A GAF Roofing Academy Success Story: When Training Leads to a Career

By Dawn Killough 02-27-2023
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With an overall industry labor shortage, roofers are in high demand. Those contemplating a career in roofing should consider the training provided by the GAF Roofing Academy, where students can learn the skills and industrial knowledge they need to get started in the industry.

Kimberly Santiago, instructor and training manager for the GAF Roofing Academy, is a tremendous example of what the program offers to students. She recently shared her experiences with the program and in the roofing industry in general.

Q: How did you get involved with the GAF Roofing Academy?

There were a few things that kind of pushed me in this direction. I used to be in academia, pursuing a PhD in education, with a minor in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, graduating with an ED.S in 2018. While studying and teaching, I was also involved with a local nonprofit called Proyecto Mariposas, which provided different opportunities for career development, education, and creative exploration for Latina mothers and daughters. We were very passionate about helping these girls explore alternative and nontraditional careers or pathways. During that same time, I was elected as a Huntington Grant Reader for the Women's Fund in Central Ohio. Many of the grants I was reading were from the construction industry or the trades. That really kind of stuck with me.

I've always been very interdisciplinary and hands-on, and I was at the point in my career where I felt like I wanted to do more. I was working as an instructional designer at a university in Columbus, OH and I landed a side job working with a roofing subcontractor. I started learning about the industry-and I fell in love with it!

One day I decided to just go all in, and I left my job in academia and built my own roofing company from the ground up. I started looking for educational opportunities and found the GAF Roofing Academy. Since this was at the height of the pandemic, the course was offered as an online session focused on residential roofing installation. I took all the classes that the GAF Roofing Academy offered. I was having some success on my own, but GAF really took me to the next level. After about three years of working in my own company, I got the opportunity to teach these courses. This is the perfect combination of all of the things I've done—education, teaching, roofing, and helping the community.

Kimberly standing with GAF CARE certificate

Q: What can students expect to learn from the GAF Roofing Academy?

We're trying to equip people with the skills they need to get into the roofing industry and work in any position they're interested in, whether it's installation, sales, manufacturing, distribution, project management, or insurance, among many other areas.

We teach commercial roofing installation (TPO), residential steep slope installation, shingle systems, ventilation, coatings, sales training, and solar integration. We also partner with solar installation companies that help teach our students.

Because of my experience with my own company, I am in the process of creating a two-day hands-on installation training for residential steep-slope roofing, and then two days of how to sell that roof that you just learned to install. I'm also developing a module related to insurance and restoration.

Q: Who are your students?

Roofing Academy students are 87 % male and 13 % female. 33 % of these students are Hispanic/Latino, 31 % African American, 23 % White, 2 % Pacific Islander, 9 % are two or more races, 1 % Asian, and 1 % American Indian. We teach at-risk youth, entrepreneurs, those who are formerly incarcerated, transitioning military, underemployed, and unemployed. We welcome candidates from all walks of life into the program and encourage anyone who is interested to inquire about attending a session.

Kimberly with her roofing Academy class on the roof

Q: What is the most important thing you provide for students?

I'd say that 60 % of our job is placement and 40 % is training. We're really focused on providing a career opportunity, not just training. When a student leaves our class, we want them to do something with their lives. We have contractors who come in the last day of class and interview students, and they're often placed that week or shortly thereafter. The key is they leave the course with a job. These are well-paying jobs with benefits that offer opportunities for growth.

In addition, once they have proof of employment, we send them a toolkit focused on the type of roofing they'll be doing, whether it's commercial or residential. We also provide OSHA 10 training as part of the class.

students learn commercial roofing at the GAF Roofing Academy

Q: How much does it cost for students to attend?

It's completely free. So, they get training, they get tools, and they have the opportunity to be considered for a job if that's their ultimate focus. I think everyone comes out winning in the end.

Q: How long is the training?

It depends. We offer one- and two-week courses. The first week may be residential and then the second week will be in-home sales. Sometimes it will be one week residential and one week commercial. Sometimes it will just be one week, either residential or commercial.

Q: What would you say to people who might be contemplating attending the GAF Roofing Academy?

It's life-changing. There are people who are looking for a change and there are people who aren't accepted in other industries because of their background. At the GAF Roofing Academy, all that goes out the window because we believe in second chances and that anyone can be successful.

One of our students-his name is Derek-was formerly incarcerated for many years. He was trained shortly after being released from the prison system and has now become successful in his new sales role, selling over one million dollars in roofing annually.

Q: How do people enroll for the GAF Roofing Academy?

Visit our website at www.gaf.com/roofingacademy where you can find a list of all the courses at each location. Applicants will be asked to provide some general information and register for the classes they want. Applicants will be interviewed to see if they are a good match for the course, as we're looking for students who are in search of employment and growth opporutnities within the industry. Those who are a good match will be welcomed to come to class.

The GAF Roofing Academy can give you more than a job—it can provide access to a career. And with continuing job support through the WorkBelt platform, GAF will be there to help!

Dawn Killough is a freelance writer in the construction, finance, and accounting fields. She is the author of an ebook about green building and writes for construction tech and green building websites. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband and four cats.
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