The classroom was set. Tent cards with all the participants’ names were laid out and pens were placed neatly beside. In an adjacent room, small tabletop mockups were ready for groups of four to practice the training skills NRCA University staff was about to teach. This class, in central Florida, was the first of 10 Qualified Trainer Conferences scheduled to be held throughout the U.S. As the group of 15 people trickled in, small-talk turned to what makes a good training session and why training is so important.
Bill, a participant, spoke up: “Our training sessions are pretty haphazard. If it’s raining, my boss will say: ‘Bill, train the guys on something new.’ So then, I’ve got 40 guys in the shop, and I’m trying to figure out what to show them. It’s awful and unproductive.”
A few weeks later, we set up the next Qualified Trainer Conference in Charlotte, N.C. As before, we taught attendees how to conduct well-crafted, efficient, hands-on training sessions. José was practicing the concepts we taught, concentrating on every nuance of the skills. Clearly, he cared about training his crew and wanted to be great at it. Near the end of our time together, his demeanor changed.
“I love training,” he said. “But my boss never carves out the space for me to do it. Something comes up that is always more important.”
For foremen like Bill and José, who have the desire and skills to be great trainers and been given tools to help plan training sessions, attending an NRCA Qualified Trainer Conference is only one (albeit important) step to elevating a company’s in-house training efforts.
Great in-house training starts with company leadership getting intentional about training, which means committing to budgeting for training, identifying an employee to be your company’s dedicated trainer, having a designated space for training and providing consistent time to conduct training sessions.
Two companies, Rackley Roofing Co. Inc., Carthage, Tenn., and Korellis Roofing Inc., Hammond, Ind., are experts at in-house training, which reaps great rewards in employee retention and profits.
Setting the stage
Curtis Sutton, president of Rackley Roofing, began his roofing career after high school.
“I was fortunate to work for two large companies that valued training,” he says. “Training was serious to them. It made me love the companies I was working for.”
Sutton took his passion for roofing and bought Rackley Roofing. Remembering the great training he received early in his career, he decided to implement in-house training at Rackley Roofing.
Sutton started with safety training. He explains: “We have a full-time safety director. When you’re able to take your experience modification rate from nine and bring it down to .57, it pays for itself three, four, five, maybe 10 times. People have to look at not just the bottom line but also how much they can save if they bring numbers like these down through training. Training will make you money as an owner.”
Many companies use rain days to conduct training, but because Sutton knows training makes his company money, waiting for a rain day isn’t enough. Rackley Roofing became intentional about skills training and also added diversity and inclusion training, foreman training and etiquette training.
“How much better can we be as customer service professionals if we understand etiquette on a different level?” asks Michelle Boykin, Rackley Roofing’s chief operating officer. “Etiquette training includes everything from how to give a proper handshake to how to send an appropriate email. Let’s say you have a foreman on a job site, and the customer invites him to lunch. What does that etiquette look like? You never know when it’s going to come up.”
Boykin hopes the training Rackley Roofing provides reaches beyond the walls of the company.
“What are we teaching our workers that they can then go home and teach their children?” she asks.
Pete Korellis, president and CEO of Korellis Roofing, is another contractor elevating his company through intentional in-house training.
Regarding the cost of training, Pete says: “It is what it is. The return on investment on just about anything you spend for safety and training will be great.”
But not every company can go from doing zero in-house training to comprehensive in-house training like Rackley Roofing and Korellis Roofing.
“You can’t afford not to train, so you have to figure it out,” Korellis explains. “You start slow. Pick out certain individuals you think have potential and who you want to have in your company for a long time. Start working with them. Training builds a quality-, safety- and productive-oriented person and a more dedicated person. That’s the investment you have to make. You invest in tools and equipment. You invest in trucks. You need to invest in training for your future.”
Boykin offers a suggestion for a company that has no budget for training: “Find a noncompeting contractor who is willing to help you, and maybe you can trade off. You teach them something, and you learn something from them.”
Korellis agrees: “You don’t have to be 100% set up. Get yourself to where you feel like you’re 75% ready. Give it a shot, and then work out the other 25% as it comes.”
Korellis Roofing and Rackley Roofing have invested in building in-house training centers. They range in size from 2,500 to 3,300 square feet. Each has a low- and steep-slope mockup with almost every detail a worker would encounter on a job site, including a skylight.
“When we originally built our training center, it was 2,500 square feet,” Sutton says. “There would be people setting up the roofing section as we were doing the classroom training, and no one could pay attention. So that’s when we built out the classroom setting.”
In the classroom, Rackley Roofing has a computer available for workers to complete NRCA’s Training for Roof Application Careers modules. The company also conducts parts of its safety training in the classroom using virtual reality headsets. The headset allows a worker to virtually walk around a roof, spotting safety hazards and practicing simulated emergency situations.
“We have big LED time clocks set up,” Korellis says of the Korellis Roofing training center. “Not only do workers have to do quality work, but they also have to be productive. So we are able to time them and let them know as journeymen we expect them to complete a given detail in a certain amount of time. We sometimes have competitions and try to have a little bit of fun. It is nice doing everything indoors in a climate-controlled space.”
But Korellis says worker feedback told him the company could do better.
“The experienced workers said we need to train with more real-life scenarios outside,” he says. “So we added an outdoor training area on one of our buildings where safety materials already are set up, enabling the guys to get up there safely and work outdoors. I think it is important they see what it’s like in the real world and not just indoors.”
Not all companies can jump-start their training efforts by building out a 3,000-square-foot training space.
Boykin offers some advice: “Do you have an extra office that nobody is using? Do some training or put a computer in there so a worker can do online training. If you don’t have that, go outside and build a mockup. You don’t need to have anything fancy. Something is better than nothing.”
For Korellis, to be intentional about in-house training means someone needs to be dedicated to managing their training system. Korellis identified an employee, Dan Stella, and sent him to NRCA’s Qualified Trainer Conference to teach him how to be the best at training. Stella came to Korellis Roofing with experience as a manufacturer’s representative and is passionate about training. Finding the right person is crucial to establishing a successful training program.
“Dan has 100% authority over our training,” Korellis says. “He works with our operations manager and foremen to know what guys will be available. If it looks like there’s a chance of rain, we bring them in to the training center. Dan knows what skill a worker needs to work on, or sometimes everyone is doing the same training with details. He has full authority to schedule training, and we can move quickly on it.”
Rackley Roofing has put four workers through NRCA’s Qualified Trainer Conferences. It is clear when talking with Korellis and Sutton communication lines between foremen, the operations manager and trainer must be clear and open.
“Communication is vital,” Korellis says. “We need to know what training an individual needs, and no one knows that better than his or her foreman. The better trained workers are, the better the job goes. So it’s a win-win across the board.”
If a company has invested in training spaces and virtual reality, is there a need for training on job sites?
“We don’t do the typical on-the-job training where you throw somebody up on a roof and expect him or her to figure it out,” Boykin explains. “Experienced crews really don’t want to take the time to teach a newbie how to do anything. They just want to be productive and get things done. And then, you end up losing that new person who has lost interest in roofing and is gone from the industry forever. Instead, we train new employees as much as we can before they get on a roof. Then, they are invested. When they get to an experienced roofing crew, they at least have some knowledge, and they’ve already gained some respect of the crew.”
Curtis goes on to explain: “We have a quality control individual who knows the ‘Rackley way’ and knows manufacturers’ guidelines. The quality control person goes to jobs nonstop. If he or she or the foreman sees a person is really struggling to pick up a certain detail like welding a corner, the quality control person will teach that person for an hour on the job, one on one, so the crew can keep doing what it is doing.”
Rackley Roofing takes this one step further by outfitting some of its crews with Microsoft’s Hololens. A worker puts on a Hololens like a pair of glasses, which allows the quality control person who is not on the job site to see—in real time—what the worker is looking at and communicate instructions.
Having a dedicated training space allows training to be easily scheduled and adapted to changing circumstances.
“Certainly, a majority of our training is done during inclement weather days,” Korellis explains. “If we know it’s going to rain, we set up training.”
And with mockups already built in the training center and Stella keeping track of workers’ progress, Korellis says his company can set up training in about 30 minutes.
At Rackley Roofing, new workers might spend a week or two in the training center depending on their experience.
“Once per month, we do some sort of training,” Boykin says. “One month, a manufacturer might come in, or we do safety or etiquette training.”
Rackley Roofing and Korellis Roofing are examples of how being intentional about training can change the course of a company and create a bright future for its workers.
“Profitability has skyrocketed since we’ve done all the training; it’s the easiest measurement to track,” Sutton says.
Korellis Roofing’s results run parallel to Rackley Roofing’s, and Korellis says: “I’m amazed at the publicity we’re getting—even our congressman came by and viewed the training center. People think it’s incredible a company will invest in their workers like this. I never thought of the marketing aspect the training center provides us. The type of customers we work with really appreciate the investment we’ve made in our employees, and we want to be the employer of choice for new workers who want to join the roofing industry.
“The goal of our training center is not to take unproductive, unengaged workers and turn them into being productive and engaged,” Korellis continues. “We want to take workers who we think have potential, are motivated and already engaged and turn them into superstars.”
Keep your workers
As I talk with roofing contractors about training, I often get pushback from them suggesting they do not want to invest in their workers just to see them leave.
But consider Korellis’ take as he quotes Henry Ford: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”
I asked Boykin what she does when a worker she spent money on walks out the door. She looked at me, confused, and after a pause said: “Our workers don’t leave.”
To read more about this topic, see “The importance of training.”