Editor's note: The following is the transcript of an interview with Nick Sabino from the NRCA. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast here.
Heidi Ellsworth: Hello, this is Heidi Ellsworth with RoofersCoffeeShop. I'm a partner with the site, and today I'm here with another Roofing Road Trips with Heidi with a very special person in the roofing industry, Nick Sabino. He is currently chairman of the board for NRCA, and he's also president of Deer Park Roofing. And I just have to say before we start into the conversation that Nick is incredibly inspirational to the industry and has brought so much to the forefront when it comes to recruitment and vocational and kids and just everything he's done this year as chairman of the board. So I'm really excited to have him on our podcast today. Nick, welcome.
Nick Sabino: Thank you, Heidi. It's great to be with you.
Heidi Ellsworth: Thank you. I've been very excited for this podcast because I am so lucky to be able to work with the NRCA and work with you and hear so much of the exciting things that are going on, especially everything that Reid's brought to the table, that you've brought to the table, that Rod is going to next time. So, I'm excited for you to share some of that with all of our listeners at RoofersCoffeeShop. Go ahead.
Nick Sabino: Looking forward to it. It's been a busy couple of weeks here and we finally got time in our schedule so that we could do this, so, really looking forward to it.
Heidi Ellsworth: We've been trying to do it for about a year, so yes.
Nick Sabino: That's right.
Heidi Ellsworth: Well, could you share just a little bit with our listeners about some of the highlights of being chairman of the board for NRCA? I would love to just, kind of looking back on over the last year since you started in May and then IRE, just share some of the highlights and what you've done because I don't know if everybody really realizes what a huge amount of time and commitment being chairman of the board for NRCA is.
Nick Sabino: Yeah, I think there's a lot of highlights. Being chairman of the board, we have so many different things that we're doing at NRCA, whether it's technical or political, health and safety, training and education. So many different things that the schedule is quite busy. I quit keeping track but at one point, I was 30 states I think this year. Reid keeps us busy. We were just in Palm Springs, California a couple of weeks ago. Then we had the IRE last week. So, we've been all over the place. And that's really great to talk to manufacturers and contractors and the people that we meet with is just amazing. I think the biggest highlight of the year for me started right off the bat and it was testifying to Congress. Duane Musser and his team in Washington DC do a really good job of making sure that NRCA is relevant, that we represent the industry. There was a small business committee hearing and the topic was immigration and immigration reform and workforce issues that are going on throughout the United States. I was asked to testify on behalf of NRCA. And personally, it was an amazing experience. But for the industry at large, I think it was really important that we got our message out there, that we talked about how difficult it was, it is from a workforce standpoint. But the stories that we told I think really represents what contractors are facing all around the country. It was just an amazing experience. I think one of the, there were really two highlights I guess from testifying to congress. The first thing, we have a member in Florida who has an individual on his team who has, he came to the United States legally, he achieved temporary protected status and he's working for a roofing company there. He's been working there for nine years. He married while he was here. He's got two kids, bought a house, he's a foreman at this company. And again, he's here legally. Because he only has temporary protected status, he was asked to, your temporary working status is no longer valid and you have to go back to the Dominican Republic. I think he came here after an earthquake or something in Haiti or the Dominican or something like that. We brought this up to the committee that, hey, hold on a second. There's somebody that came here legally, he's contributing to a company and he's being asked to, he's basically being kicked out. We brought up issues like that. And it was really, if we don't tell that story, it's not going to be told. So that was very rewarding. Actually from, what did we accomplish in the whole testifying to Congress, I think that was really more important. NRCA supports a program or a bill in Congress that is, oh boy, HR, I forget the number, Heidi.
Heidi Ellsworth: We'll get it, don't worry.
Nick Sabino: It's basically immigration reform that meets the needs of the roofing workforce. We were testifying to that, and there was a Congressman there who totally disagreed. He thought that the immigration policies that are currently being used were working. We told him that they weren't. The number of visas going from 15,000 to 30,000 was really insignificant for the industry. And after a lengthy discussion, we both agreed to disagree. Again, our team in Washington DC reached out to this individual Congressman, former chairman, Kent Schwickert, met with him about a week later. And not only did he change his tune, he cosponsored the bill that we were actually supporting. So, huge win for the entire industry. So these things are going on behind the scenes every single day and it's just really special to be a part of these kinds of things.
Heidi Ellsworth: You know, that is so important. I really don't think a lot of folks in the roofing industry know how much work goes in Washington DC on what you're talking about to help not only bring more people into roofing, but to help the people in roofing and in the industry. Let's jump ahead, talk a little bit about Roofing Day because you're just right on it, Nick. This is cool. So tell everybody what they can do as part of Roofing Day.
Nick Sabino: Oh yeah. Roofing day, that's been one of our biggest successes over the last couple of years at NRCA. Put it in perspective, we used to have our fall committee meetings, which you're a part of and actively participate in. But we used to have those in DC every year in the fall. And we would go up to Capitol Hill with a couple of items, maybe two or three pieces of legislation that we were supporting. And we would go there and we would talk to our Congress people and our senators. But we would send about 40 people up to Capitol Hill and our staff would arrange the meetings. And it was really, it's really special to be able to walk into your congressperson's office and talk to him about things that we support and things that are positive for us as an industry. That was a few years ago. We created Roofing Day in DC. Obviously, our CEO, Reid Ribble was a former Congressman from Wisconsin and he understands how that process works. So he said, well, let's just have a national fly-in. So that was something that really changed it. Instead of going up to Capitol Hill with 40 people, we went up with 400. Everybody wears red and the folks and the staffers and the people there recognize the fact that, oh boy, the roofers are here this week. it's really changed the way we're doing things in DC. This year, again, anybody that isn't involved in this, I would highly recommend it. You take a day away from your business, it's April 21st and 22nd this year, fly in, NRCA has a consultant that sets up all the meetings. So if you're from Oregon, you're going to meet with your congressperson. And then both of your senators, they'll set up the meeting in their office and you go in and there's three, we have three or four issues this year, we're talking about an infrastructure bill, current technical education, obviously immigration reform. And there's another one I don't know off the top of my head that we're supporting. I think it's clean energy or sustainable installation building practices. But again, we're going to go up and we'll talk to the legislators about how this impacts our business and just some other get to know you kind of relationships. Through my time at NRCA is I've been able to go to DC, I don't know, 10 years now straight I guess. I've established a really good relationship with my Congressman, Brad Wenstrup. He's been to our office two or three times. I've met with him several times in Washington DC. He actually, if there's a piece of legislation that he supports, he would actually call us and say, hey, one of the tax reform bill that we just did, he actually, he said, "Nick, would you send me a statement on this and what it means for your business or what it means for hiring?" And I said, "Well, sure, I'd be more than happy to." And I think he included it in one of his press releases. So the relationships that you gain from just interacting with the folks in Congress, you'd be surprised how open they are and how willing they are to meet with you. So that's a huge benefit that we have, for NRCA, that we have these relationships. But Roofing Day in DC is just a fantastic event. And you've been there several times. You've got your diversity and inclusion summit going on this year on the 20th? The day before?
Heidi Ellsworth: It's on the 21st, we're trying to-
Nick Sabino: Oh, it's on the 21st, yeah.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. So, the morning on the 21st we're going to have some great speakers from Congress, the CEO of Beacon is going to be speaking, [Leah McGuire 00:11:54] from OC, and we're having a panel to just really talk about how we can be more inclusive in the industry overall. And then on we go to Roofing Day and Nick, I'm with you, it is really my favorite thing of the year. I was so scared the first time walking around to these Congress offices. It's so huge, you're kind of lost. But I wouldn't miss it for the world. Tim and I both go as you know, and we meet with all of our Oregon delegation, and I'm with you, it's made a huge difference. I really want everyone listening to know too that anybody can go, you don't have to be an NRCA member, although we always think that's a great thing to do. But anybody from the roofing industry can go to sign up and talk to their legislators. We have great talking points. It's kind of an opportunity to really bring in the whole industry.
Nick Sabino: It's great. One of the things from last year, you were talking about diversity and inclusion. We took one of our foreman there, his name's [Jose Mejia 00:13:07]. We wanted to, there's a big, in Washington DC, there's a real macho kind of talk about immigration and this and that and how it's killing American jobs. There's that whole narrative out there. We wanted to take somebody that that's representative of our company and actually have them sit down and tell his story to our senators and our congresspeople so they can actually hear his story and get a different view of the roofing industry. So I think that's really important that we show up in Washington DC representative of what our industry actually is.
Heidi Ellsworth: Right. All the different types of people.
Nick Sabino: I'm sorry?
Heidi Ellsworth: All different types of people who are in the roofing industry. All nationalities, genders, everything. We need to show them how great this industry is, and that's one way to do it is walk into their office with our Hispanic community in roofing and everyone else who, I mean, Polish, you name it, from all different parts of the country. We need to show that diversity. And again too, we showed up, and not just diversity from that standpoint, but also diversity from, I'm from Ohio, so there's a large manufacturing base in Ohio. And we're all in this together. If contractors don't have enough people to work on the jobs, the manufacturers can't grow their businesses because there just isn't enough people to install their products. They're basically at the mercy of do we have enough manpower in the field to install these? We went there with one voice and we agreed on all the issues that we're talking about. So it's important that we have steep slope contractors and low slope contractors, and that bigger picture of the roofing industry with the manufacturing folks there and the distribution. We really got our message out in pretty big numbers.
Nick Sabino: So, can't wait for this year. Really looking forward to it. Actually, last year in Roofing Day in DC, we had a meeting in the West Wing of the White House.
Heidi Ellsworth: Oh, wow.
Nick Sabino: Yeah, yeah. Going into Congress is one thing, but we had to get our clearance for the White House months in advance. And going to the West Wing of the White House, we walked in, and NRCA COO, he looked over at me and he said, "You're in the most secure place in the entire world right now." It was really neat. But our meeting was just steps away from the oval office. We met with, Mick Mulvaney who is the acting chief of staff to the president. And it was a great meeting. We talked about our workforce issues for about a half hour. I thought we left there and he totally understood the problems that we face. When you have an unemployment rate of 3.3%, everybody's really working, it's hard to find people that want to be roofing professionals. We shared our struggles with him and we talked about a lot of different subjects. We were there and our voices were heard.
Heidi Ellsworth: I'm just so overwhelmed and impressed by how much has happened in the last couple of years. The fact that you were in the White House in the West Wing, as a roofing community, we just have to have so much pride in that because we're at the table. We're sharing our story and trying to make the industry better. So congratulations. I mean, that's so cool.
Nick Sabino: Yeah, thank you.
Heidi Ellsworth: Well, and one of the things that I love is, a lot of times people will say, well, okay, can I really go and do I make a difference if I attend? And what we found is obviously yes, it does make a difference. We have seen legislation that has actually come out of this. I'm probably not going to say it's 100% right, but I know you've been very active in actually now utilizing the Perkins Act. So, can you maybe share a little bit about that? Because I think it's important, we speak our truth, but then we also, how are we now implementing it into our businesses? And you've been doing that.
Nick Sabino: Sure. Yeah. The Perkins Act, it's funny, it actually, this is something that we lobbied for and we've done for the last several years, the roofing industry at large about the Perkins Act, which is funding for our career and technical education schools. So these are high schools, these are adult education, a number of different schools across the United States. And this is something, this is something that's rare in Washington DC is that you have bipartisan support for this. So we were able to, we were able to record a win. And what it actually does, it gives money to the states, billions of dollars to the states for worker training, worker retraining, worker recruitment, all kinds of rehabilitation programs, whatever it is that at the state level, whatever each state chooses to do, there's money for that. So, one of the things, we had a couple successes and the Perkins Act got refunded. So I reached out to our team in Washington DC and I say, hey, what's this mean for me? We're lobbying for this, I'm just an average contractor. What's this mean for us? I get an email back with a couple of links in the state of Ohio for funding, for training programs. And actually, even programs where the state would actually send people your way. And they would pay $5,000 for any person with no experience. It's a grant and if we train them, not necessarily on the job training, but maybe in our shop, or it could be on the job training but doesn't necessarily have to be that, we could go through NRCA's Training for Roof Application Careers program, which is, we call it TRAC. We have to fund 5,000 and they fund 5,000. The person makes it 90 days basically. They'll give us a $5,000 grant. So, we can do this with as many employees as we want, up to 20. There's all kinds of different options with this program. If I want to take somebody say that's in the field and I want to turn them into an estimator, and I have to train them for that, then the funds, I could spend that money retraining somebody or training them to switch jobs within the roofing industry. So, all kinds of opportunities. I think whatever my NRCA dues were last year, this more than paid for my NRCA dues just from the money that's out there that's available to the Perkins Act. Again, I think it's really important in this day and age that we have qualified trainers in our companies. And if you have a qualified trainer, these programs are very easy to implement in your company. If somebody's dedicated to doing that, the funds are available and to take advantage of those is really, it definitely has a positive return on investment.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. And you know, what I'm seeing too is it's all coming together so great this plan, the NRCA board has been putting together for a number of years now. But if you look at the advocacy to get the grants, to help get the legislation, to help do it, the Pro Certification Program, which I'm going to ask you about in just two seconds for them to be able to certify contractors and really pride and quality and on all of the things that are going to go along with that. And then the TRAC training, it's like all of these things go together and you're able to now put together a really strong recruitment and training and retainment program longterm for a roofing company. I know you've been doing that. I really want our listeners to understand that this isn't just pie in the sky, this is something you've done and they could too.
Nick Sabino: Yeah, absolutely. So, the number one thing that we hear when we travel around the country is workforce development. That's our biggest challenge. So, it's amazing, the Pro Certification program really touches every single thing that NRCA does, health and safety, it's very strong from a health and safety standpoint, the technical skills that are required for certification. Our education department, the political side of things in Washington DC where we're trying to get more funding for training of our workforce. So it touches everything. But Pro Certification really raises the industry to the next level. And we've certified 16 individuals at our company and we'll probably double that again this year. So we certified 16 last year. It's really a game changer. The tests are very difficult. They're challenging. Again, there's a lot of safety that goes into this program. And there's a lot of, it's hands on. It's not a, we're going to sit here and take a written test. The knowledge-based test is interactive, it's fairly easy to get through. I think that the questions are challenging. But the real meat and potatoes on this is the hands on skills assessment and it's difficult. Not everybody's going to pass. But the preparation for the certification, you have to be in the industry for two years but, but to take the test, it's very challenging and it really helps people grow. The sense of pride when somebody, a lot of our guys hadn't taken a test in quite a long time. And so, when they were tested, they were nervous. They all cared, they wanted to pass. But the pride, and just looking at the Facebook posts after somebody had passed, and it was like, it's their birthday there. There's all these positive comments and people are so proud of them for just being a roofing professional. That's really one of the best things about the Pro Certification Program is that the pride that's instilled in our workforce, it's there, we just have to kind of resuscitate it.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. You had a large number of contractors actually do the hands on certification at IRE, right?
Nick Sabino: There was almost 50 people at the IRE. We had a tent right outside of the convention hall and there were steep slope as well as low slope mockups. It went really well. It was quite a group and they got certified. There's a lot of people certified in the Dallas market currently. I think that what you're going to start to see is you're going to start to see this in specs, whether it's a manufacturer spec or the folks, the roof consultants are going to start writing it in there. The insurance companies are going to start offering people discounts on their homeowners insurance. So, it's just raising the bar in the industry. I think that it only makes us better, it makes us more professional. It gives the consumer a lot more confidence about what we're doing as an industry. I can't wait till it happens across the country. We're getting to that point. It's a pretty exciting time. It's definitely going to change the industry.
Heidi Ellsworth: It is. And you know, four or five years ago, I don't even know how long ago, I remember sitting in the committee meetings and everyone saying we got to grow the professionalism, the reputation of our industry. We need to show the world how cool it is, how professional we are, and it's happening. And to have that kind of goal and see it happening, that is so fulfilling.
Nick Sabino: It really is. I was just, right before the IRE, we were in Germany for the German show. The Germans have doc deckers, and they are master roofers. They've been doing certifications for some time. When you see these guys, they walk around with these uniforms on. It's similar to our NRCA badges, our Pro Certification badges that we're giving out. To see these guys walk around in their vests, it really means something. The Germans, roofers are the most respected trade of everybody. And I think that that's where, that's where we want to be as a trade in the United States is, we have a bunch of hardworking men and women in this industry, so to be respected is really our goal. And I think Pro Certification really helps us achieve that goal.
Heidi Ellsworth: I do too. I kind of want to wrap up this awesome podcast with talking a little bit about NRCA membership. I know we hear a lot of times like, well, what's in it for me? And I think just this last half hour, that's pretty obvious that what NRCA dues are all about. I also think there's a number of companies and contractors who think it's a little bit out of their reach. So, can you kind of talk to everyone about what membership has done for you and kind of what, I know there's just like this huge renewed drive and interest.
Nick Sabino: Sure. Our membership is growing, we're adding about a member a day. We've had a really a strong drive for membership and people are liking what they're seeing out of NRCA. For me, I couldn't imagine to not be a member. The things that we value, the things that my company values, our write up exactly what NRCA is working about. I mean, if you value health and safety, NRCA is at the forefront of very single, everything going on with health and safety, NRCA is there. To write your own safety program or to be able to use NRCA safety programs and then modify them to your needs, I think that those, that that's really key. Technical. Everything that's going on in the world of technical, I could pick up the phone today and call somebody at NRCA with 30 years experience and have them answer a technical question for me. They've seen it. NRCA has been around since 1886. I'm a first generation contractor. For me, to get the support, and if you look around at NRCA staff, everybody's been there for 20, 30 years. It's amazing. So I can get that technical support. Everything that we're doing in Washington DC is highly underrated. The membership dues it's funding a lot of things that we're working on in Washington DC. The news obviously is great. I mean, the magazine. Every time it comes out, I take it home, I can't wait to read it. There's always something in the magazine that I'm going to take away with and make my business better. And then obviously, from a training standpoint, the educational programs and certification and that whole track, it's just a great organization to be a part of. Of course I'm biased, Heidi. We've had the benefit of being in committee meetings together and things like that. But you just, the networking and everything else that comes out of NRCA memberships just a truly amazing, and it's just such a classy organization. Couldn't imagine not being a part of it.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. I'm so glad you're a part of it and I'm so glad you were chairman of the board this year. You just brought so much to the industry. I don't know if you hear it enough, but I just want to personally say thank you. Thank you for everything you've done for the industry, Nick. It's amazing.
Nick Sabino: Well, thank you. You do a lot as well, Heidi, and your participation really means a lot, so you're definitely changing the way people are thinking. It's just nice to have new fresh ideas. So we appreciate everything you do as well.
Heidi Ellsworth: Well, we love it. The RoofersCoffeeShop loves to be a partner with NRCA. We do a lot, Vicky was just reminding me that many years ago, RoofersCoffeeShop won the Charlie Raymond Award for membership drive. So she's on. After the great awards we had with JAF winning it, Vicky's like, let's go, let's get, let's drive this membership again, Heidi. I would really encourage everybody who's listening to this podcast and please share it, let other people know you can find, there are places for you to click through to NRCA membership on RoofersCoffeeShop. In fact, NRCA is on the homepage. All you do is click the logo and you'll get right there. On Roofing Day, April 21st and 22nd, the diversity and inclusion forum starts early in the morning at nine. So, come in the day before. I'm telling you, it's the best thing, the Roofing Day experience is the best thing you'll ever do in roofing I think. And I would really encourage everyone out there to kind of feel free to, Nick, I'm just going to say, reach to Nick, reach out to NRCA, find out about the training program with TRAC, find out about Pro Certification. Figure out how you can get those Perkins Acts fund. A lot of it's on our site where you can get information, just search it. There is a lot of great things going. So Nick, thank you so much.
Nick Sabino: Thank you, Heidi.
Heidi Ellsworth: Okay. Well, we will see you in DC.
Nick Sabino: All right.
Heidi Ellsworth: Thank you so much. Have a great day.
Nick Sabino: You too.
Heidi Ellsworth: And please listen to the next Roofing Road Trips with Heidi Podcast. It comes every single week and we are going to be interviewing a lot of NRCA members, but also our influencers and also our partners out there. So please join us again next week. Thanks.
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