Editor’s Notes: Boots on the Roof

Lack of Qualified Workers Always a Challenge in the West









Despite COVID-19, business has been very good for the Western roofing industry, but it could be better. Finding good, qualified people willing to work on the roof is still the number one problem among Western roofing contractors. Roofing projects are being postponed or turned down completely due to a lack of manpower. There simply aren’t enough crews to put on the roof. It’s a problem that has been decades in the making, and it won’t go away soon. This is partially the result of a failed public school policy of trying to push students into going to college.

Thanks to years of the teaching community pounding the idea into young, impressionable minds that they must go to college to be a decent person, and that manual labor is beneath them, we’re now reaping the results. The school system has spawned a generation of young people who believe that the only respectable way to work with their hands is to update their Facebook page.

The simple fact is that the majority of jobs in the United States don’t require a college degree. Only 35% of job openings require at least a bachelor’s degree, 30% of jobs require some college or an associate’s degree, and 36% of the job openings will not require education beyond high school. Outside of technical or medical professions, college degrees have been vastly overrated.

I attended college and earned my degree. Upon graduation, I went to work for a large international company. After I was hired, I was told that all my college degree said to them was I had the fortitude to stick it out and work toward a goal, and that they would now retrain me their way. I guess all my hard-earned years of partying my way through college meant little in the long run.

Physical labor gives a person a sense of satisfaction. I spent my first working summers on a construction jobsite. After I was there awhile, I received raises and more responsibility. It was an immensely satisfying experience.

Elon Musk recently said that, “I think that there might be too many MBAs running companies.” And that, “There should be more focus on the product or service itself, less time in board meetings, less time on financials.” He went on to emphasize that people with higher degrees are taught to see things a certain way and have trouble visualizing outside the box. Steve Jobs expressed a similar sentiment. By the way, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and a host of other innovators, dropped out of college and never earned a degree.

Schools de-emphasized the trades years ago. For the most part, there are no longer any welding, woodwork, or auto shop classes in high school. The thinking was that by offering those classes, schools were discouraging people from going to college.

A roofing contractor once told me that they set up a booth at a high school job fair. The principal asked them not come back as it was “sending the wrong message to our students” and that it was counter-productive to the goal of the school to “prepare all of our students for college.” Talk about being disconnected from the real world.

There’s nothing wrong with having high hopes and aspirations, but at the same time, schools shouldn’t imply to students that this is their only viable option, and that if they don’t take it, they are a failure. When some people are told they are a failure, they are liable to believe it and just give up. Not all people are cut out for construction jobs, but then again, nobody should be convinced they are failures and that they have no other option. There’s excellent money to be to be made in roofing, and it’s a recession-proof industry.

However, attitudes may be changing. Federal funding is now available to re-institute trade classes in public schools. Because of this, several school districts in various Western states have recently taken advantage of the program, but there’s a long road ahead. We won’t see results for several years and attitudes won’t change overnight. It’s still a big leap from schools offering trade classes to teachers telling students they should consider a career on the roof.

Once people realize that working in the trades and working with their hands can offer a solid career choice, we’re halfway there. We still have a long way to go before people look at the roofing industry as their first career choice, but a change in attitude is a start.



Marc Dodson