As the U.S. economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, chronic workforce shortages faced by roofing industry employers are becoming more acute. NRCA recognizes the need for innovative solutions to help meet members’ workforce development needs and continues working on initiatives to address the problem.
An ongoing issue
Finding qualified candidates for job openings has been difficult for years despite employers’ aggressive efforts to recruit new employees. A 2019 study of the roofing industry’s demographics conducted by Arizona State University at the request of the Roofing Alliance found 90% of U.S. roofing contractors faced workforce shortages during the previous year. The problem results from an aging workforce and other long-term demographic trends in the U.S. The ASU study also found contractors expect the demand for workers to grow between 24% and 41% during the next five to 10 years, respectively, so meeting this explosive demand will be increasingly challenging.
NRCA members consistently report they could be doing at least 10% to 20% more work if they could find the necessary workers, which translates to $13.5 billion to $18 billion in lost economic activity annually based on data from the ASU study. For the U.S. economy to achieve maximum growth, it is vital workforce shortages be addressed with effective solutions, including immigration reform.
A proposed solution
One initiative aimed at addressing the problem is the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act (H.R. 4288), legislation introduced by Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) in June. The bill seeks to establish a new visa system that would allow temporary foreign workers to enter the workforce in segments of the U.S. economy when needed. Before beginning his service in Congress in 2017, Smucker owned and managed a construction company for more than 25 years. As a result, he thoroughly understands the industry’s workforce needs and how the legislation would assist employers. NRCA strongly supports the legislation as a key component of efforts to address the roofing industry’s workforce shortages.
For years, NRCA has been a leading advocate for adjustments to immigration laws. NRCA is a founding member of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, a group of business organizations formed to work with Congress to develop immigration policies to meet specific workforce needs and contribute to economic growth.
The Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act would establish a new visa system governed by market forces to respond to changes in the economy. The number of visas allocated in a given year would fluctuate according to economic demand. The bill contains strict requirements employers must follow when seeking U.S. workers before using the program. Participation is limited to counties or metro areas where the unemployment rate is less than 5%.
Foreign workers would be permitted to work for any employer that is qualified to hire visa holders, giving employees greater portability than under existing visa programs. Additionally, the bill would combat illegal immigration by requiring participating employers to use the E-Verify electronic verification program to check the authorized status of all new hires. With these and other provisions, the bill would create a program that is responsive to the needs of employers and workers.
It will be difficult to overcome the extreme politicization that has characterized the immigration policy debate in recent years with bipartisan cooperation among lawmakers. But it is clear workforce shortages are becoming widespread in a broad variety of industries, and many organizations, including NRCA, will continue to put pressure on Congress to address the problem.
NRCA is working to build bipartisan support for the legislation and lay the groundwork for its inclusion when Congress once again takes up immigration reform policies. It is crucial lawmakers hear directly from you, their constituents.
In addition, NRCA urges members to schedule visits with representatives and senators in their state or district offices to advocate for the legislation. Contact NRCA’s Washington, D.C., office for assistance scheduling meetings with lawmakers.
NRCA looks forward to working with lawmakers to enact legislation that helps the roofing industry meet its present and future workforce needs.
NRCA urges members to email their representatives in Congress in support of the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act by visiting the NRCA Grassroots Advocacy Network at roofingadvocacy.nrca.net/actionalerts.
This column is part of Rules + Regs. Click here to read additional stories from this section.