Labor Shortage in the Construction and Roofing Repair Industry

The supply of labor in the construction and roofing repair business is not constant. It has its peaks and troughs. There were times in the past when the industry saw enough trained labor to sustain its growth. These days, however, the industry is plagued by shortage of skilled labor.

The scarcity of trained workers pushed construction costs up as wages surge but drove quality down as contractors rush from one project to another because of heated demands for construction crews.

The labor shortfall could not have come at a worse time for the booming industry. Unemployment levels are down for construction-related trades. Construction spending figures from the Census Bureau show a high demand for new construction of private non-residential projects and apartments. These projects are in danger of being delayed or put on hold because of labor shortage.

In the roofing industry, the lack of manpower poses a big problem for contractors. Roofing business is doing well, but its growth is hindered by the construction industry-wide labor shortage. The entire country could be affected by an acute labor shortage, which would result to extreme competition for experienced roofers and skyrocketing wages.

An article from Roofing Contractor lists the reasons for the labor shortfall.

Why Construction Labor Declined

Fewer Union Apprentices. Union membership reached its peak in 1979 with around 21 million members. In 1954 union membership was at an all-time high of 35 percent. Since then membership in the private sector has continually declined. Overall union membership today stands at a low 11 percent. Unions normally institute training and apprenticeship programs. With declining union membership, worker training also went down.

Workers Left During Economic Slump. Many workers left the construction industry during an economic slowdown. They either retired altogether or changed careers. New entrants to the field have been slow because young people are not eager to enter the industry. For new workers, there is a scarcity of training programs to help them integrate into their new jobs. The past recession saw a generation or more of lost trained construction workers.

Decline in Vocational and Technical Education. Technical and vocational education was a feasible option for high school students few decades ago. With recent emphasis given to college education, funding that went to technical and vocational programs in the past shifted instead to programs for college preparation.

Immigration Policy Changes. Hispanic accounts for 33 percent of roofers today, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A substantial number of these workers are immigrants. Legal immigration for people entering jobs, including roofing, which is a skilled trade, has gradually become challenging.

Why Asbestos was Banned in Roof Repair and Construction

asbestos roof repair and construction

The use of asbestos in roof repair and construction started way back in the 1800s. Several characteristics of asbestos made its use prevalent in manufacturing such as heat resistant, durable, fire-proof and flexible. Because of these features, asbestos was found in almost every product when possible.

The extensive use of asbestos in construction started during the industrial revolution. Most of the asbestos mined then were used for construction materials. The fire-retardant quality of asbestos made it very popular among manufacturers such that it was found in almost all construction products, including roofing materials.

Asbestos as Roofing Material

The use of asbestos for roofing started in the 1920s until the 1980s. Nearly 80% of materials used on structures built before 1981 contained asbestos. Asbestos is found in roofs, floors, furnaces, appliances, windows caulking and plumbing. Identifying the presence of asbestos is difficult by physical appearance alone. The best way is to have samples tested by a laboratory.

Roofing materials with asbestos contents, such as asbestos cement roofing, had a life expectancy of 30 to 50 years. Since roofs are required to be fire-resistant and insulated from heat, asbestos was incorporated into roofing products.

Harmful Effects on Health

Unfortunately, asbestos was subsequently found to have harmful effects in the health of those exposed to it. In early 1900s, a rise in cases of respiratory diseases was noted from people living in towns associated with asbestos mining. In the 1940s, the disease mesothelioma was formally associated with asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is an illness almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. Lung cancer is another illness also caused by asbestos exposure.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), direct occupational exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of asbestos-related illnesses, which number around 107,000 workers annually. Indirect or secondhand exposures are responsible too. The victims are families of workers who unintentionally brought asbestos home. The WHO reports that the mortality rate from asbestos poisoning is around 43,000 annually.

Workers in at least 75 different jobs in the US were exposed to asbestos. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, workers in the construction industry were hardest hit.

Latency period is around 10 to 50 years between exposure and manifestation of mesothelioma. In the US alone, 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are recorded every year. Australia, Japan and Western Europe combined produce 10,000 cases annually.

CPSC and EPA Banned Asbestos

In 1977, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned specific products with asbestos. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned most products containing asbestos. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed the EPA ruling in 1991.

Because of the negative publicity associated with asbestos, manufacturers looked for suitable alternatives for the harmful product. The most common are polyurethane silica fabric, cellulose fiber, flour fibers and thermoset plastic flour.