From a less than stellar January jobs report, which showed 48,000 of the jobs added were in the construction industry, to stories on the large numbers of young people out of work – 15% of workers ages 16 to 24 according to one study – it makes you wonder what the economic future will be for younger generations in the U.S.
There is much discussion on this very topic in, of all places, the commercial roofing industry. Construction is one of the few industries that is adding jobs and continuing a high growth trajectory. Commercial construction is a significant percentage of that growth, begging an unusual question for young people. If you cannot obtain a solid career path in one of the “cool” technology or financial jobs, have you considered the sexy side of commercial roofing?
Commercial roofing may seem like an “old school” industry, but there are numerous benefits for someone who is up for the challenge, including:
- Viability – as a growing industry, there is plenty of opportunity for the right person.
- Cross-Functional Talent – many of the talents that apply in other industries such as general contracting or electrical also apply to roofing.
- Challenging – it is more complex than most people realize, with ever-changing technology and regulations, providing ample opportunities for growth.
- Not Your Father’s Roofing – there is a method to performing commercial roofing beyond what the average person realizes. There are nuances to correctly estimating, applying and maintaining a commercial roof that is significantly beyond what you see in residential.
With the ability to find long-term career paths, something hard to come by in 2014, make good money and receive regular challenges, why wouldn’t young people consider a career in roofing?
According the Steve Little, KPOST Company president, there is more than one challenge:
“The industry is made up of generational companies. Typically young people would follow their father’s footsteps into the family business. Unfortunately, it seems today that the children are more interested in computers and not going into the family business.”
Fortunately, Little, along with other commercial roofing contractors and industry associations, are tackling the challenges:
“It is important to create a subculture that makes roofing sexy. At the Midwest Regional Contractors Association, we started a Young Contractors Council and then asked the question ‘What we could do to make roofing more appealing’. It came down to understanding why they were in the industry, what would help make the industry more appealing, and then learning to speak their language.”
KPOST Company decided they should begin “at home,” and started recruiting younger people into the rank and file of the organization several years ago. These people have a different and unique perspective on the commercial roofing industry, particularly with regard to how it impacts their future.
Tracey Donels –KPOST Company Service Manager
According to Tracey, he was a “test case,” primarily because he did not have commercial roofing experience, but is young, has a college degree and had done some minor construction experience. He began in the field and worked his way up to his current position. According to Tracey, it was a great opportunity for him and he is committed to furthering his career.
He also wants to help other young people realize the benefits of a career in commercial roofing. He sits on the Young Contractors Council (YCC) at the Midwest Roofing Contractors Association (MRCA), which currently has 85 members and is growing. Their primary focus is to educate younger people who are in the field via specialized educational sessions and conferences. In addition, the YCC wants to provide the benefits of a career in commercial roofing to others with higher education who may not have considered it before.
“Often, when someone is interested in contracting, they choose a different path such as architect or general contractor. They often skip over the opportunities in commercial roofing. We want to show how positive a career in our industry can be by helping other young people understand the career path and viability of being part of a subcontractor business,” said Tracey.
Recently the YCC has held special sessions at the annual MRCA conference. They have had panels of seasoned roofing contractors to a professor from the Kellogg School of Business who spoke on cross-generational management. Last year, the YCC added webinars to allow those who are unable to travel to the conference an opportunity to learn and grow.
“We want to continue improving our educational opportunities through the YCC. Obviously not all of the young people working in contracting have an opportunity to attend a conference, so by adding the webinars and helping improve the abilities of young people around the country, our hope is that more can attend the conferences in the future,” said Tracey.
Having the opportunity to network with other commercial roofing companies and contractors across the country has strong benefits, according to Tracey.
“It’s amazing what you can learn just from talking to other people in your industry, even if they are competitors. We all have similar issues, and by sharing best practices and learning from others, not only are you a better employee, but you meet people in your age group. It’s powerful!”
Ryan Little – KPOST Company Project Management Department Head
Ryan came to KPOST Company just over four years ago to start a new project management department. He started in the field as a superintendent, then a project engineer, and then in estimating. After another stint in the field he went into project management. With experience working for a general contractor, Ryan was not new to construction, but commercial roofing was definitely a change.
“Commercial roofing is way more technically advanced that I originally thought. I find it very interesting and extremely challenging. Every job is different,” said Ryan.” We are tasked to keep water out of buildings which is the number one litigated problem in all of construction. It takes smart people to figure these things out.”
Ryan understands that it does not matter what industry you are in, you have to grow into your position. He certainly did so at KPOST by working in various areas before ramping up the project management department.
“Most people don’t understand how technical commercial roofing is. You don’t see the top of a skyscraper. It is a completely different animal. Roofs provide thermal resistance, and are the primary insulating factor of the building. We have to ensure we work seamlessly with all the other subcontractors to ensure the best roof is installed,” said Ryan. “People don’t understand how intense and difficult it is.”
Ryan is active with the Young Contractors Council of TEXO, the largest commercial contractors association in Texas and one of the largest affiliated with the national Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) and The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
The YCC meets monthly to network and enjoy education via speakers who provide information on everything from risk management to industry specific education. In addition, the YCC has Small Groups, which also meet monthly to have more intimate conversations on their various industries, their challenges, and how to improve their current situations.
Eleanor Berger – KPOST Company Service/Waterproofing Coordinator
Eleanor started her career in recruiting, a primarily female dominated industry, where she worked her way up to running the accounting office. But she wanted more.
“I was looking for a challenge when I ran across a job posting at KPOST. It looked interesting and really different, so I thought I would give it a shot,” said Eleanor. “I have found it really fascinating. It’s a whole new world and I feel lucky to be a young person working in such a lucrative industry.”
Eleanor is dedicated to learning and growing, and has found opportunity to do so at KPOST. She started doing primarily office work but in the last year her position has grown to being responsible for scheduling 20 crews, ordering all materials, reviewing performance paperwork and communicating with customers – a significantly different role than her accounting job. However she is happy she made the switch and enjoys constantly learning and growing. According to Eleanor:
“In 3 to 5 years I’ll have a knowledge base you cannot buy – you have to learn. I’m happy to be with a company focused on youth and knowledge.”
Her advice to other young people considering a career in commercial roofing is this:
“It’s a world like you have never experienced. I feel that from a career perspective, this is the stuff that you day dream about. However, it’s not easy. You will only succeed if you are willing to give 100%.”
Eleanor enjoys her new-found career, stating she spends so much time with her co-workers they have become like family. With the constant changes, learning opportunities and consistent work, there is always plenty to do.
“I’m really glad I came to KPOST. Since taking the job I’ve actually been up on many roofs and it’s still pretty mind blowing,” said Eleanor. “It’s a great world, if you are up for it.”