We are experiencing a labor shortage in the roofing industry, and it needs to be resolved fast. If not, we might be looking at a serious crisis. Without the workers to get it done, well, nothing gets done. Or worse, having untrained and unqualified workers might even be worse. And it's not just on the roof, folks. The entire industry is looking for people to fill all the roles, from the office manager to the owner and CEO. If you are looking for a long-lasting career, roofing might be the right industry for you.
Why are we suffering a labor shortage?
Many things have and are still contributing to the problem. If you ask anyone in the industry, you'll get various answers depending on who you talk with. Most of them are more personal than industry-wide, though, and lots of them are just not correct. If we really want to know how we go here, let's look back at the road we've traveled.
Hiring low wage workers
Nothing sounds better to an owner than cheaper labor. I've been a contractor, and I get it—a lower wage or paying a sub a lower amount than my own labor cost. It was a pretty good deal, and I made more money. Lucky for me, I had a good production manager. We had very few callbacks. However, with cheap labor, the risk of a call back is greatly increased. The simple fact is that they can't afford to send their workers to training if they work for less. And a well-trained worker is not going to work for less.
The flip side is that cheap labor means cheap work. Cheap work means callbacks, and those can add up fast. So much for saving money and making more, right? What you think you were saving as a contractor is out the window on the first call back. Not to mention the ding to your reputation. If you are an owner, it's even more frustrating since you paid a professional and trusted they hired and trained good people.
It's not rocket science here, and well-trained work WILL do a better job. A better job means NO CALL BACKS. Forget the cost to the contractor. They should have known better. But the client, trust the roofers and when the roof leaks. Sorry guys, but the entire industry gets a black eye.
I may be walking on thin ice with this one, but you know I tend to wander onto the thin ice if you know me. Before I say anything, know that some companies do some amazing in-house training. Sadly, though not enough. For most companies, in-house training is some on-the-job learning experience. Perhaps a few meetings here and there at ARCA (The Arizona Roofing Contractor's Association). And whatever parking lot training some local distributor is offering. All of that is not bad and can be very beneficial. It's also hit and miss, and the workers are exposed to a lot of potential for getting bad information.
This is one of the reasons our industry is divided on how things should be done. Some contractors take the time to learn and grow. Others operate on the "that's how we've always done it" (worst words ever spoken). What this means for the industry is a broken and inconsistent education and training culture. Standards matter, and the industry as a whole should be operating under a set of baseline standards. Which, by the way, would also reduce callbacks and other expensive installer errors.
Trade Associations training
Some roof trade associations offer a variety of classes. They tend to take a little more time preparing and planning their classes. The problem tends to be space and time; there is not enough space to teach everyone. And since most of the instructors are volunteers, they can't dedicate too much time. They have great training, but it is nearly impossible for a trade association to teach every worker in their area. I personally relate to a monumental task while I am working on getting The School of Roofing going.
Cost and time
This complaint I hear more from the medium to smaller roofing contractors. The good training programs are too costly and take too much time. They often require travel and those expenses on top of the cost of the program. Adding to the problem that we are suffering a shortage of workers. Sending key people off to training for a few days or longer could really hit a medium to small company hard. And forget the two guys and truck. They would never be able to find the time to travel to training.
What ends up happening is that larger companies send their top sales and management persons to training. Stacking up those credentials, but the lessons learned never make it to the roof.
Kids don't want to work.
Well, I don't know about that? I work with a lot of people in their 20's, and they work pretty damned hard. When I asked many of those guys, they told me, "We want to work, but we don't want to work for roofing contractors" I asked them to explain. And to summarize, a lot of young people see our industry as chaotic and unstable. These young people are looking for stability and respect.
It's not that young people don't want to work. It's that the ones who do are not coming into a roofer. We have not made it attractive enough. It seems that hiring cheap labor, being number one on the list of trades that are sued most often, and the worst thing is numbering one on the FALL and DIE list. Have not exactly helped our reputation as an industry.
Roofers, sorry, but this one lands flat on us. If we want good, hard-working people who don't screw up everything they touch. We have to take responsibility and change how we do things. Then we can start changing the overall reputation of the industry. And those hard-working people will come to check us out.
There are more factors, but hey ... these are good enough. I mean, most other factors anyone might point to are going to fall into these couple of categories.
The fact is that the roofing industry is the way it is because WE MADE IT THAT WAY.
Let's change it?
A group of us is working hard to develop a roofing program that is accredited and easily replicable. One that teaches the baseline standards we need. But it can be taught anywhere from a trade school to the contractor's own where house. When students complete the program, they will have all the skills and tools needed to succeed in this industry, from the office manager to the roofers.
Do you want to help?
We do want your help!