Roofing Supply Chain Discussions Go To Washington D.C.
by Richard K. Olson, president & technical director, Tile Roofing Industry Alliance
(Editor’s Note: Richard K. Olson is president and technical director for the Tile Roofing Industry Alliance. 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.)
In April, our Tile Roofing Industry (TRI) Alliance Government Relations team traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with both congressional and senate leaders to help raise the importance of the supply chain and labor shortage issues. We relayed that these issues have significant cost impacts, moving the housing market further away from affordable housing, a priority of the current political administration. Part of our discussions focused on the topic of immigration and the ability to meet today’s needs. For roofing professionals to grow their businesses, we need help in finding and retaining qualified workers, as our current workforce is aging and struggles with demographic trends that are a transient workforce in many markets.
In collaboration with our industry partner NRCA, the TRI Alliance delegation emphasized the importance of a proposed legislation before the house called the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act. In essence, our roofing industry must help voice the need for a visa system that will meet our current needs, and not kick immigration legislation down the road. We are currently in need of over 8,000 roofing employees that will need basic skills in roof applications. We recognize that construction is seasonal in nature and the ability to obtain proper and legal visas should follow market trends. As the roofing industry, we can attest the real need of employees that will otherwise not be filled with the current available workforce.
The issue of supply chain was our second focus and not one we see easing for years to come. The roofing industry is dependent upon raw materials and components that are manufactured in other parts of the world. The lack of material supply from China, Japan, and Europe is the primary cost increase driver for many of our members. With the current COVID-19 mandated isolation in Shanghai, China, the roofing industry has lost a major manufacturing and shipping route for many of our construction related products that are in serious backlog now.
For our manufacturing members we are dependent upon the supply chain of basic raw materials, color oxides, sealers, and accessory components to meet our current manufacturing output needs. In addition, the ability to obtain maintenance and machinery parts add to the inventory shortage challenges. Our team was able to speak to the issues of supply and the lack of transportation options that include trucking, rail, and ocean shipping channels. For many of our supply chain needs, the roofing industry is not able to currently compete for shipping containers or trucking while remaining competitive in the building construction market. Other industries are vying and able to absorb the higher shipping costs, reducing the availability of resources for the entire building industry.
For the builder, the lack of confidence in a regular supply chain for their subcontractors is affecting the number of residential and commercial buildings in production. The result has been the steady increase in housing costs in all the major markets, making affordable housing out of reach for many of the working class, that are also the workforce we are trying to attract to fill vacancies.
The issue of labor shortage and supply chain will be directly connected moving forward for the building industry. As we focus on increasing the available labor pool, we will increase construction output. This will require greater supply of building materials that will increase supply chain demand that is already unmet at our current reduced levels.
Our third issue in Washington, D.C., was the conversation for reducing regulations on the construction industry that is trying to survive in difficult times. With a significant amount of roofing being performed by small businesses, the added layers of new regulations will further reduce the available output. The roofing industry supports a safe workplace and oversight of our activities to ensure that we are protecting our number one asset, our employees. The need for additional layers of regulations is not required for many of the areas we operate and are hampering the small business owners. Over time this will lead to fewer companies able to survive and further increase the lack of available building construction needs.
Our ability to be a voice at the table as the next incoming administration considers future legislative actions is vital. Roofing as a part of the overall building construction discussions can often be lost to the more visible trades. Now is the time for all roofing professionals and our building construction industry in general to become more engaged in lobbying efforts at the state and national levels.