Roofers See Lots of Work, Not Enough Workers

Roofers See Lots of Work, Not Enough Workers

By Peter H. Milliken

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The people who put roofs over our heads and keep our buildings dry are optimistic about the need for their work, but are concerned there aren’t enough of them to keep up with the demand for their skills.

“The outlook is good. We’ve seen an increase in new commercial construction,” says Tony Hufford, vice president of Pro-Tec Roofing Inc. of Lordstown, founded in 1988. “Maintenance [of roofs] has become a big thing. When you have your ups and downs in the new construction field, there’s always going to be roof areas to maintain.”

Adam Froelich, vice-president of operations at TEMA Roofing Services in Liberty Township, sees a strong demand for the roofing industry the next 10 years, locally and nationally.

“Roofs are aging at the same rate as the building,” Froelich says. “If you have problems up top, you’re going to have problems inside.”

In the residential market, most roofs should be replaced every 20 to 30 years, meaning about 5% need to be replaced annually, says Rich Abel, vice president and a fourth-generation owner of Banner Supply Co. Inc., a building materials supplier on the south side of Youngstown.

“Locally, we expect this year to be busy. There’s a backlog from the fall of last year. So most of these roofing companies have a good number of jobs to start with already,” Abel says.

Despite the demand for new and replacement roofs and roof maintenance, the industry faces a major labor shortage.

“Our young people have not gotten into the [construction] trades. They view success as going to college. We have a whole generation of young people who won’t do physical work. There is a labor shortage in all trades, especially roofing,” Abel says.

“Roofing’s hard, difficult work, so that labor shortage certainly will be a problem in the future.”

“There have been very few young folks getting into roofing in the past 10 years,” adds TEMA’s Froelich. “We talk about it a lot because our future plans have to coincide with what the workforce is going to look like.”

Pro-Tec’s Hufford agrees. “It’s becoming harder and harder to attract people to this type of work,” he says. “In northeastern Ohio, it’s a seasonal trade, so you need people willing to work when the sun shines and not in the winter months when it’s cold.”

He adds, “We’ve had a lot of success with second- and third-generation roofers” whose families are familiar with the industry.

Youngstown-based Local 71 of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers sponsors, in conjuction with the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, offers a five-year paid apprenticeship program. After completing the apprenticeship, roofers earn $25.44 per hour in wages, plus $16.52 per hour in benefits, including health care and a pension, says Nancy Weibel, business manager of Local 71.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook says the average roofer’s income in 2016 was $37,760, and that demand for roofers should grow 11% through 2026, compared to 7% for all occupations.

Typically, four of 10 roofer apprenticeship applicants fail the drug test, laments Carlo Ponzio, vice-president of Local 71. Of 11 applicants for the most recent beginner apprentice class, five men, whose ages ranged from 18 to 40, were accepted.

Of the six unsuccessful applicants, one didn’t bother to appear for the interview, three didn’t take the drug test, and two others failed it, Weibel says. “It’s a rewarding career if you have the work ethic and you want it,” she adds.

Despite technological advances that save labor and expedite installations, industry experts don’t expect the new technologies to displace workers on the roof.

Roof installation “is always going to require boots on the roof and materials in hand,” Pro-Tec’s Hufford says.

“The decrease in workforce would be more in the work performed off of the roof itself,” he explains, where the computer age might reduce the bidding and office staff needed.

Motorized buggies and new hand tools might make the work easier and improve performance, but, “You’re always going to need a roofer on the roof to do the job,” affirms the union’s Weibel.

“Manufacturers are trying to build and develop lighter, thinner, better products, just to make the install easier [for the roofers and to create] an overall better finished product for the building facilities and owners,” Hufford adds.

“What I see is cleaner products, more environmentally friendly products,” including metal, which generally lasts longer than other roofing materials when properly installed, he says, and is recyclable.

The felt paper that underlies shingles is being replaced with synthetic felt, which is lighter and quicker and easier to install, Banner Supply’s Abel notes.

“Shingles are now a larger size, so they can be installed more quickly,” he says. There are fewer of them to apply because they are bigger.

In commercial roofing, the black rubber, known as EPDM, remains the most popular material, but a white heat-reflecting membrane, known as TPO, is gaining market share and is especially popular in the South, Abel says.

“We have a lot of equipment for heat-welded membranes. That’s become popular with the thermoplastic sheets,” Hufford says. “We actually use hot air to seam the sheets together as opposed to a tape and adhesive.”

One such system is the patented RhinoBond from OMG Roofing Products, which reduces the number of seams and fasteners in the roof, TEMA’s Froelich says.

Having fewer seams reduces the potential for leaks, he explains.

“Those seams are heat-welded shut by a robot … through the insulation, without having to penetrate the roof,” he adds, as they reduce the labor needed in their installation by 30%.

New technology goes beyond the roofing materials and installation equipment to include a new app that streamlines inspection, Hufford says.

“It basically takes the paper and pencil away from the equation and uses satellite imagery,” he says.

The three roofing companies recently completed work at many well-known buildings in the Mahoning Valley.

Pro-Tec has done considerable work at Mercy Health buildings, notably the ongoing roof replacement at St. Joseph Hospital in Warren, last year’s roof installation at Mercy Health’s newly built surgery center in Howland, and a new roof installed in the expansion of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Boardman several years ago.

Pro-Tec has a roof maintenance contract, under which it contains and repairs roof leaks at the six-million-square-foot General Motors Lords-town Complex, to which Pro-Tec responds 24/7 as needed.

TEMA is engaged in a roof installation at the new indoor firing range at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna, and it has replaced roofs at FirstEnergy’s shop on South Avenue in Youngstown.

TEMA was founded in 2016 by Tom Froelich, company president and father of Adam Froelich.

Before 2016, the elder Froelich was executive vice president and part-owner of Roth Bros., the 93-year-old building services and construction company in Austintown, which became Sodexo-Roth, upon Sodexo S.A., a French holding company, acquiring it in 2011. The younger Froelich was a project management and sales employee at Roth.

TEMA’s focus is working directly with building owners on design and installation, thus eliminating the need for the owner to hire a roofing consultant, Adam Froelich says.

TEMA is vertically integrated. It has its own in-house sheet metal fabrication shop to ensure “fast, accurate and cost-saving delivery of gutters and other metal items to its job sites,” he says.

Banner Supply does not install, maintain or replace roofs. It simply supplies the materials needed at project sites.

Banner, founded in 1926, provides products and services for roofing, siding, window, spouting and heating, ventilating and air conditioning from its sites in Youngstown, Warren and Cleveland, Ohio, and Greensburg, Pa., and from a newly opened store in Akron.

It is one of the largest roofing supply houses in northeastern Ohio, according to Abel.

As an independent supplier based here, Banner enjoys the flexibility to meet customer needs, including on-time conveyor-belt delivery of roofing materials from a truck to a roof when roofers are ready to install them, Abel says.

“We get the right material to the right address at the right time.”

Pictured: Rich Abel, vice president and fourth-generation owner of Banner Supply, says a backlog from last fall will keep local roofers busy.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.