know the state of the world, we currently have 2.3 million feet of materials on job sites that cannot be installed for lack of screws, insulation plates and seam plates. Earliest delivery ‘confirmations’ range from 7/31 to ‘unknown.’ Another 3.7 million feet is under contract, but materials cannot be confirmed before November.”

I have never seen such a broad disruption in supply in my more than 30 years in the roofing industry. Contractors cannot get materials, manufacturers cannot get trucks to deliver materials they have, and everyone seems to be short on workers. I find myself longing for the days when the worker shortage issue was all we needed to worry about. Now, at the very moment demand is picking up it seems everything is in short supply. Data released in early June show 50% of the eligible U.S. population had been vaccinated and the economy is responding.

The economy also is responding to the federal stimulus payments. Some folks complain the stimulus is the cause of the worker shortage, and though it may be exacerbating it a bit, the reality is there has been an ongoing shortage of workers for more than a decade in the trades, especially roofing.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne Clark recently told Forbes: “American businesses of every size, across every industry, in every state are reporting unprecedented challenges filling open jobs. The worker shortage is a national economic emergency, and it poses an imminent threat to our fragile recovery and America’s great resurgence.”

Clark is right. For the past four years, NRCA has been heavily involved in strategies to address the problem. It is the top of the agenda in virtually every board of directors and Executive Committee meeting.

NRCA has invested nearly $5 million to attract workers to the industry. We launched our Qualified Trainer Program, Training for Roof Application Careers educational program and NRCA ProCertification®. We have partnered with NCCER to develop a national curriculum for roofing for high schools and technical colleges, partnered with Skills USA, added a workforce recruitment section to our website (nrca.net/workforce-recruitment), built a new website for roofing careers (careersinroofing.com), expanded the number of students in our Future Executives Institute and worked closely with The Roofing Alliance on a number of career initiatives.

In addition, our staff in Washington, D.C., continues, with the help of our members, to lobby for broad immigration reform; continued funding for career and technical education; and obtained more grants to hire unskilled, unemployed workers. Yet the problem lingers.

I recently had dinner with Jason Stanley, CEO of IB Roof Systems, Grapevine, Texas. We talked extensively about the workforce shortage, and he shared with me one way to help bridge the gap between roofing contractors and skilled roofing labor: a new app called Labor Central.

Through the app, roofing contractors can search and hire roofing crews or use productivity tools to manage existing teams. Some of those tools include being able to communicate; issue payment; rate crews; and report on quality, timeliness and cleanliness of a job site among other functions. Workers also can rate a contractor on reliability of payment, whether a job was accurately represented and whether supervision was fair.

The app is one example of countless ways the industry is innovating, and I expect to see even more creative thinking as the industry grows and the workforce ages. If you have a successful tip you want to share, send me an email at rribble@nrca.net.

For every industry challenge, there is an industry leader finding a solution. It is one of the reasons I enjoy being a part of it.

Reid Ribble is NRCA's CEO.



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