GAF, the nation’s largest roofing and waterproofing manufacturer, runs a free training program, the GAF Roofing Academy, that prepares people for a steady job in a growing field.
Launched in 2020, it is designed for all sorts of people, including individuals who were formerly incarcerated, those transitioning from the military and other underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. In total, it has trained 2,000 participants since its inception and has placed more than 1,000 graduates into jobs.
Roofing can provide good job opportunities for those in reentry. According to GAF, the average starting salary for roofers is $39,970. And there will be a 12 percent growth in roofing jobs by 2028.
Participants in the academy don’t need any formal education to qualify for the program, which combines classroom and on-the-roof training in commercial and residential roofing.
“No previous experience is required to participate in the GAF Roofing Academy. In fact, some previous graduates had never even used a hammer before taking the course,” says Brian Cornelius, the academy’s director.
“The program is fully funded by GAF, but GAF Roofing Academy partners with organizations around the country, including vocational programs like JobCorps or state correctional departments, to bring this training opportunity to a variety of different groups. In addition, we frequently partner with local contractors or unions to bring a GAF Roofing Academy course to a specific market – in many instances, these organizations are looking for qualified workers and hire GAF Roofing Academy graduates at the completion of the course.”
The courses typically last one week, and students will spend that time on either steep slope traditional residential roofing or low slope commercial roofing. In some cases, the two are combined into a more comprehensive two-week program. And many courses include a job fair with local employers who are looking to hire graduates.
How participants are chosen for the GAF Roofing Academy
“Anyone can sign up to participate in an upcoming GAF Roofing Academy program through the Roofing Academy page on GAF’s website. Once applicants are interested and complete a brief vetting process to confirm their commitment to the program and learning about the roofing trade, they are eligible to participate,” says Cornelius.
After people go through the academy program, they are ready for work in the roofing industry.
“The goal of GAF Roofing Academy is for students to leave with the skills and tools to jump right into the roofing trade however they see fit,” Cornelius adds. “After the program, graduates are given access to job opportunities from GAF’s national network of more than 10,000 independent, certified contractors seeking talent. GAF Roofing Academy has placed 1,510 graduates in jobs since the program’s inception in 2020, out of a total of 2,700. Just this year, 415 graduates have been placed in jobs, which is a 67% placement rate so far in 2023.”
In addition to offering the GAF Roofing Academy program at various sites around the country, the company also presents the course to individuals who are currently incarcerated.
“With a focus on inclusivity, particularly for underrepresented groups, GAF has fostered relationships with several correctional institutions to facilitate carefully crafted training programs with inmates who are set to be released in the near future, so that they are well equipped to re-enter society with skills that can provide them opportunities. These programs are run much like any other GAF Roofing Academy, with contractor partners at the ready to interview with and offer jobs to the program’s graduates,” says Cornelius.
One of these programs took place in April at the Manning Work Release Center in Columbia, S.C., and the GAF Roofing Academy team is currently in discussion with several correctional institutions in multiple states to develop similar programs.
The company is determined to offer opportunities to those who are – or who have been – incarcerated. Last year, 10 percent of the GAF Roofing Academy participants were justice involved, and 58 percent of those obtained employment after completing the training. The GAF website highlights Demetris Purnell one of the graduates with a video in which he explains what he gained from the training and subsequent job.
Thousands of roofers needed to fill demand
“The commercial and residential roofing industry is booming, with demand for 19,000 new jobs expected by 2028. This demand needs to be met with a growing pool of qualified talent that is being stretched thin by the ongoing labor shortage across all facets of construction and blue-collar labor,” says Cornelius.
“The GAF Roofing Academy is critical to GAF’s (and the broader industry’s) mission to build up a long-term pipeline of talent and interest in the roofing trade that can keep the boom going, all while empowering people from underrepresented groups and communities to build rewarding, well-paying careers in a growing and welcoming profession.”
But it’s not just a need for employees that inspired GAF to create this program. It goes far beyond that.
“Roofing is a trade skill that’s essential to the growth and upkeep of any community. GAF’s ability to offer justice-involved individuals a second chance, both for building upon their personal goals and their contributions to their community, is incredibly rewarding and inspiring for the company, the instructors and hopefully for future participants who see the successes of those who graduated from the program,” says Cornelius.
And after the initial training, learning and growth can continue, including with GAF’s CARE (Center for the Advancement of Roofing Excellence) Contractor Training Center. This unique resource offers hundreds of on-demand courses, live instructor-led trainings and business-building seminars for every stage in a roofer’s career. It also includes courses and training on starting and running a roofing business.
Editor’s note: GAF has 3,700 employees and 34 manufacturing facilities in 26 locations throughout the U.S. According to its website, one in four homes in the U.S. has a GAF roof.