Let's Talk About the labor shortage...
By Curt Liscum, Technical Services Manager, RRC, RRO
The labor shortage is the biggest headache for all of us. Conquering this beast will take hard work and a dedicated focus to the issues at hand. It will not be easy, and I look forward to sharing my observations.
After spending a day on Capitol Hill, I am sorry to say that immigration reform from our elected few will not be coming soon. This will be a long and hard fought battle. We have to take every opportunity to encourage our elected officials to create a comprehensive immigration policy that will support our needs and allow hardworking people from all nations to join the workforce.
This is important because in the coming years, employment in the roofing industry is projected to grow at a faster rate than the average for all other occupations. To be exact, within the next ten years, employment is estimated to grow ten percent. This demand for roofers is driven by numerous factors including an increase in the number of projects, company turnover and a vast majority of workers at the age of retirement. In addition, the increased number of projects will include not only new construction, but also buildings requiring roof repairs and replacements. With this increase in construction activity, we are seeing that the unemployment levels for construction professionals are at their lowest level in over a decade.
This is a positive outlook for the roofing industry, but as you already know, there is the factor of the shortage to take into account. Although there is an increase in construction activities, the lack of skilled workers will delay projects unless new measures are put into action. According to The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) 86% of construction firms indicate that they have difficulties finding qualified workers to fill positions. Within that percentage, it has been said that locating qualified roofing applicators counts for over half of the positions.
Unfortunately, finding and keeping qualified workers will only get worse and in some cases will cause us to pass up good bidding opportunities and delay projects. Because of the expected increased demand in projects, turnover and retirement rates projected, those hard to find, good service crews will become necessary to extend roof life. In the coming years, the amount of available work will not be the problem. The problem we will run into is that with the lack of good service crews, we may not be able to start projects as soon as we may want to.
One aspect that is affecting the shortage is the lack of exposure to construction careers and the skills needed to prepare for a trade career for high school students. Our overzealous promotion of “college for everyone” has caused a decline in young people interested in the trades. There is an urgent need for career and technical school programs to encourage students to go into the construction trades. For this reason we must professionalize the trades and increase awareness in our high schools and vocational institutes.
Demonstrating a systematic advancement path will become necessary to keep young people engaged in the roofing industry. The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) is working to develop a program that will be a structured, credentialed national worker training program for roofing workers that will improve worker retention through increased productivity. The program will provide a demonstrated career path through certification and enhance professionalism of the industry. Stay tuned for more information about this exciting, much needed program.
SOPREMA also offers educational opportunities to current industry professionals through our Contractor Training Program. These courses provide applicators with an increased understanding of our products and installation practices. By increasing their familiarity to our products and application methods, this should in turn increase productivity and reduce call-backs on the jobsite.
It has also been seen that the labor shortage may be affecting jobsite safety. In recent years, there has been an increase in reports of jobsite injuries and illnesses. This is forcing firms to reevaluate how they operate to ensure workplace safety is a top priority. By properly training professionals from an early stage, to continuously educating and stressing the importance of safety throughout their career path could help mitigate the number of injuries on jobsites.
Another solution that may help elevate the effects of the labor shortage and address the apparent safety concerns could be product and technology advancements. When developing new products, many manufacturers are addressing safety concerns such as self-adhered roofing membranes to eliminate the need for flames on the jobsite. The other advantage as products are developed is to consider time and labor savings on the roof. For example, using factory-made components such as SOPRASMART® Boards where the insulation, coverboard and base sheet are installed in one application step will save time and labor on the jobsite. See how this product application can improve time and labor savings.
The labor shortage is going to impact the entire country, it is going to drive up wages and make competition for experienced roofers and we all will need to develop hiring and employee retention plans to keep our educated and skilled workers. Now is the time for our industry to start taking action. Training and education and product advancements are two big steps, but this will be a long, tough battle and it will take the industry working together as one to turn things around.