As a nonprofit association headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) is one of the construction industry’s most prominent voices for the roofing contractor industry. It is committed to its mission to both inform and assist contractors, distributors, architects, manufacturers and city, county and state government agencies.
Trade associations have and will continue to have, an abundant presence as the collective voice of an industry. Trade associations’ roots run deep, reaching into the Middle Ages when they were organized as guilds. The message back then is the same as it is today – to uphold and promote the interest of its members.
An integral component of the American social fabric, trade associations serve as advocates and promoters of education and professional development in their industry while remaining the ever-present watchdog as lobbyists and advisers of governmental regulations. It is with certainty that new associations will evolve along with new emerging industries. It is only a matter of time.
Currently, there are close to 100,000 trade and professional associations in the United States, some of them well over a century old. One of these, the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), was established in 1886.
The NRCA has more than 3,500 members – across all fifty states and fifty-three countries – who are engaged in both residential and commercial projects. The association is a devoted supporter of its members and assists them in gaining a competitive advantage in an often fierce and unrelenting arena.
Bill Good, NRCA’s CEO, says that all those actively engaged in the roofing contracting business are encouraged to become members and receive all of the benefits that the association provides. Moreover, this holds true even for those deemed ‘inexperienced’ in the industry.
“Our philosophy has always been that it’s better to get inexperienced contractors into the organization so that we can make them more professional, rather than excluding people because they don’t meet certain criteria.”
Certainly, the NRCA’s mandate has evolved since the association’s inception, but one thing has remained consistent in its 130-year long history: listening to stakeholders input. It gets a sense of where the industry is moving and is at the forefront of any and all technological and educational advancements.
“We rely on what roofing contractors tell us they need and they want,” adds Bill. “At the same time, we try to survey the landscape to see what emerging technologies are there that they may not know about so that we can be helpful to them.”
In the past thirty years, dramatic shifts have taken place especially in material technology and skilled workers. There once was a time that asphalt based products dominated the market, especially in commercial builds. Today, new materials have dictated a shift in application technology, the manner in which materials are designed and the way in which they’re manufactured. “That has driven an enormous amount of change,” explains Bill.
The roofing contracting industry in the United States is also seeing a shift in the workforce. Sixty percent of roofing workers are now Latinos. “We’ve had to consider that. We’ve had to develop training materials to meet the needs of that workforce,” taking into consideration cultural and language differences Bill comments. “That continues to be a challenge for us; to be sure that we are finding, training and keeping qualified workers in the industry.”
Another trend presenting itself is that of technological innovation and the issue of sustainability in roofing materials and applications. Sustainability is playing a significant role in the industry, encompassing design, forensics, material research and manufacturing. Moving forward, it is this question of sustainability that is one of the guiding principles for not only roof system designers and building owners but the NRCA as well.
“We have a lot of conversation in the industry about all of the issues around sustainability,” notes Bill. “That’s a big part of what we do.” For example, such innovations as solar panels, reflective surfaces and vegetative roofs show the impact of sustainability in the way roofs are designed and built. Solar panels create energy; reflective roofs conserve energy; vegetative roofs can help with stormwater management, especially in urban areas.” Another issue is the recyclability of materials. “A lot of roofing materials today are recyclable, whereas twenty to thirty years ago, we didn’t think about recyclable materials. So that’s been a significant change.”
Although not a federal government mandate, some local codes and practices require city-owned buildings to incorporate vegetative roofs and offer expedited permit processes in such cases. There are tax credits for homeowners and some building owners, who add insulation in materials or use recycled or photovoltaic materials.
Regarding its members and the educational factor, the NRCA believes in being a mentor in education, skills development and career advancement. “When we think about education and training, we think about people at all levels of a roofing company,” says Bill. “So we’re training field workers. We’re providing our members, generally, with educational materials that they can use to train their field workers. In a lot of cases, we’re developing the content for that, and in some cases, we’re conducting ‘train-the-trainer’ delivery programs.”
The association also offers a certificate program called PROForeman that requires foremen to demonstrate a set of skills and competencies that reach beyond roofing. These foremen learn to become skilled in team building, leadership development and communication. “The foreman is really crucial to the success of a roofing company,” affirms Bill. “They’re the front communicator between the roofing contractor and the customer. They are mentors and trainers to the people in the crew so they are important and need to be trained.”
NRCA’s Future Executives Institute (FEI) and Executive Management Institute (EMI) programs, taught by highly regarded Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management (Chicago) professors and industry experts, offer excellent opportunities in developing leadership and management skills.
The FEI further trains second-tier managers most likely to move up to senior management and focuses on management theory and practice. The EMI is designed for roofing companies’ current senior managers. Here, such topics as strategic planning, succession planning, financial management, legal and technical issues are discussed.
The NRCA is trying to extend both these programs because, “we know that one of the big values for people attending either of those programs is the opportunity to network with some peers,” Bill continues. He also adds that being family-owned tends to be the prominent state in the industry so, “we think the FEI program is especially well suited to accommodate those folks.”
All members have access to NRCA publications whether on-line or through apps. Creating safety publications and roofing manuals are just some examples of NRCA’s services. It also offers access to experts such as attorneys, technical and human resources experts as well as sales and marketing experts. “We try to provide direct, tangible benefits,” he adds, noting that another aspect of what the association does is to, “advocate on members behalf.” The association aligns itself with the federal government, members of Congress and regulatory agencies in an attempt to, “persuade them to do things in the best interest of our industry and generally, in the best interest of the small business community.”
The International Roofing Expo (IRE) is a major event for the industry that showcases the latest in roofing construction and maintenance by professionals. The event offers, among other things, a venue to display recent trends and best practices necessary for attaining company growth. Once owned by the NRCA, the show was sold to Hanley Wood Exhibitions in 2004 and was acquired by Informa Exhibitions U.S. in 2014.
As part of the NRCA sale, a partnership agreement was established for the next thirty-five to forty years. This agreement stipulates that the NRCA must hold its annual exhibition at the same time and city as the IRE.
“It’s evolved into a true partnership where Informa owns and manages the tradeshow and also manages all the education programs that are associated with the show,” confirms Bill. “The tradeshow has now become the largest event of its kind in North America. It has been for a number of years. It attracted about 9,500 people this year … it truly is the showcase for materials and products in the industry … everything around the industry that our members might be interested in, is showcased at the event.”
As previously noted, the biggest challenge for the roofing contracting industry is finding and keeping qualified workers. Expanding on this particular challenge, Bill relates that the country is aging as is its infrastructure. There will always be a demand for roofing professionals and, “we need to attract people who are younger and able to do the physical part of the work because it can be demanding.”
Part of the NRCA’s strategy is to develop programs that will entice youth to the trade. With its new career centre and partnerships with high schools, vocational and management schools, the association can, “tell [students] about careers in roofing. Do it by building a training program that members can use. People want to be trained and proceed through a career path,” Bill says.
“We have to change our immigration laws. We believe that, in these kinds of industries, we ought to have immigration policy that allows for people who live outside the U.S. and want to come into the U.S. and work in industries like ours, that they ought to be able to do that.”
He clarifies that it is not a case of hiring cheap labor. In fact, “starting wages in roofing are on average at least fifty percent and, in some part of the country, one hundred percent greater than the minimum wage.”
It’s also been indicated that not having such an immigration policy results in the creation of black markets for labor and unprofessional contractors paying illegal immigrants in cash, subsequently inducing further problems. “We’re seeing some evidence of that today … the workforce issue clearly is the biggest one that I think the industry has and is going to continue to have.”
Summing up, Bill contends that associations such as the NRCA are, “the biggest provider of adult education in the country. Most people don’t realize that. We have people from overseas telling us ‘we see what you’re doing. We need to have that done here’. As long as that’s the case, we’re going to have a really good opportunity to become more of an international organization, whether we do that in name or just practice … but it’s clear that organizations like NRCA are becoming increasingly recognized for being able to do those kinds of things.”