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How to Recruit, Grow During Labor Shortage

Roofer hammering while the sun sets behind him
In roofing/siding businesses, over 65% of owners are concerned about the shortage of skilled labor, according to Angi’s 2020 Skilled Trades in America report.

Mischa Fisher is the chief economist for Angi Inc., including brands Angi (formerly Angie’s List) and HomeAdvisor, powered by Angi.

In this Q&A with Roofing & Exteriors, Fisher discussed how to recruit and grow during the current labor shortage.

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R&E: How has the labor shortage affected the overall construction industry and more specifically the roofing industry?

Fisher: Nearly half of all trade business owners believe the current labor shortage is stunting their growth, according to Angi’s 2020 Skilled Trades in America report. In roofing/siding businesses, over 65% of owners are concerned about the shortage of skilled labor which, although is low compared to other skilled trades, is still a significant percentage of the workforce.

The shortage is more likely to impact roofing businesses than others, as there is a greater need for skilled workers. Roofing/siding businesses are the largest in size across the skilled trades, with an average of around 10 workers, compared to the smallest trades, pest control and drywall, each with an average of about three workers. 

R&E: What do you think is the root of the shortage? Is it unemployment benefits? Looming COVID scares?

Fisher: There are two different impacts, short-term and long-term. Short-term, key factors include higher demand for home services as a result of COVID-19 and the building boom, as well as the potential for some workers to not be re-entering the labor force due to health concerns, public assistance or other factors. But there is a deeper long-term issue as well. 

Inadequate training programs, poor educational pipelines, the big drop in new construction following the great recession, and a cultural focus on white-collar work over skilled trades, have all contributed to a shortage of people entering the trades for years. In our research, this appears over and over in both empirical data and individual anecdotes we hear from tradespeople. We regularly hear comments from skilled tradespeople like: “Educational institutions (high schools mainly) are overemphasizing the traditional 4-year college degree track as the best way for success.” 

R&E: Is there an end in sight?

Fisher: While the current labor shortage is negatively impacting the industry by limiting job and company growth, as well as reducing the number of people starting new businesses, the pressure to meet customer demand and innovate in each trade can also be seen as an opportunity. 

For ambitious entrepreneurs, the market entry is low and the opportunity to build innovative new businesses is high. There is also potential for wage growth, from entry to experienced, of nearly 45% for roofing/siding pros, which is appealing to young talent looking for financial stability and growth, along with a satisfying career path.

By adjusting certain attitudes and recruiting techniques, there is actually quite a bit of opportunity for the industry to overcome the trade shortage and offer innovative goods and services in-home care. 

R&E: What can business owners do to recruit new employees, especially when working from home isn’t possible for those in the industry? Does that include sign-on bonuses? 

Fisher:

  • Highlight Different Benefits – In the current market, you will need to compete on wages, which could very well require signing bonuses, depending on your local labor market conditions. However, there's more you can highlight beyond wages. Roofing/siding professionals are remarkably satisfied in their career choices, with 75% of roofing/siding pros sharing they are somewhat or very satisfied with their career choice. This is an incredible benefit of working as a skilled tradesperson that often goes unrecognized. The industry offers competitive wages and flexibility in scheduling, sure, but total satisfaction with the work you do every day? That should be part of the draw.This high level of career satisfaction mostly comes from finding meaning and value in the work, as well as flexibility with work hours. At a time when younger generations see passion and meaning as key parts of their potential career paths, this is a strong benefit to skilled trades that should be spotlighted;
  • Recruit More Diverse Talent – The industry remains unrepresentative of the general population, an obstacle preventing people from taking the trade labor shortage seriously. In some trades, women compose well under 5% of the skilled workforce. From our survey data, we see that women who do enter the trades can be just as satisfied in their career choice as men. Tradeswomen are also much more likely to think making a clearer pathway for more women to enter the trades would make a difference than men. In addition to an underrepresentation of women in the workforce is an underrepresentation of people of color relative to their share of the population. For example, the Black share of roofers is 40% smaller than national demographics would suggest. By expanding recruiting efforts and the training pipeline to incorporate a more diverse talent pool, it could be possible to overcome a large portion of the labor shortage;
  • Expand Your Recruitment Channels – Nearly two-thirds (63%) of skilled trade business owners rely on word-of-mouth recommendations as their primary source for new recruits. The second closest method, online job posting websites, is less than half as popular at 28%. The trades have relied on word of mouth for a long time, but it is no longer getting the job done. It’s time to expand recruitment efforts to focus on channels where you’re more likely to reach young millennials and Gen Z students, like digital and online tools, local high schools, colleges and community organizations, and beyond.

You should view your investments in recruitment and talent as no different than investments in tools, vehicles, equipment and business development.

R&E: What are some tips to retain current and new(er) employees?

Fisher: Retaining talent is about more than offering great pay and competitive benefits. Strong talent is also looking for growth and learning opportunities. Mentorship and training are two things you can offer that will encourage employees to stick around. 

Another incentive for retention is ownership. As employees earn your trust and have the skills to do so, provide them with opportunities to take the lead on certain projects. They will feel ownership over those projects and learn valuable skills first-hand. Not to mention, this will take a bit of a load off your plate so you can focus on your business. You could also explore perks that are less common in the trades but successful in other areas of the economy, such as revenue sharing, bonuses or company equity. 

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