Category Archives: Labor Shortage

Desperate times, desperate measures?

Column written by Ambika Puniani Bailey, NRCA’s vice president of communications and production as it appears in Professional Roofing magazine’s July issue.

Construction worker climbing ladderThe construction industry, indeed the entire U.S., is struggling to fill jobs as the unemployment rate dipped to 4.4 percent in April—the lowest it’s been since the Great Recession. (The federal government considers full U.S. employment to be 4.7 percent.)

Yes, employing immigrant labor is one option though hiring foreign workers places multiple paperwork burdens on employers plus other hurdles to clear, such as language barriers. Instead, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, more employers are actively recruiting and hiring those with criminal records.

In fact, according to Bloomberg BNA, a medium security prison in Sheridan, Ill., has been training inmates in carpentry and plumbing skills. And the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and the Council of State Governments Justice Center jointly agreed to help chamber members hire ex-offenders.

The numbers are astounding. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, there are between 14 million and 15.8 million working-age people with felony convictions and 70 million with an arrest or conviction record. And Evanston, Ill.-based Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management reports 650,000 prisoners are set free annually in the U.S.

When asked about hiring those with criminal records, National Association of Home Builders CEO Gerald Howard told Bloomberg BNA: “We have a huge labor shortage. This has become a focus out of necessity.”Felons

As an added perk, employers that hire and retain ex-felons are offered a federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit. (The same tax credit applies to those who hire and retain veterans.) And research conducted by Northwestern University showed ex-offenders are no more likely to be fired than non-offenders after being hired. In addition, the research showed ex-offenders were much less likely to quit a job than non-offenders.

With a historically tight job market, you might need to get creative with your hiring policies. And as you explore your hiring options, keep in mind Equal Employment Opportunity guidelines and protections apply when hiring ex-offenders just as they would with any other job candidate.

 

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When the Job Ladder is an Actual Ladder: 200,000 construction jobs and no takers

Guest Blog Post by: GAF®

ladder

It seems everybody wants to climb the job ladder, but no one wants to climb a ladder on the job.

Right now, roughly 200,000 construction jobs sit unfilled in the United States. The demand for residential homes is far outpacing our capacity to build them. A recent survey by HomeAdvisor lays it out in bleak terms: Of the firms surveyed, 93 percent said they believed the labor shortage is standing in the way of their growth.

Today, thousands of small businesses from coast to coast are feeling the impact. Of the construction firms participating in the 2017 Construction Outlook Survey, 73 percent predicted a need to expand their headcount in 2017. Unfortunately, 66 percent of them also said they are having a hard time filling craft worker positions.

In other words, nearly three out of four of these firms see opportunity on the horizon, but only one in three believe they’ll be able to hire enough professionals to capitalize on it.

Since there are so many more roofing jobs available than crews to install them, it has become, in many ways, a seller’s market for labor. Brad Corbin, president of Excel Roofing Systems in Fort Worth, Texas, has watched his competition poach entire roofing crews off of active jobs. “One day they’re working. The next they don’t show up because they were offered a few dollars more per square to do another job,” he said. “The majority of crews you find out there are brand new; some have never installed a roof before. That’s not the kind of crew I want to hire.” The shortage affects not only the number of roofs that get installed, but the type as well. “Subcontractors start picking and choosing what house they want to roof,” said Corbin. “If it’s too steep, they won’t do it. There’s plenty of jobs getting done at 4:12 (a gradual 18.5° slope), not at 12:12 (a steep 45°).”

Where have all the workers gone?

There are possibly as many theories about the vanishing labor force as there are jobs waiting to be filled. But labor and industry experts often cite these three factors as driving the phenomenon:

  • The Housing Bubble. During the housing crisis of 2006 – 2008, the construction industry lost approximately 40 percent of its workforce to other career paths, and those workers have, for the most part, not returned. Despite steady growth in demand for new houses, there is a lingering perception that construction — and residential construction in particular — is not a stable career choice. Making matters worse, when a million professionals walked away from construction, they took more than their nail guns with them. They took their hard-earned expertise as well.
  • Youth Perception. The perceived value of craft careers — and the training they demand — has suffered a dramatic downturn in recent decades. Not only has vocational education funding dried up in schools across the country, but the emphasis on “college for everyone” has created an impression that the trades are somehow less worthy career paths. Despite the popular desire for every young person to earn a college degree, more than 30 percent of American high school students never complete four years of college. That means they enter the job market with neither a college degree nor the skills-based training they need to thrive in construction, manufacturing, or other non-degree careers. And the general dismissal of craft occupations appears to be self-perpetuating. That is, the fewer people we prepare for careers in the trades, the less attractive those careers become. According to a 2017 poll of 2,001 young adults, ages 18 to 25, conducted for the National Association of Home Builders, only three percent of those with career plans saw themselves working in construction. When asked what motivated respondents to choose a career, 76 percent overall said the career was something they were interested in, and 48 percent said it suited their skills and abilities. Could this explain the lack of enthusiasm for craft careers? Can we expect students to dream of using skills that we no longer teach in their schools?
  • Changing Demographics. As political and law enforcement spotlights burn brightly on the complex challenges of the U.S. immigration policy, one fact remains indisputable: as the Baby Boom generation ages into retirement, new immigrants currently account for all of the growth in the labor force. Researchfrom the National Association of Home Builders indicates that nearly 30 percent of the U.S. construction labor force is foreign-born. For roofers, the number is even higher, at 43 percent. And overall, 53 percent of the immigrant labor force was born in Mexico. Yet immigration (authorized and unauthorized) has slowed significantly in recent years, putting additional stress on employers looking for skilled construction labor.

National challenges demand national solutions

The National Roofing Contractors Association has been confronting these issues aggressively under the leadership of CEO Reid Ribble. As a former roofing contractor and the U.S. Representative from Wisconsin’s 8th District, Ribble has studied the problem from both a professional and policy perspective.

“We need to change the way the American people think about roofing,” he said. “Let’s reshape how moms and dads talk about us to their kids.” Older Americans remember roofing as dirty and smelly. “But that’s not today’s roofing industry. Fully one third of commercial roofs are actually white. Very specifically, these are clean roofs!” he said. The public also lacks awareness of the roofing industry’s proud position at the forefront of the sustainability movement, having pioneered zero-waste jobsite policies and developed modern “cool” roofs that are integral to increasing the energy efficiency of the building envelope.

“In order to change the conversation, we have to talk about ourselves differently. We cannot expect others to respect the work we do unless we respect ourselves,” said Ribble. By way of example, he often speaks about the comforts we have come to expect from life in 21st century America. “When you walk into a room and flip a switch, you just expect the lights to go on. When you flush a toilet or turn a tap, you expect the plumbing to respond. And when you call an electrician or a plumber, you look for a certified contractor.”

We expect our roofs to perform, as well, so why don’t we look for master-level certification of our roofers? The roofing industry, said Ribble, needs to increase the perceived value of what we do.

“When it’s storming outside, you expect it to be dry inside. When it’s cold outside, you expect the house to be warm. That professionalism is so ubiquitous that it’s become devalued. We live in comfort without recognizing the skill of the men and women who make it possible.”

To that end, the NRCA is spearheading an effort to establish a nationally recognized professional certification program, with uniform standards, for steep- and low-slope roofers. “Our goal is to be on par with our professional competitors in the other contruction-related fields,” said Ribble. “And we’re decades behind them in this regard.”

To catch more fish, cast a wider net

The construction labor shortage appears to have grown out of a complex mix of political, economic, demographic, and educational factors. That means there might be no quick fix. But that’s not stopping manufacturers from doing what they can to help build bridges between underemployed workers and open opportunities.

GAF, the largest roofing manufacturer in North America, for example, is helping connect prospective roofers with its national network of Master Elite® Contractors. This represents a terrific opportunity, on a number of levels, for craftspeople entering the roofing industry. Master Elite® Contractors can be found throughout the United States and Canada, yet only two percent of all roofing contractors have qualified for Master Elite® status.  That means each of these prospective employers is properly licensed and insured, has a proven reputation for providing quality roofing services, and has committed to ongoing professional training. New roofers who can find positions with these Master Elite® Contractors are more likely to learn the best roofing practices that lead to satisfied customers and long, successful careers.

The skills and temperament necessary for roofing success can be found in any number of other professions. Thanks to creative outreach and training programs, professionals from all walks of life are discovering fulfilling second careers on the roof.

  • Military veterans represent a potentially deep pool of labor that offers a unique fit for the roofing industry. For veterans, a transition to the roofing market offers an opportunity to apply hard-earned skills in a job with excellent growth potential. Roofing suits people who welcome the challenges and rewards of a physically demanding day and offers the opportunity to work with your hands on a team that’s focused on getting the job done. It also offers the chance to earn an above-median salary without taking on higher education debt. To help veterans navigate the transition, GAF has partnered with ProTrain and U.S. Military Pipeline to build GAF Roofing Academy, an eight-day roofing installation training program specifically for veterans. GAF also maintains a Hire A Hero job board specifically to connect veterans with GAF contractors and business partners. Contractors win as well, since both programs save them valuable time sourcing and qualifying job candidates who have already distinguished themselves for character, dedication, and work ethic.
  • Oil and gas workers have made the shift to roofing due to fluctuations in the energy market. As Corbin described it, “The oil field really dumped on some of these guys.” Roofing has given some a chance to work closer to their own community, develop a local network, and put down roots in a way the energy industry may not support.
  • Even some white collar professionals have traded staplers for nail guns. In fact, the demand for workers has attracted professionals from a wide range of specialties. Corbin said he seeks out pros from different industries because they bring a broader understanding of business, and are not burdened with the bad habits often associated with fly-by-night contractors. “I have an electrician as purchasing manager, a pharmaceutical sales guy as a sales person, and an internet director as a sales manager. We are trying to raise the standards, raise the expectations of our customers,” he said.

Making a successful transition to the roofing business takes some training and mentorship. The GAF-sponsored CARE (Center for the Advancement of Roofing Excellence) program offers professional educational programs to the roofing industry. More than 230,000 professionals in the USA, Canada, and Mexico have attended CARE courses, including a lot of the guys on Brad Corbin’s Excel Roofing team. “I’m striving to get all my guys steep-slope educated,” he said. “I won’t let anyone become a salesman until they know steep-slope.”

Loyalty pays off — for everyone

His commitment to raising the standard has helped Corbin avoid the worst of the labor crunch. In fact, he sometimes finds himself providing spare crews to other roofing contractors. “I don’t like to do it. That’s how crews get poached. But we always want our people working.” Although he’s able to deploy up to 23 crews on a given day, Corbin said there’s no secret to how he attracts and motivates roofers while others are turning down work. “We treat everyone like a team mate, even when they’re a subcontractor,” he said. “If they’re on our roofs, they’re our men, they’re on the Excel team. I have a production supervisor on every job, working alongside the crew, and that promotes a team atmosphere.” That philosophy extends to all areas of the business. “Loyalty goes a long way, whether you’re a roofing contractor, a distributor, or a manufacturer. I respect the partnership, because frankly, we’d be out of business without our crews.”

Reid Ribble concurred. “Part of the challenge is putting a human face on what we do,” he said. “It’s all about the people.”

Getting the message out

The current labor shortage is not a short-term glitch and won’t be solved with a specific program or campaign. Training programs like those run by GAF can help, as will elevating the professional standards expected of roofing crews, as championed by the NRCA.

But right now, awareness is key. To that end, GAF has launched a Join the Crew campaign, to reach out to the next generation of roofers. The campaign focuses on a message of opportunity to build a secure future, and leverages important messages of pride, good pay and teamwork. To help get the message out, GAF has developed a customizable video, available to contractors, to help them communicate their hiring opportunities.

Skilled, underemployed craftspeople need to be made aware that good-paying, steady work is waiting for them. The next step on their career ladder is a rung on an actual ladder. And from up there, the sky is, literally, the limit.

Former NRCA Chairman of the Board Addesses Labor Shortage in The Wall Street Journal

Former NRCA Chairman of the Board, Nelson Braddy, Jr., CEO of King of Texas Roofing Company, Inc., Grand Prairie, Texas, was featured in an article addressing the ongoing labor shortage in the Nov. 24, 2016, issue of The Wall Street Journal.

According to Braddy, King of Texas Roofing has turned down $20 million worth of projects during the past two years because the company can’t find enough workers. He says he would hire 60 roofing workers right away if he could find them.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen in my career,” Braddy says.

The article cites many factors behind the decline in U.S. labor, including Mexican families are smaller and their children are better educated; an aging U.S. population; the physically demanding nature of blue collar jobs; and the trend towards pursuing college degrees. In addition, Congress has failed to reach a compromise on immigration to address employer needs for a steady, legal workforce.

To help recruit more employees, King of Texas Roofing has raised wages twice this year, putting most of its workers above $20 an hour. In addition, it offers a management course for foreman, English classes and $250 bonuses for referrals from current workers.

Braddy states he would like to see the incoming Trump administration help solve the labor shortage.

“Employers like me hope for some sort of work-visa program to give immigrants a means to work legally and come out of the shadows,” he says. “That is going to help the economy.”

To read the article in its entirety, click below. If you do not subscribe to The Wall Street Journal, you can request a PDF of the article by emailing Charlotte Norgaard, NRCA’s media relations manager, at  cnorgaard@nrca.net.

NRCA Hopes Recently Passed Legislation Will Address Roofing Industry Labor Shortage Challenges

Capitol

To help members address their workforce development challenges, NRCA has been working with Congress to improve federal policy governing career and technical education (CTE).

NRCA believes more effective CTE programs (also known as vocational education) are vital to the roofing industry’s long-term prosperity. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for roofing contractors to find applicants to fill job openings despite vigorous efforts to recruit workers. The shortage of qualified workers is caused by a variety of factors, including an aging workforce, educational trends that encourage greater numbers of students to pursue four-year college degrees and the physically demanding nature of roofing work.

CTE programs must be expanded to help meet the growing need for skilled applicants to fill well-paying roofing industry jobs. Roofing contracting companies provide great opportunities for those seeking fulfilling careers if they have the proper skills and work ethic.

In 2015, Congress began developing legislation to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, a law that authorizes policies governing programs involving the development of career and technical skills among graduates of secondary and postsecondary institutions. Policies governing these programs have not been updated by Congress since 2006, and the program’s effectiveness in meeting employer’s needs is in question.

At the same time, NRCA began working with lawmakers to develop policies to improve and expand CTE opportunities that meet the roofing industry’s challenging workforce development needs. The goal is to provide new opportunities for employers to collaborate with educators at state and local levels to develop CTE programs designed to achieve employers’ workforce objectives.

A reauthorized Perkins Act should strengthen the role of employers and provide maximum flexibility in the design of CTE programs to ensure they effectively meet constantly changing economic demands, including expanded employer-sponsored internships and on-the-job training in CTE programs.

New legislation should provide more incentives for the development of industry-recognized credentials, which NRCA views as a key component of encouraging greater interest in roofing industry careers.

In June, several lawmakers introduced the “Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act” (H.R. 5597). The legislation seeks to reform and expand Perkins Act programs and largely adopts NRCA’s policy recommendations. The bill will ensure CTE programs provide enhanced incentives for work-based learning opportunities, new incentives for the development of industry recognized credentials and other reforms to better align programs with the roofing industry’s workforce needs.

In July, H.R. 5597 unanimously was approved by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and on Sept. 12, it passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 405-5. With a vote in the Senate still uncertain, NRCA is hopeful that Congress will approve H.R 5597 by the end of 2016.

NRCA recognizes the importance of workforce development to the industry and will continue working with key lawmakers to get the legislation passed.

NRCA Announces Support of Innovative New Approach to Immigration Reform

Capitol

This statement attributable to: William Good, CEO of NRCA

NRCA commends Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) for introducing the “Willing Workers and Willing Employers Act” in the U.S. Senate. This legislation (S. 2827) takes an innovative approach to immigration reform that will help NRCA members address the challenging workforce development needs of the 21st century.

NRCA has long supported immigration reform that increases border security, improves enforcement without burdening employers; provides an avenue for workers to enter the U.S. legally in response to economic conditions; and addresses the problem of the existing illegal workforce in a balanced manner. The difficulty of finding sufficient numbers of candidates for job openings has been a serious problem for NRCA members for many years despite vigorous efforts to recruit employees. This is because demographic trends of an aging workforce, the physically demanding nature of roofing work, and a larger share of eligible U.S. workers opting to pursue college or advanced degrees.

NRCA supports a temporary worker program that is governed by market forces, protects U.S. workers, and enables employers to obtain the workers needed to grow their businesses. Senator Flake’s legislation would establish a flexible pilot program based on these principles. The pilot program established by S. 2827 would include the following:

  • Strict requirements employers must follow in seeking available U.S. workers before using the pilot program
  • A requirement that all employers participate in E-Verify as a condition of using the pilot program
  • Provide employers and employees with greater portability by enabling workers to change jobs and work for any qualifying employer who has tested the labor market and proven they are unable to hire an U.S. worker for the position.
  • The opportunity to participate is limited only to counties or metro areas where the unemployment rate is less than 5 percent

These and other provisions in the legislation will ensure the pilot program is responsive to the needs of workers and employers. NRCA looks forward to working with members of Congress on a bipartisan basis towards advancing and perfecting this legislation as a critical component of any efforts to achieve effective immigration reform. Our dysfunctional immigration system will not be fixed if it fails to address the roofing industry’s workforce needs.

 

The Workforce Dilemma – What to Do?

NCover BoardsRCA’s CEO Bill Good recently provided his perspective on the challenges facing the construction industry as part of Metal Construction Magazine’s recent feature “2016 State of the Industry,” highlighting the construction industry’s opportunities and challenges. Good’s column, “The Workforce Dilemma – What to Do?” focuses on the ongoing labor shortage that is affecting construction, including the roofing industry.

The column focuses on several factors that caused these acute labor shortages. They include:

  • The average age of a first-day-on-the job roofing apprentice is 29.6 years
  • 53 percent of the roofing workforce is Latino, and language and literacy are significant barriers to training
  • Accident and injury rates for roofing workers rise dramatically at age 45
  • Demand for roofing work is projected to increase, on average, by about 5 percent annually

According to Good, there are several ways to address the ongoing labor shortage problem. These includes immigration reform; adapting  to the increase of Latinos in the roofing industry by understanding language and literacy issues; recruiting veterans to pursue a career in roofing; persuading high school graduates that the roofing and construction trades offer great career opportunities; and improving the overall image of the construction industry.

Good’s column can be read in its entirety below.

 

Trying to See Solutions to the Construction Industry Labor Shortage

A Sept. 22 article published in Builder magazine entitled “Home Building, Labor, and Immigration; Trying to see solutions to trade capacity constraints, beyond the headlines,” addresses causes and solutions to the ongoing labor shortage in the construction industry. The article can be viewed in its entirety below.

The roofing industry also has felt the effects of this labor shortage and NRCA has identified several key issues it believes are at play.

The first issue is young people are not entering the building trades to the degree they were 30 years ago. Part of the reason is surely cultural: With other opportunities in more “comfortable” fields such as information technology, parents – and most notably high school guidance counselors – think they are doing young people a favor by directing them away from the construction industry. The reality is 35 percent of students who go to college do not complete their first year and often consider themselves to be failures. They typically don’t wind up finding the construction industry as a career option until they are well into their twenties.

The second issue is our national immigration policy.  Whether 570,000 Hispanics have left the construction industry never to return is really beside the point.

The point is – Where do we find our workers? How do we train them and how do we keep them?  NRCA believes that answer is pretty clear- we have to tell the story of opportunity in our industry to immigrants and native-born Americans alike. In addition, we fundamentally have to think about our workforce as something other than a replaceable commodity. That means we have to get past the idea of workers as hourly pay-earners and think of them rather as important pieces in our corporate structure – requiring training, advancement, challenges and all the other things workers in other industries crave.

The third issue is we really need people in the construction industry to pour concrete slabs in 100 F heat, nail shingles spread asphalt and to do a variety of other difficult tasks. But we must make clear to anyone considering entering the construction industry, that those are not career end-points. These tasks are, for the most part, entry-level assignments that create an understanding of, and an appreciation for what it takes to be successful in our industry. Foremen and superintendents who have poured slabs in 100 F heat all day are more likely to be forgiving of others assigned to that task. They’re also more likely to want to help those people advance as well.

At the end of the day, what we offer as an industry is opportunity. There is a lot of hard work in construction, and there is a lot of risk.  But there is ample opportunity, too, and that message is not being told.