Navigating the labor shortage

Navigating the labor shortage

By Kevin Kornahrens, Advanced Roofing Inc.

For roofing contractors dealing with daily pressures of fast-track schedules and rising labor costs, finding innovative ways to recruit and keep talented people is a critical mission.

Fifty percent of construction executives surveyed for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Q3 2019 Commercial Construction Index expect higher revenues this year, and 39% anticipate higher profitability. However, workforce concerns tempered that optimism. Although 61% said they plan to add jobs, 93% noted moderate to severe difficulty finding workers, and 71% said the labor shortage makes meeting deadlines tougher.

At Advanced Roofing Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a 36-year-old family-owned roofing company focused on continual improvement, we've discovered some ways to navigate the labor shortage.

The data

The Department of Labor projects roofing jobs will increase by 12% through 2028, much faster than average for all occupations. But the Associated General Contractors of America's 2019 national construction workforce survey found 80% of respondents are struggling to fill hourly craft positions.

Spurred by a years-long recession, the Baby Boomer generation aging out of the workforce and the roofing industry's diminishing appeal for Millennials, the current labor problem demands solutions.

How much potential revenue will your company lose because jobs go unfilled? At Advanced Roofing, we are on track to exceed our 2019 revenues by 10% based on backlog and demand, assuming we fill several dozen open positions.

The approach

Building a more robust and talented workforce is difficult but doable. Hiring solely to complete committed projects and bid new work is a losing proposition. Building a healthy company depends on a longer-term second recruiting track, creating a more diverse next-generation workforce.

Because of exponential growth throughout Florida's commercial roofing market, Advanced Roofing recently passed the 550-employee milestone. We have found the following key approaches essential to navigating the labor shortage:

  • Toss outdated assumptions about who can excel in the roofing and what a career path should look like. Women, military veterans, apprentices, and foreign workers with Temporary Protected Status or H2B visas are tremendous talent resources. (See the Advanced Roofing hiring success stories below.)
  • Systematize your workforce growth plan by investing time and effort in strategizing a structured five-year plan for expanding and continually training the workforce you will need.
  • Help high performers soar by offering them growth opportunities with different responsibilities or departments, sponsoring training that may provide college credits, and customizing new career paths in your firm.
  • Leverage technology to tell your story online with various social sites. How do employees rate your business on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed? Are you well-recognized as a force for the greater good in your region? Building a unified story on social media platforms and elsewhere can attract experienced roofing professionals and high-potential new workers. Also, instead of relying on outside recruiting firms, we hired staff to handle our recruitment efforts. Using social media and online recruitment platforms such as, we're able to respond faster to potential employees' job requests.
  • Partner with competitors to create training opportunities that are essential to the roofing industry's future. By joining forces with other local roofing contractors, you can help build successful apprentice programs. The Registered Roofing Apprentice Program our firm spearheaded in 2014 with Associated Builders and Contractors, NRCA and other roofing companies in southern Florida is going strong. In 2019, we helped launch similar programs in Orlando and Tampa, and we gladly share start-up and curriculum information. At Advanced Roofing, we believe the long-term benefits of nurturing relationships with other roofing industry leaders is more important than the short-term benefit of poaching talent.
  • Partner with local and national roofing industry associations for help with training and recruiting workers and to advocate for the industry. For example, at Advanced Roofing, we worked with the Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association Inc. to get new registered roofing apprentice programs launched with ABC chapters in central Florida and Tampa Bay. Also, there's likely a local National Women in Roofing council in your market you can turn to for assistance with recruitment and mentoring opportunities. In addition, there are dozens of private-sector leaders across the U.S. advocating for common-sense workforce training, and apprenticeship and immigration reform, in their communities and through NRCA's Roofing Day in D.C. April 21-22. Participating in such programs strengthens the industry's voice on Capitol Hill for positive change.

Recalibrate your vision

To find new employees, you need to recalibrate your approach. At Advanced Roofing, we strive to move beyond traditional workforce recruitment limitations. Throughout this article, I have shared some of our successful hiring stories. When you look for new talent beyond typical recruitment sources, you can expect success in your recruitment efforts.

Kevin Kornahrens is executive vice president of Advanced Roofing Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Advanced Roofing hiring success stories

A leadman's long journey

Elmer Paredes Smiling at the camera while in his work uniformElmer Paredes' enthusiasm and pride in a job well done are difficult to miss. He began working in roofing in El Salvador in 1998 and joined Advanced Roofing in 2014. Able to live and work in the U.S. through an existing federal Temporary Protected Status designation, Paredes has been responsible for his own advancement, professionally and personally.

"Being part of the company has changed the way I work, with frequent classes, seminars, and certifications," Paredes explains. "Thanks to ongoing training and field coaching from my foreman, I'm the lead man on the crew. The opportunities to work, learn and have a lifelong career in the industry mean a great deal to me."

One of 22 Temporary Protected Status workers on Advanced Roofing's team, Paredes is living in a kind of limbo shared by many other high-performing, legal foreign workers in construction and other sectors. Although the U.S. government recently extended Temporary Protected Status documentation for workers through Jan. 4, 2021, the uncertainty makes for ongoing anxiety.

"It's quite difficult to plan life around the fact that you can be removed from the U.S. and to wait many months to know what will happen, especially when I think about my children," Paredes says. "They're under DACA, attending college and don't know any other country but the U.S. We're here because the situation in our former country isn't sustainable and is dangerous, with few opportunities due to political unrest and corruption.

"We just want to work hard, provide for our families, contribute to society and live safe lives. I love the U.S. and appreciate all its opportunities. If you work hard, you can enjoy the fruits of your efforts, and believe me, it is difficult to have that in many other countries," he says.

Project manager inspires success

Susana Macias Smiling at the camera while wearing a bright red uniform poloWhen Susana Macias joined Advanced Roofing 13 years ago, she never imagined herself running major re-roofing projects. Her determination to constantly learn (and later lead) propelled her rise to the sales and service team for the firm's solar affiliate, AGT, and in 2013, she became a roofing project manager. She made the shift with unstoppable determination and hard work—and without years on a roofing crew. While mastering and continuously updating the required technical knowledge, she has honed the people skills necessary to oversee projects of increasing complexity. Now, she mentors other women advancing their careers at the company.

"It's often easy for businesses to keep people in a bubble," Macias says. "If someone is really producing, why assume he or she should stay in that area? Forward-thinking companies know better and challenge employees with new opportunities. Advanced Roofing provided those opportunities for my unlimited growth, and it has been an exciting career."

Giving back to help shape Advanced Roofing's corporate culture, Macias has served as a board member and a mentor with the National Women in Roofing South Florida Council.

"With four female project managers and a female estimator now on board, we're making strides and offer plenty of room for women to grow in nontraditional jobs," Macias adds.

Thanks to Advanced Roofing's tuition-assistance program, Macias completed a grueling, four-month Construction and Project Management Institute certification program through Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., in partnership with Associated Builders and Contractors. Advanced Roofing believes it's a win for everyone when employees with a can-do spirit can continue to advance in the company.

Apprentice finds a debt-free path to education and career

Rafael Navarro Duran smiling while in his work uniform"Being a roofing apprentice has definitely changed my life, and it means a better future for me and my family," says Rafael Navarro Duran, who joined Advanced Roofing in 2017 as a laborer and is on track to graduate from the Associated Builders and Contractors Institute Roofing Apprenticeship Program in May as a journeyman roofer.

After several years' experience with the program, Advanced Roofing learned employees like Duran who demonstrate their work ethic and passion to keep learning are good matches for the challenges of an apprenticeship. Requiring 432 hours of class time while working full-time in roofing, the program demands determination and stamina.

"The most difficult part of the program is getting to a three-hour class after a long workday," Duran notes. "It's pretty exhausting, but the apprenticeship is a great, debt-free alternative to a traditional college education."

Working closely with Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, and Associated Builders and Contractors, Advanced Roofing and other roofing contractors in southern Florida made a breakthrough in 2018 that will give graduates of the apprentice program 27 college credits toward an associate degree.

According to Duran, commitment to quality, hard work and reliability make successful apprentices.

"Along with a willingness to learn and grow in the industry," Duran adds.

He also suggests roofing companies attend more job fairs and work closely with middle and high schools to showcase opportunities for young people to learn high-value skills without taking on education debt.

Veteran trades job for a career

Victor Ponce smiling while in his work uniformTo recruit veterans for roofing careers, Advanced Roofing partners with nonprofit Veterans Florida monitors social media and conducts rapid-response outreach, which is how the company learned about Victor Ponce.

The leadership, teamwork and communication skills Ponce gained in the Florida Army National Guard are serving him well in his new role at Advanced Roofing.

"I was working as an unarmed security guard—a job, not a career," Ponce says. "I posted my veteran status resume on Indeed, and Advanced Roofing emailed [me], suggesting I attend its 'boot camp' for people new to the industry."

The one-week boot camp offers a rapid company and industry orientation including roofing basics, tips for getting used to working with a crew and what is expected of employees.

"Lacking construction or roofing experience, it helped me envision what the job would involve," Ponce explains. "I was able to imagine the basic phase as part of a future career with the company."

After joining the company the previous summer, Ponce quickly was accepted to the Associated Builders and Contractors Institute Roofing Apprenticeship Program, a three-year work-study curriculum.

"Communication and outreach can make a tremendous difference," Ponce adds. "If I had this kind of opportunity in 2011 when my term of service ended, I'd be way ahead today. In the military, we learn great skills, but the transition to civilian careers can be rocky. Advanced Roofing was welcoming, seeking me out based on my online resume.

"I'd also suggest roofing companies participate in military job fair yellow-ribbon events. If more veterans hear the roofing industry offers good career paths, it's bound to boost employee recruiting."

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