How the Labor Shortage & Lack of Training is Compromising Future Projects
by Richard K. Olson, president & technical director, Tile Roofing Institute
(Editor’s Note: Richard K. Olson is president and technical director for the Tile Roofing Institute. The association represents industry professionals involved in the manufacturing and installation of concrete and clay tile roofs in the United States and Canada, and works with national, state, and local building officials to develop installation techniques, codes, and standards for better roofing systems. Olson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The labor shortage in the roofing industry is mimicking the lack of labor in all construction jobs. The net result is the slowing of construction growth, particularly new housing starts. As an industry association, we are monitoring and actively working on the issue of promoting the roofing profession. Builders appear to be slowing projects in response to an inability to complete them in a timely and cost-efficient way. This may push the overall economy into a slowdown as construction and new housing starts are key indicators of a healthy economy.
Roofing professionals are challenged to find and retain labor in the tight market. We are seeing the transition of employees between companies and trades at a record pace. This is impacting the bottom line and project completion rates in all of the markets around the country. The ability to attract and retain employees is the number one challenge. For large companies with extensive employee needs, this is particularly challenging. There are a few key reasons why this is happening.
Timing in recruiting is everything, and potential employees are being hired or recruited away on very short time frames. Many times the onboarding process for new employees requires drug, physical, and background checks. The time to complete these tasks results in the loss of potential candidates that do not have the flexibility to wait and can find immediate work in other offers. This is a challenge to large companies that have to comply on a more national or federal scope for how they bring on new hires. With the legalization of marijuana in some states, the company guideline for how to enforce a drug policy can be an obstacle for recruiting.
Roofing, like all other industries, is seeing the upward movement of wages in response to the low unemployment rates. The ability to attract and retain labor for roofing from other construction trades is raising the levels roofing companies are required to pay for entry-level positions. The construction industry as a whole will need to give serious attention to attracting the younger workforce.
Industry associations are seeing an increase in demand for training on products and proper installations. Where once performed by existing crews or lead persons, the lack of fully trained employees and time restraints has led to an increase in external training needs. While these trainings provide a great opportunity to learn the basics in proper product installations, they are not a replacement for the years of expertise that a long-term employee can bring to the table.
The next generation of workers is demanding faster upward movement as a career path. They will be quick to look for alternative opportunities if they feel their current path is not meeting their personal goals. This is adding to the transient work force we are seeing. The migration from company to company and even state to state to take advantage of the market is very evident in the West where new construction is so strong. Employers need to be engaged in communication with workers to help identify and provide their career needs. Organizations like the National Roofing Contractors Association have started campaigns to help promote roofing as a highly competitive career that has more opportunities for upward mobility and even ownership to help bring a future workforce to the roofing trades.
For now, roofing professionals will need to react to the current market conditions for creating and maintaining a workforce. How you will position your company and your needs to attract candidates is the key to success. The first step might be to consider greater retention of the workers you already have in place. Work conditions, appreciation, and employee involvement are areas that are not wage related, but equally important to the retention of employees. The lack of workforce is requiring management to take a more active role in the field and less time to run their organization. The result is less time to interact with employees, leading to increased dissatisfaction and focus on locating better alternatives for employment.
The Tile Roofing Institute is ramping up our training opportunities to help new employees, existing employees, and even custom company trainings to expand the trained workforce. As an outside third party, we can be a valuable resource to help increase the knowledge for proper installation techniques. We all need to work collectively to properly address the issue and help reduce its impact and allow construction to continue.