When Labor's Scarce, Innovation is Key

HAVE YOU HEARD?  The roofing industry is facing a labor shortage, and a pretty severe one at that. From what we’re hearing, perhaps as many as 80 to 85 percent of roofing contractors are hurting for workers right now.  Even as the roofing market remains robust (perhaps “robuster” than ever!), many firms are turning work away simply because they haven’t the workforce to complete it.  And unfortunately, the prospects for any great new inflows into the labor pool aren’t looking great.  There are any number of factors contributing to this shortage, but in the end, the whys and the wherefores don’t matter.  What matters is what we as an industry can do about it.  Some firms have taken the bull by the horns and implemented programs specifically to address the problem both of attracting new workers, and retaining the ones they’ve got.  And in the present market, worker retention is at least as important as new-worker recruitment.

Why do we say this?  Because even in the best of times, employee turnover is an expensive proposition — much more expensive than most business operators realize.  According to the Center for American Progress, it costs about $3,300 to replace just one $10/hour employee today.  And you can at least double that for skilled-trades workers.  So it makes a lot of sense to invest at least as much in keeping the workers you’ve already got as in going after brand new (and untrained) ones.  Happily, worker retention and worker recruitment often go hand in hand, as illustrated by some of the kinds of workforce initiatives that roofers are exploring today (see also http://www.nrca.net/RoofingNews/construction-companies-are-taking-steps-to-address-labor-shortage.9-27-2017.6228/Details/Story):

  • Raising pay rates is an obvious tactic for both attracting and retaining workers, and a number of roofing contractors are in fact reconsidering their pay scales in light of the current market (very strong) and labor pool (very weak).


  • Training — especially training that leads to higher pay and quicker promotions — is considered by workers in almost every industry to be the second most important feature of any job (beyond the work itself).  So a number of roofing firms are enhancing both their technical and soft-skills training offerings as a means of attracting and retaining workers.  Many are also enrolling their key employees in NRCA University’s ProForeman Certificate Program, one of a number of courses and programs offered by the NRCA to enhance the professionalism and expertise of the industry’s front-line workers (see http://www.nrca.net/roofing/ProForeman-Certificate-Program-451).


  • Using telematics and other technological aids to boost worker productivity and worker safety is another effective tactic that a number of roofing companies are employing.  If you’ve got more work than you can handle, it’s imperative to get the most out of the workers you’ve got now, and many firms have found that the initial investment in new technology pays for itself in very short order.


  • At the end of the day, roofing is a hard, sweaty, and inherently precarious profession, and these very realities have given the profession a bad rap in the public’s mind.  Some roofing contractors are exploring ways of reaching out into the schools, recreation centers, churches and youth organizations in their communities to “reposition” the industry (for example, to millennials) and to illustrate the benefits of a skilled-labor career path as an alternative to college or office work.  And the National Women in Roofing (NWIR) organization continues to vigorously pursue its mission of “reaching beyond traditional recruitment strategies to attract and hire women who will bring diverse backgrounds, talents and experiences to the roofing industry” (see http://nationalwomeninroofing.org/goals/).


And finally, if we can put our own two cents in here, you may want to consider establishing a recruitment bonus program. Offer all your current employees a substantial reward for every new, qualified recruit that your company hires through each employee’s referral.  These bonus awards could be cash (almost always preferable), all-expenses vacations, electronics, or other incentives that you know would appeal to your workforce.  There need to be rules and forms and guidelines for such a program, of course.  Regardless, it’s time we start thinking outside of the traditional labor pools, to start leaning on new resources for training and really focus on retention.


Check out some of the training resources that Johns Manville offers:

JM Roofing Institute - for JM Peak Advantage Contractors

BURSI & Online Webinars