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Hoping to address the vast and growing need for skilled workers—and elevate the industry as a whole—the nation’s largest roofing association is launching a “massive undertaking” to start training and certifying roofing contractors nationwide.

NRCA’s ProCertification program will roll out later this year with the aim to certify existing contractors and train new employees. Details about pricing are still being worked out. But manufacturers have indicated a willingness to offer the program at reduced rates to customers. NRCA itself projects spending $11 million to $12 million to bring the full program to market, said Amy Staska, vice president of NRCA University.

“This is the 10-ton gorilla that we’re all about right now,” she said. “It’s really a massive undertaking.”

Staska said the initiative came directly from the organization’s board, which recognized that “most companies are desperate for workers.” In fact, about 60% of roofers said they were facing labor shortages, according to the most recent NAHB report.

NRCA is breaking ProCertification into two parts: training and certification.

Certification is designed to let existing roofers show their mastery of industry standards. It will require that roofers pass a written knowledge test and a skills test overseen by a qualified assessor. Tests will be available online in English and Spanish in spoken or written form for all major roof systems, waterproofing, solar, repair and maintenance.

“Literally in the equivalency of a day, a person could become certified,” Staska said.

Training will teach newer roofers installation, waterproofing, solar, repair, and maintenance. It will be based on industry standards and foremen’s directions related to manufacturer instructions and company practices. Staska said portions of the training would be online with interactive video and photos along with skills training from qualified trainers.

“Trainers will facilitate learning but also coach participants to continue through the program,” Staska said.

Training programs planned for 2018 are basic roofing skills, low-slope decks, insulation and flashing concepts and thermoplastic single-ply roof system installation.

But while labor shortages are the immediate need, NRCA leaders have loftier goals for the training program than just producing roofers. Unlike other trades, such as electrical, plumbing and HVAC, roofers have never had a formal training and certification program to call their own.

“There’s a stigma for roofing,” said Doug Duncan, president of Nations Roof and NRCA board member. “Maybe that’s due to a lack of certification and training. This kind of training program elevates the industry in people’s eyes.”

Duncan said he plans to tie wage increases to certification and training. But more than that, he said it offers newer employees something they’ve never had before: a clear career path.

“A person brand new to the industry can walk into a roofing company that has this program and they can really see their career path from day one all the way to foreman,” he said.

Even though he and other roofers offer their own training, he said it’s not the same thing as a formal national program. “We may give them a slip of paper that says, ‘You’ve completed one hour of training’ but it’s really just a slip of paper and it doesn’t mean much to the them.”

Staska and others also hope it helps roofers feel better about their profession. “What we want to do is elevate the dignity of the installer,” she said. “We want the person who’s actually up on the roof to feel great about what they do.”

One of the biggest challenges the program still faces is developing a wide enough network of qualified trainers and assessors. Duncan said it’s not just a matter of developing those skills, but also working with professionals who are otherwise competitors. Of particular concern is poaching employees, he added.

“It’s going to take an effort from all roofing contractors to come together and make this work,” he said. “Sometimes we may have to take off our owners hat and ask, ‘What’s good for the industry as a whole?’ And I have to find a competitor who’s aligned with that.”

Once those alliances form and the program gets established, Duncan envisions it being used in schools and required by insurance companies. He also sees a day when architects and consultants may require that contractors have a certain percentage of certified roofers before they’re allowed to bid on a project.

“I really think this is a complete game changer,” he said. “This is going to change roofing forever.”