As one of America’s oldest and most respected trade associations, the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) continually works towards elevating the profile of the roofing industry. NRCA recently took another bold step with NRCA ProCertification.™
While other trades such as carpentry, electrical, and plumbing have ‘master’ designations to verify skills achieved and competence, none were in place for the roofing industry until now, says Chief Executive Officer Reid Ribble. “This program didn’t exist until we built it, and we are building professional certifications in 18 different roofing disciplines. Most Americans aren’t even familiar with that many different disciplines in roofing.”
Heading the National Roofing Contractors Association since January 1, 2017, Ribble is the ideal leader for the 133-year-old organization. A Wisconsin native, Ribble served as the state’s U.S. Representative for the 8th Congressional District from 2011 to 2017. Previously, he owned his own commercial roofing company in Kaukauna, WI, simultaneously serving on NRCA’s Board of Directors, and as Chairman from 2005 to 2006. “I’ve been involved with the Association work here for about 30 years,” says Ribble, who is carrying on work initiated by Richard M. Nugent, CEO of commercial-roof experts Nations Roof LLC, and former NRCA Chairman.
Coming up with the idea about five or six years ago, Nugent believed certification represented the next phase of evolution for the roofing industry and NRCA. Passionate about convincing NRCA’s Board, the certification scheme was initially dubbed ‘Nugent Care.’ Ribble, told that certification was his Number One priority when he was hired, set to work with his team on ideas and execution, and soon reached the point where the first iterations could be successfully rolled out.
“NRCA ProCertification is a really big move for the industry,” says Ribble of the program’s development and implementation, budgeted at $15 to $20 million. “This is a statement that NRCA is making not just to the industry itself, but to the buying public of our services. It requires a lot of effort to monitor certifications that are national in scope, including upfront investment in software.”
With certifications offered in English and Spanish, workers can become NRCA ProCertified in several specialties, such as an NRCA ProCertified Thermoplastic Systems Installer (e.g. Thermoplastic Polyolefin – TPO, Polyvinyl Chloride – PVC), NRCA ProCertified Asphalt Shingle Systems Installer, or as an NRCA ProCertified Roofing Foreman. A number of assessments ensure that workers certified by the National Roofing Contractors Association “have met all the requirements for each type of roof system installation allowing them to earn professional credentials. NRCA also will be certifying foremen and other mid-level roofing company personnel.”
Benefiting roofing workers, roofing companies, and consumers alike, NRCA ProCertification will serve to raise the industry to the rigorous standards evidenced in other nationally-certified trade professions. It will protect residential and commercial building owners too with the assurance that their roofing needs are addressed by qualified NRCA installers. It will also help with the skills shortage facing the roofing industry, which will benefit by investing in employees, improving safety practices, and becoming more profitable.
Roofing workers who become NRCA ProCertified installers can expect to boost their skills and confidence, earn validation of their expertise, potentially make higher wages, and can take pride in their personal and professional achievements. As certified roofers, they will distinguish themselves from those who haven’t achieved certification.
For roofing companies, the benefits of professional NRCA certification will be reflected in the quality of their workforce and the marketplace, setting them apart from other businesses. Ultimately, certification protects the consumer, serving as assurance that the person delivering roofs and related services has the skill sets to meet required standards of competence.
For workers, this certification is not attached to a specific educational construct, meaning NRCA will not dictate how roofing workers achieve the necessary skills. “They can get training from us, they can get in-house training, or they can get training from manufacturers in the same way that when you sit for your certified public accountant exam, they don’t care if you studied at Harvard or University of Wisconsin or out in California somewhere — what they want to know is, can you pass the test?” comments Ribble. “And that’s how we are building it. This is about the worker’s skill and competency. It’s not where you got the training, but did that training actually stick, and do you have third-party authentication that it did?”
Since the new NRCA ProCertification plan covers specifics such as asphalt and thermoplastic systems, commercial building owners will know that the roofer installing product is certified in rubber, or metal roofs, or fluid applications, and is an expert in these disciplines.
While roofing companies – in the past and currently – have been authorized by manufacturers to install their product on buildings and issue a warranty, this never really focused on the roofing worker who delivered the roof, but on the roofing contractor selling the roof. With the new system, NRCA creates professional certifications for the actual roofer who does the work. This will protect consumers, and help foster a legitimate career path for roofing workers who earn professional certifications, providing third-party certification of a roofer’s skill and competences. It is also a proof of achievement which can be used anywhere in the United States.
Like many trades across America, roofing is not exempt from a shortage of fresh, younger workers. And like other trades, NRCA is dealing with a growing American economy, more people returning to work, an aging population and declining birth rates, and is doing all it can to attract people to roofing as a career. “That’s probably the biggest challenge the industry faces right now,” says Ribble.
To combat this, NRCA is active in high schools and trade schools, showing young students the pros of roofing careers, and regularly provides speakers to events held by manufacturers. Recently, NRCA’s foundation authorized a membership in SkillsUSA – a partnership of students, teachers, and industry, come together to ‘ensure America has a skilled workforce’ – and began working with The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), a not-for-profit education foundation. Through their combined efforts, they are bringing a roofing-based curriculum to technical and high schools to expose students to the roofing profession at a younger age.
Organized by NRCA, National Roofing Week was recently held from June 2 to 8, helping contractor members increase exposure, not just for their company, but for the roofing industry across the United States, and having it written into the Congressional record in Washington, DC. “It gives us a chance to showcase what we do,” says Ribble, saying that he’d recently read that there are about half a million jobs unfilled in the American construction industry. “We feel there are between 30,000 and 40,000 jobs open in the roofing industry right now, and so there are a lot of opportunities. It’s a highly paid, highly compensated, highly skilled trade, and part of this is getting the messaging out.” For more information about National Roofing Week, visit www.nrca.net/National-Roofing-Week.
After almost four years building the program, the first three professional certifications were launched in February, with plans to introduce another this year, and then one or two each year until all 18 are covered. Roofing workers will be able to stack certifications one on top of another, and hold multiple certifications in particular aspects of roofing, such as low slope roofing, thermoplastic, fluid applied, bituminous roofing systems and others, to become master roofers in low-slope and steep-slope roofing.
The idea, says Ribble, is to incentivize roofing workers to continue with their education and professional growth so that, as they increase their competence and diversity of skill sets, they can work towards becoming master roofers.
“We are building this program for roofing companies to drive down to the roofing workers,” he says. “We don’t have individual memberships; our memberships are for roofing industry stakeholder companies. I believe this is the single biggest consumer protection move that industry has ever undertaken, because there will come a time when consumers — as they increase in awareness — will start saying, ‘I want an NRCA ProCertified workforce on my roof,’ and the companies will be able to supply it,” he says.
“Every certified worker will have an identification card with a QR code on it that the consumer can scan with a cell phone, then go directly into our database and confirm that the person holding the card is in fact the person who has earned that certification. They will see when those certifications expire, and what continuing education that worker has had in order to hold that certification. And now, you are getting right to the root of consumer protection.”
Pride in the roofing industry
Promoting NRCA and its mission by being active in the community, and speaking to affiliated organizations at state, regional, and manufacturing levels, Ribble serves as the voice of America’s roofing industry. Working with a strong sales and marketing team, NRCA also promotes roofing through social media, its information-packed website, direct mail, and through Professional Roofing magazine, distributed to about 20,000 people monthly, and available in print and digitally.
Signing a five-year contract when he was hired in 2017, with a two-year extension, Ribble says he has already hired his replacement, and is working on some transitional areas as NRCA moves into the future. Despite many successful years in business and politics, he says his current role as CEO, since he was hired by his peers, is incredibly enjoyable and gratifying. “This is one of the most rewarding things that I have done in my professional career, and I would say it is even more rewarding than being a member of congress.”
With a membership over 3,800 and growing, NRCA remains focused on roofing contractors and, through advocacy, fostering an environment for its members to be successful. Members include multinational manufacturing and distribution companies, architects, engineers, and roofing consultants and contractors.
Optimistic about the future of the National Roofing Contractors Association, the organization is about midway through a national demographic study of the roofing industry. For the first time, NRCA will know the size of the workforce, the gender and ethnic makeup, the number of roofing and contracting companies and workers, the economic impact of the roofing industry, and a great deal more.
“And so, NRCA and some of our affiliated organizations are working very hard to not just promote the roofing industry, but to improve it,” Ribble says. “You are going to see continual improvement for roofing workers, improved safety for roofing workers, continued improvement in the quality of the work that roofers provide, and ultimately a better consumer experience for those who use our services.”