Editor's note: The following is the transcript of an interview with Reed Hitchcock with ARMA. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast here.
Karen Edwards: Okay, hi everyone. This is Karen Edwards, editor of Roofers Coffee Shop and I am here with Reed Hitchcock, executive vice president for the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association, which we know lovingly as ARMA. We love our acronyms.
Reed Hitchcock: Hi Karen.
Karen Edwards: Hi. Today we are going to ... Oh, we're at the 2020 International Roofing Expo. Did I say that?
Reed Hitchcock: We are. We are.
Karen Edwards: I forget. So we're going to talk today about some issues that are facing the industry as they relate to asphalt and the industry in general. And one of those topics is labor. We know it's a problem. We hear about it all the time and we're trying to fix that. But what specifically is our ARMA doing?
Reed Hitchcock: So again, we're starting with education. I've been talking with some of our industry peer associations. We have a forum group that gets together that includes NRCA, ARMA, SPRI, the EPDM roofing association, and the Polyiso Insulation Association, PIMA. And this is one of our big topics in that forum. As an industry, we do a poor job of selling our brand, roofing. It's just people hear, "I'm a roofer," they hear roofing industry, they sort of glaze over or they think hot, sweaty people standing up on roofs. It's got a bad image. So one of the things that we're talking about collectively is how we try and sort of move that paradigm. I know that NRCA is working on a toolkit for their members to help them sell jobs in their communities. Working with things like the roofing day and educating lawmakers. I'm doing some of that on my own. I've been attending some legislative briefings. I'm based in the Washington area, so have an opportunity to go in with some of our partners. Duane [Motser 00:02:03], Greg [Breidup 00:02:04] and I have had some meetings with some of the lawmakers. Just again, trying to get roofing on people's radar screen in a positive light and as an industry and as a great way to make a living in all facets of the industry. Particular for us, what we need to do is build that toolkit for our manufacturer members to help educate the communities around them, the colleges, about careers on the manufacturing side. We certainly support the labor side because it's no good for us if there's a warehouse full of shingles and a whole bunch of roofs that need to be done, but not enough people to put them on. We certainly want to support the labor conversation at the roofer level. But we have jobs in plants too that are sitting open right now. Anything from people working on asphalt roofing line both on shingles, mod bits, asphalt, asphalt facilities, but also more senior jobs, chemists, executive roles in these companies, all across the board. We're challenged in that way about promoting these, really, some very good and lucrative careers. Sales, roofing sales, some of the things you see about how those guys can be successful. It's fantastic. But even mid-level people in manufacturing, foreman in contracting organizations, those are six-figure jobs, and a lot of them in areas that are reasonable from a cost of living standpoint. I like to say, "Everybody needs a roof. They don't need a roof every day, but when they need it, they need it." And so we need to do a better job of promoting the livings that people can make in all aspects of the industry and not forget that there are jobs in every one of these industries that I mentioned earlier, in the polyiso manufacturing, in the TPO companies, all of them. This isn't one of those where I'm just waving an asphalt flag. This is an industry flag. This is roofing.
Karen Edwards: It's true. And there's a few things that are happening here this week and the ... One just happened this morning. The roofing technology think tank, which is a small group of forward-thinking, technology-savvy thought leaders who want to see the roofing industry elevate and implement technology because the younger next generation of workers, they'd grown up on technology. And the panel this morning, Rackley Roofing, is using virtual reality goggles and training and everybody that's sexy and cool and fun. And we actually have a student competition here on Wednesday morning. Five universities from construction management programs are going to be competing in the competition, to just expose them to roofing and bring them here to this show.
Reed Hitchcock: My daughter is a freshman in college. She's going to engineering school and I was working on her for a while. She opted for biomedical, but she did a really good science fair project in high school on cool roofs.
Karen Edwards: That's cool.
Reed Hitchcock: But that's another thing. I know National Women In Roofing is doing a great job of reaching out and there's an opportunity there. This is not a man's career. It's a career. And we need to promote that better. I mean, I've seen a big change. This is my, golly, 18th IRE and the landscape has changed. There are far more women who are experts in booths instead of being the people trying to draw people in. They're the ones that are leading the discussion, a huge change in the industry. And I see it continuing to go that way as we do a better job educating people in college, in high school about the opportunities in this business.
Karen Edwards: So my daughter, she graduated from college and she spent ... She lives really close to a manufacturer over near Philadelphia and I said, "You should apply there." And she said, "No." I mean, she'd been to shows with me. But she didn't really get it. And she spent two years working at a financial company and it was just stuffy and the atmosphere-
Reed Hitchcock: It's like watching paint dry.
Karen Edwards: Yeah. So she actually just last fall, got hired by that manufacturer and loves it. She's like, "This is so great. This is a great industry."
Reed Hitchcock: It's a fun industry. And this is the industry. And I can even speak from my own career. It's Hotel California. Once you're in-
Karen Edwards: You never want to leave.
Reed Hitchcock: You can never leave, even if you want to.
Karen Edwards: But you never want to.
Reed Hitchcock: But nobody does want to. So really what we're trying to do a better job and work collectively among multiple trade organizations, is working on our brand as an industry, working on educating people about exactly the case that you just gave. "I don't want to do that." Some people happen into it. We all kind of happened into it in one way or another. I don't know anybody that I've met in this industry that went to college saying, "I want to work in the roofing industry." They ended up there and they never looked back. And the people that change jobs, they change jobs in this industry.
Karen Edwards: They do.
Reed Hitchcock: They seek jobs in this industry because this industry takes care of them.
Karen Edwards: I did three different jobs, all in this industry. You just don't leave. And we need to get the word out about that more, not keep it to ourselves.
Reed Hitchcock: That's it. That's it. I mean, your platform's an important one. And again, we need to be talking more to the colleges, more to the trade schools, more to anybody that'll listen about the opportunities.
Karen Edwards: Yes. 100%. You mentioned that there's going to be a real focus next year on sustainability, recycling and that's not something that you think of when you hear the word asphalt.
Reed Hitchcock: Sure. Well I think one of the things about asphalt, it's a byproduct of the petroleum to distillation process, right? It actually has a lot of uses even after its regular life on a roof. So there are a number of different ways that ... beneficial uses. There are a number of beneficial uses, sorry, for the product, sort of post-consumer. The challenge that the industry has right now is getting that material from the roofs to the facilities that can process it so it can be used into pavements, so it can be used back into the roofing manufacturing process, so it can be used in specialty mulches and things like that, just to name a couple of examples.
Karen Edwards: How would a contractor find a recycling facility for asphalt?
Reed Hitchcock: There are some resources out there. Shinglerecycling.org is actually ... That website is managed by the Construction Demolition and Recycling Association and that's got some resources on there. Manufacturers can help direct contractors to recycling facilities. Again, these materials can, if they're processed certain ways, can actually go into the manufacture of new roofing shingles. We have a few challenges though, the challenge of incentivizing people. Because there's no monetary benefit to a roofing contractor to take it to a specially specialty facility versus taking it to a landfill. And we've had some challenges. For example, in Colorado there was some legislation that was proposed to ban asphalt shingle recycling. And the challenge they were running into was companies stockpiling, resulting .... This happened in Dallas too, resulting in a huge pile of shingles that weren't being recycled in a timely manner. And so actually, there was an effort to try and ban that altogether. That's not good for anybody because we certainly don't want to contribute to landfill, especially a product that has a value after it's taken off the roof. The same goes for low-sloped roofs, taking off a modified bitumen membrane. That's all good asphalt that can go back into paving and roofing.
Karen Edwards: Well, there's no monetary value. I would think that recycling a shingle would be a good selling point for a contractor, especially for customers who are worried about sustainability in the environment.
Reed Hitchcock: If you can find those customers whose concern for the environment outweighs their need to save money. No, I mean I hate to say it, but that's a challenge is at the end of the day, so many ... The vast majority of people are driven by that bottom line and, if there is an added expense for that, then they may go with the contractor who's not charging them that additional to do that. What we really need is the state departments of transportation and other government agencies, when they're looking at financial incentives for the environment, to consider that one.
Karen Edwards: So what is ARMA going to do to try to promote this, and who are you promoting it to, mainly the contractors?
Reed Hitchcock: Well, contractors are certainly one of the most important audiences. We to educate them about the difference between letting this go into a landfill and getting it back into new materials. And I think at the same time, we need to find ways to promote to them exactly what you brought up, and that's that selling point. When they are in the homeowner's space and talking to them about what they'll do for them, that should make a difference. And more and more, we hear concerns all over the place about the environment, people talking about global warming, sustainability, all of these things. Individuals tearing the roof off their house and replacing it can contribute for the better to that process. So we do need to educate them. We need to make sure that the manufacturers are equipped with those lists of recycling centers. It's always changing. Most of them are very small operations and they can only handle so much material. So we need to make sure that we're up to date on the latest in terms of where those facilities are and to keep that list as a live document to make sure that that word's getting out and people know where to take these materials. So we need to educate our people and to the extent that we can, we need to put the word out to the general public. What's the difference here? The difference is 11 million tons of shingles into a landfill or into your roads, into your parking lots, into things like that, and back into new materials.
Karen Edwards: Well, we're talking about it right now and Roofer's Coffee Shop has a large audience of contractors. And we're about to expand that a little bit to homeowners because we recently picked up the domain, or I should say purchased an existing domain, askaroofer.com, which is a resource for homeowners to ask questions. That's another outlet where we can share information and try to educate the homeowners or building owners about what it is and how it works and why it's important to do so.
Reed Hitchcock: We'd be glad to give you information as we develop it. We need to take more ownership as an industry. We did leave it in the hands of the recyclers and the contractors without giving them a lot of guidance. And so that's on us a little bit. And we need to educate people. We need to just share the value of it.
Karen Edwards: Are you talking with any of the industry associations?
Reed Hitchcock: Sure. NRCA has been a partner in some of the discussions. We're actively engaged with the National Asphalt Paving Association as well as the Asphalt Institute, all groups that have a potential ... get a potential benefit out of these materials being recycled. The other challenge is oil is cheap right now. So for pavements, there's less incentive for pavers to want to use recycled material because they can get the new material cheap. That doesn't last forever. We've seen it time and again where oil prices go up, all of a sudden that material's very attractive to pavers. We need to see a steadier stream. The Asphalt Paving Association actually just released a report that's on their website that's very encouraging from this standpoint, saying that their contractors are seeing more benefit in sort of the selling point of bringing in recycled content. They can't put into much because there are some challenges. Because it's not just virgin asphalt. It is a material. It's a ground up material but it has some other constituent ingredients. There's there's sort of a fine line of how much they can put in. But we need to educate the paving community on that number and make sure they don't overload their mixes with this, but also still encourage them to use it. So all these organizations are interested, engaged and helping us work on those message points and get the word out.
Karen Edwards: Wow. Yeah. You've got a lot of work ahead of you.
Reed Hitchcock: Yeah, we do.
Karen Edwards: Because it's just been this way for so long.
Reed Hitchcock: And you know what it's like to try and change the norm and and get people to think differently.
Karen Edwards: Well, getting that message out there on a continual basis, I think will help. I remember when nobody recycled anything. And now we recycled just about everything. So why not?
Reed Hitchcock: Except glass all of a sudden. I can't recycle glass. In Northern Virginia, they don't accept it anymore. It's the strangest thing.
Karen Edwards: Yeah. I think that has something to do with China maybe not taking some of our recyclables.
Reed Hitchcock: Oh, I thought it was overload of material or something.
Karen Edwards: I don't know.
Reed Hitchcock: Anyway.
Karen Edwards: So, yeah. Well, thank you very much, Reed, for joining me.
Reed Hitchcock: No, I appreciate the opportunity.
Karen Edwards: And let us support you in that educating effort, you know?
Reed Hitchcock: Happy to talk about it anytime.
Karen Edwards: Sounds great. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Reed Hitchcock: My pleasure.