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Tom Biller - Labor Shortage and the Importance of Training - PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION

Tremco - Tom Biller - POD
October 1, 2021 at 1:14 p.m.

 

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of an live interview with Tom Biller the Training Manager at Tremco Roofing and Building Maintenance. You can read the interview below, or listen to the podcast. 

Megan Ellsworth:
Welcome to Roofing Road Trips with Heidi. Explore the roofing industry through the eyes of a long-term professional within the trade. Listen for insights, interviews, and exciting news in the roofing industry today.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Hello and welcome to another Roofing Road Trips from RoofersCoffeeShop. This is Heidi Ellsworth and I am here today road tripping across the country over to Ohio to meet with some of my favorite folks, the Tremco family. I tell you what, Tremco is doing such amazing things in the industry and one of their leading initiatives is training. So today I am really pleased to introduce to Tom Biller, the Training Manager at Tremco Roofing and Building Maintenance. Tom, welcome to the show.

Tom Biller:
Thank you very much, Heidi. I appreciate you having me on here. As you said, my name is Tom Biller and I'm the Training Manager for Tremco's Roofing and Building Maintenance Division.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I mean, thinking about what you do and the amount of training that you're doing around the country and internationally, that's what I'm really excited to talk about today. But before we kind of get started, Tom, maybe just tell us a little bit more about yourself. How long have you've been with Tremco? Just give us a little bit of insight.

Tom Biller:
Well, thank you very much. I've been with Tremco going on 28 years now. I joined Tremco straight out of college, Penn State University. Worn a lot of different hats in my career with Tremco. I began with running a fire testing lab, what a great job for a young guy right out of college, building roofing systems and burning them. But that helped me to learn how roofs go together.

Tom Biller:
It also introduced me to the codes and approvals, the code compliance end of roofing. I was a product manager managing a couple of our product lines for many years and then really found my place here in Tremco in the training department. I've been with training about 15 years now. And I really think I found my calling here in training.

Heidi Ellsworth:
That is great. Well, tell us a little bit about the Tremco training program. What's it all entail?

Tom Biller:
Oh boy, it's a big program. So we train every all Tremco employees on every aspect of the roofing industry as well as of course on Tremco roofing solutions. We train our internal employees. We'll train our field representatives. I'm sure you're aware we have a very large service organization, so we'll train them on basic roofing as well as Tremco's technical roofing solutions. We train our sales and field representatives, as well as contractors, the design community, anyone who's involved in roofing, waterproofing and building maintenance has an opportunity to come through one of our training classes.

Tom Biller:
We train at our headquarters up in Beachwood, Ohio, but our primary training location is right now our training center located on the campus of our parent company RPM International here in Medina, Ohio. We'll do large scale training for our people, our internal people, as well as for the roofing contractor.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Wow. So tell me how that works. As an employee of Tremco, how do you get signed up for the training? How often do you get trained? How does that work?

Tom Biller:
Oh boy. So, okay. So for our internal people when you join Tremco you'll get an opportunity to come through one of our roofing 101 classes, and that's where we introduce people who aren't familiar with the roofing industry to basic roofing concepts and then of course to the Tremco solutions. Here's the different roofing systems. Here's what Tremco offers. Here's how we can help our customers. So every new employee is going to come through our training program, our contractor program which has recently been expanded. We have our representatives across the US, Mexico, and Canada. And as they work with a new contractor, we'll bring them in for training as well as our existing network of contractors continuously training them on new products and systems as well as techniques, installation methods help them be more productive and more efficient and more profitable.

Tom Biller:
From a contractor standpoint, we train at really three different levels for the contractors. We'll bring in the owners and the estimators and product managers and talk about what we have. Here's the Tremco solutions. Here's how they can help you help your customers. Here's how they can help you be more productive and profitable. Then we'll bring the crews in themselves and do the training. We've got a large scale training deck down here in Medina. So we'll do hands-on training, getting the guys up on a simulated roof doing the applications helping them be more efficient with or without products and solutions.

Tom Biller:
Then out in the field we have as an extension of our training program, we have a group of individuals, Tremco employees who work directly with the roof and contractor out in the field, they're called our contractor support specialists. So they'll do training and the contractor shop on a local basis as well as on the job site to kind of complete the loop from training of the owners in what we have, training of the crews on how to install it and then field support to make sure that it's all being done properly. And I'll say it again, efficiently and profitably for the roofing contractor.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. We need that so much. Continuing education and training is so important. What are you hearing back from your contractors about your training program and how it's helping with their employees, their business, all that good stuff?

Tom Biller:
The number one thing we're hearing is how do I get more of it? So we've gotten very good feedback and a very good response from the contracting community, from our contractor network. That's the number one thing they're always asking for is how do I get more crews in? How do I get more guys in? How can I get your contractor support specialist out on my job site more?

Tom Biller:
So COVID obviously put a little kink in that. Just before COVID we had events where we were going to have two groups of 75, 150 contractors in for hands-on training here in our training and unfortunately we had to cancel that. We're looking to get back started with that again now that COVID is kind of ending.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. When I talk to contractors around the country too, you hear this especially with the younger generations coming in, that there's nothing really more important than that education, training, mentoring. How do you see this helping with employee retention? Because we know how tough the labor market is and all the labor shortages. What are your thoughts? I just would love to hear your kind of philosophy around that and how much it does help with retention.

Tom Biller:
Well, we certainly feel that when you properly train and employee they feel confident, they feel empowered to do their job and they want to learn more. So training really is a key. Getting your employees up to speed quickly. One of my bosses likes to say, he jokes, "What if we train somebody and they leave the company?" Well, the flip side of that is what if you don't train them and they stay. We believe that we believe that an effective employee is a well-trained employee, one that believes and participates in continuing education. So, training people properly to do their jobs, training people to advance in the company really is a key to retaining those good people.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. That's what we've seen. I see that all the time and you see that firsthand with all the great employees with WTI, right?

Tom Biller:
Absolutely. They're a great example of how to provide opportunities for someone to continuously advance, you have to continually train them on new skills. And that's a big part of what we do here in our training department. We'll have multiple classes with WTI, bring in the entire organization in as well as region by region by region training them on new products, how to be more efficient job site inspectors, as well as how to be more efficient technicians up on the roof.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. And for all of you listening who may be saying, "Hmm, what's WTI?" WTI is a sister company to Tremco and they work very closely together. And WTI is the installation of the general contracting arm of Tremco and does amazing, amazing work all over the country and in internationally.

Tom Biller:
Thank you.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Really. I mean, I love working with your team there. And I would love to talk to us a little bit about some of the products that I know are that you are training both your certified contractors and the WTI plus Tremco employees on. You have some really unique products. What are some of the top one? What are some of the top products that you're working with right now with the contractors?

Tom Biller:
Well, without getting too deep into product names, it's really been our line of roof restoration products that has it's truly been driving the growth of our roofing division and really been embraced by the contracting community. The basic concept is to use polyurethane-based restoration coat to restore a roofing system. Not just put a paint on it, not just make it look nice, but to restore the roof to like new watertight condition for an extended period of time, 20 to 30-year period. And we have found this has been really been embraced by the contractors because restoration becomes a labor force multiplier for them.

Tom Biller:
You can restore a roofing system using fewer workers than you could ever do using a tear off and replacement. So with a given workforce, a contractor can service more customers, restore more roofs and be more profitable than they could be doing a traditional tear off and replacement process. So that's been a real emphasis of our training with our roofing contractors for I'd say the last six or seven years is a new line of restoration products, our AlphaGuard restoration products and how they can help the contractors help their customers.

Heidi Ellsworth:
You know the thing too, I love that in that it is helping with the labor shortage. So now you're talking about doing the training, doing the continuing education that you need to retain them, but then once you've retained them you aren't looking at recruiting all the time because you're able to do so much more with these products. And it makes a lot of sense. And I think it makes a lot of sense for the building owners and the facility managers too.

Tom Biller:
It makes a lot of sense for them. We can restore a roof with significantly lower disruption that we ever could a tear off and replacement. You know when you're removing a roof, you're opening the building up potentially exposing it to the elements. With roof restoration, you're leaving the existing roof in place. You're going over top of it with a restoration system.

Tom Biller:
So building owners, facility managers have embraced it from the disruption standpoint, can also be done at significant lower cost. It also helps many of our customers meet their goals for sustainability and environmental friendliness. We're not putting materials into a landfill. We're leaving the existing roof in place and adding new life to it. So we feel it's a newer trend to be more sustainable. We feel that roof restoration goes with that very well.

Heidi Ellsworth:
We hadn't really talked about this beforehand, but one of my favorite things that I love that Tremco is doing is all the technology within the roof with tagging the membranes with sensors and all that kind of stuff. Are you, I guess you're training on all of that, right?

Tom Biller:
Absolutely. You're speaking to our new line of modified bitumen membrane. Taking a relatively older roofing system type modified bitumen and completely re the modified bitumen membrane. And what you're referring to is using RFID chips embed them in the roll to allow us to track the performance of the roofing system long-term.

Tom Biller:
Leaders of Tremco believe we should know how these roof systems perform not just today, not tomorrow, but 10, 20 years down the road. And of course be accountable for that performance. And that's what those RFID chips allow us to track that roofing system throughout its service life.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. I mean, when you kind of put all of that together with the liquid applied and then the modified bitumen and all the new technology that's going into this and the restoration focus, that also now ... And I know this is going to sound really simple, but it's not just about training on how to put on a roof. It's really training on how to restore a roof, which I love. And I would just think you are getting some great response on those trainings with that, looking at it that way.

Tom Biller:
It is a unique solution. It is a unique solution. Every roofing contract we work with knows how to install a new roof, knows how to remove and replace a roof. So restoration is a newer solution and would like to feel a unique solution. Allows a contractor to deliver the same end result, a dry building to his customer at reduced cost to the customer, reduced labor to to them.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. Wow. It also helps I think so many of the contractors are doing service and maintenance. This also kind of plays right into that restoration idea of really checking on it, inspecting it, making sure that it's working. And I know WTI does that with all of their customers. It's such a great program.

Tom Biller:
Thank you. Thank you. Yes, WTI, inspecting the installations, making sure the roof is installed properly that it's going to meet its warranty requirements and then helping us maintain the throughout that service life whether it's a recurring and annual inspection, or you inspections in year 3, 5, 7, 10 to make sure that the roof indeed is performing the way we want it to to make it through its warranty.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, that's awesome. So I understand there's been a big push. I mean, you've been doing this for a while, but there has been an even bigger push with Tremco internationally. What kind of trainings are you doing internationally and I'm really curious how? How are you doing those?

Tom Biller:
Well, our fluid-applied roofing systems, both as a new roofing system and of course from the restoration perspective is really gaining a lot of traction internationally. We've really found it's embraced in Europe, in South Africa, in India, in the Asia-Pacific market. So we've begun doing training there. It began over in the UK. We had the opportunity to travel there several times and do training for their roofing contractors training their design community on what roof restoration can do. And then of course COVID hit and shut all that down.

Tom Biller:
So here in our training center, we were able to adapt pretty quickly, we upgrade the bandwidth, and we have been doing livestreamed demonstrations and training from here at our training center in Medina and sending that across the world. Our primary markets have been again, UK, South Africa, India, and the Asia-Pacific. And what we'll do here is we will do training here in front of customers where, for example, how do you do detailing? How do I, how do I detail an HVAC curb? How do I detail a drain? How do I apply these restoration systems effectively? So we will do that here in front of them and livestream it to them allowing them to interact with us as much as possible to ask questions, to zoom in on something and show them how it's done.

Tom Biller:
So not nearly as effective of course as getting the people here or us going to them and doing it hands-on in front of them. But it certainly serves to move us down the road while COVID is still here with us. And it's been very effective. We've received good feedback. We're continually getting requests for more. So we'll expand the livestreaming until we can get on the airplane and travel again.

Heidi Ellsworth:
You know, being able to pivot like that and being able to just bring it in. I mean, we were in the same place with the CoffeeShop in that March of 2020. We need to have more livestreams. We need to be getting people together and networking them. And so for you to do that and do that internationally so that things didn't have to stop, that's awesome.

Tom Biller:
I give a lot of credit, yes, to our IT group and then of course to our support from our parent company RPM. My training center is located on the campus of our parent company. When we told them COVID shut us down. We need to begin doing stuff livestreaming. They were reacted very, very quickly and were able to give us the equipment we needed to do that effectively. So yes, it was very nice.

Heidi Ellsworth:
You have such a great support group with the whole RPM.

Tom Biller:
We do.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. It's like wow, you have so much there. Go ahead.

Tom Biller:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Having the backing of RPM has been invaluable for us. Beautiful facility out here. I have my training barn we have a [inaudible 00:17:29], access to the RPM lodge for dinners and having guests and having groups in. So yeah, having RPM as a parent company has been very, very good for us in our Tremco roofing vision.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, I love it. I love how it's all come together. And you mentioned that you were doing trainings internationally for the design communities too and I know you do that domestically of course. Can you talk a little bit like what you're offering for the design community and the facility managers? Kind of really that end use look.

Tom Biller:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it begins with educating on you here's what we have. Here's what roof restoration is. Here's the concept of it. Here's the materials, products and systems that we use. Here's the specifications that we've prepared that you can use to deliver these solutions to your clients. And then just making sure they understand the benefits of restoration, that alternative solution to roof replacement that's more sustainable, that's a little bit less about disruption, that's more environmentally-friendly for your customers. And we truly feel it's that. Obviously that better solution to removing a roof and replacing it. Let's keep what you have good. Let's keep it functioning, and the design community has embraced this idea.

Tom Biller:
They have all their traditional methods. This is simply another arrow in that quiver for them to offer to their customers. Internationally the same thing. We found a great, great reception down there in London with the design community. They certainly do have liquid-applied roofing systems. This is really taking it to the next level to the concept of restoring a roofing system. Just about any type of roofing system can be restored so long as you get to it enough. And here's how you can deliver that to your customers.

Heidi Ellsworth:
So when you're working with the design community you mentioned a couple things, sustainability and ease of use. But what are some of the things that are really driving them along with those and maybe talk about that too? But what are really driving them to this restoration come?

Tom Biller:
The concept of sustainability is certainly a big one. And one of the things we're finding out is over in Europe, a little bit more awareness of sustainability, environmental friendliness. So that's definitely been a driving factor, the keeping a good roof good. Let's not remove your roof and throw it into a landfill. Roofing materials is one of the largest contributors going into landfills. So let's keep your roof in service. Let's limit the disruption to the occupants of the building during the process. Let's come in at a reduced cost over tear off and replacement.

Tom Biller:
And one of the things we haven't discussed is one of the biggest benefits of restoring a roofing system is the fact that at the end of that initial restoration service life, so 20 to 30 years down the road a big benefit to the customer is they can clean the roof, prime it, re-top coat it. So put a couple more gallons of product on per square and renew that restoration warranty. We have customers that we've already done this for several times using older technology.

Tom Biller:
So we're very confident that moving forward a restored roofing system has the ability to be re-restored down the road at additional cost savings to the customer. So the design community, again, especially from a sustainability standpoint is really embracing the concept of roof restoration and how it can help our customers be more environmentally-friendly.

Heidi Ellsworth:
That is so important in today's day. You think about how much is going into the landfills and how much space we do not have there to be able to every 20 years to restore that roof, it just makes so much sense. It's so much better.

Tom Biller:
Absolutely. And the customers. Yes, and that's what the customers are embracing that concept of, "I don't want to have to re-roof my building. I don't want to have to open my building up again." And having also said that, many of these restoration coatings are very energy-efficient, white, highly reflective so they help reduce peak cooling demand especially in the southern tier of our country. So all these elements of sustainability and giving the customer that dry building at reduced cost.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Right. That's great. I just had a podcast with Philip Harris who is leading your safety equipment [crosstalk 00:21:50].

Tom Biller:
Safety systems. Yes.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yes. So what are you seeing on that front and how much of the safety systems are you training? I'm sure that's all part of what you're doing.

Tom Biller:
Absolutely. We've partnered with several manufacturers to create the safety systems. So railing systems, fall protection systems, hatch guards, skylight guards. So that is certainly part of the educational part of the program, the training program, bringing the contractors in educating them on both the requirements from an OSHA standpoint here's what your legal requirements are. And then of course educating them on what solutions Tremco can provide to help them meet those requirements.

Tom Biller:
Yeah, safety, safety. Tremco, if you've spent any time around Tremco you've heard of catch phrase lead with safety. And we really do believe that. With as large as service organizations we have through WTI, you really do have to walk the talk on leading with safety.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, you really do. I mean, with anybody out there, that is what needs to be taking lead. But you know what I really like about what you all are doing is I think contractors and out there in the roofing industry, everybody talks about safety while they're re-roofing or while they're roofing, whatever that may be. But very few people are talking about ongoing safety on the roof. And that I think is really changing the conversation with what you all are doing.

Tom Biller:
Absolutely. Most contractors know how to operate safely. Most contractors understand OSHA violations and how big those fines can be. So certainly we work with our contractors to make sure they're operating safely, but a big part of that is after the contractor has left the roof, the safety for the workers in the building, the safety for the workers who may be up there accessing HVAC or electrical equipment making sure that they have a safe rooftop environment for them to be working in.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. So I really love the concept of contractors with the ongoing education that you provide helping on so many levels besides just the retention of having a good training program, but also of all these solutions of actually lowering labor needs. But what are you for the contractors overall, how should they be really reaching out to continue to get this kind of training? As a contractor, what should they be doing?

Tom Biller:
Well, the primary relationship with the contractor exists between our field representatives, our roofing sales representatives and the roofing contractor. That's where the rubber meets the road. So if a roofing contractor was interested in more training, learning more about Tremco systems, getting their crews some training, hands-on training, that would be the first point of contact. Reach out to your local Tremco representative. Let them know what you're looking for. They then will contact us in training and we'll work together to set up, again, either a training in the contractor shop on the contractor's job site. Or once we're allowed again, back here in Cleveland, Ohio bring their folks in to do the hands-on training.

Heidi Ellsworth:
And for all of you out there if you're not a Tremco, if you're not a certified contractor, still reach out to your local Tremco rep. Because there is so much work out there and they're always looking to build those relationships. And I know a lot of contractors who are doing some great work with Tremco. So it's a great program to get involved in. And that first step really is reaching out to your local Tremco sales rep. And you can find all that information on RoofersCoffeeShop in the directory for Tremco. There you go. And you can also find it by going to Tremco, their website overall.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Tom, I just kind of want to end this with also, like I said we've done a lot of work with WTI and they are doing a huge amount of recruiting and constantly looking for people to join their team to work with them. So why don't you just kind of to wrap us up, let's talk a tad bit about onboarding not from the HR perspective, but from the training perspective on if you are going to be a new employee coming into WTI, what can you expect from the training side?

Tom Biller:
Well, you're going to get a lot of training from your local resources, so your local supervisors are certainly going to take you under your wing and make sure that you know how to operate safely in the rooftop environment, that you understand how to apply our products. Then we're going to have what we refer to as a roofing 101 class. So we're going to bring you in, we're going to teach you about Tremco solutions, Tremco products and systems, what type of roof you can use this on, where you use it, how you use it, how to be effective, how to be efficient and profitable.

Tom Biller:
So we'll spend some time with you and then you'll go back out into the field work with your supervisors or work with the experienced guys learning how to apply the products. And then there's continuing on at least an annual basis. We'll have opportunities to work with you either in-house or remotely talking about new products and systems. Just helping people, helping these guys understand the direction the company's going and how we want them using the products and systems.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah and I tell you, I've actually been a part of this. I know that every person who comes into Tremco also becomes part of the apprenticeship program. And with this kind of training that goes into that, there are men and women up on the roof, they are doing great things and it's all because of this dedication, I feel dedication to ongoing training-

Tom Biller:
Thank you for mentioning the apprenticeship program. Yes, I almost forgot that. So yes, we have our WTI apprenticeship program. So you'll be entered into that program. And part of that is we have an online learning management system. So we'll assign lessons to new WTI employees, to new Tremco employees so they can go online as time allows and take the different courses to learn everything about Tremco from Tremco's history to the products and systems, how to install them. All the administrative issues of working with Tremco as well. So that's very helpful to us to especially during COVID as the training became much, much more remote.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. Yeah.

Tom Biller:
Thank you for mentioning that. Yes.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Well, it's a great program that you don't see everywhere. And so I'm always just like, "Wow, that's very innovative." And really kind of taking probably an older concept and bringing it into the new age that we're in today.

Tom Biller:
Absolutely. Yes.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. Well, Tom, thank you so much. Thank you for sharing all of this. I just don't think we can talk about training enough in our industry. It just has to be every single day and I really applaud everything that you're doing to help the next generation and everyone out there learn more about roofing.

Tom Biller:
Well, thank you, Heidi. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. As Tremco's Roofing Division Training Manager, I couldn't agree with you more on the importance of training and the need to expand it. I absolutely agree. And thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you and the other roofers about what we do here at Tremco.

Heidi Ellsworth:
That's awesome. Thank you, Tom. And thank you all for listening today. As you know, we have podcasts every week, they're all on rooferscoffeeshop.com under the Read Listen Watch initiative. So watch for our Roofing Road Trips because you know we're road tripping all over the country to find out more and more about this great roofing industry that we have. Be sure to join us. Be sure to subscribe to your favorite podcast channel and also to YouTube because we have lots of great videos and more interviews on there. Until the next time, we will see you on Roofing Road Trips. Have a great day.

Megan Ellsworth:
Make sure to subscribe to our channel and leave a review. Thanks for listening. This has been Roofing Road Trips with Heidi from the rooferscoffeeshop.com.



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