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Roofing Careers, Jobs and Employment Information

Roofing Career and Job Highlights

  • The majority of workers learn their trade informally, though some complete formal apprenticeships.
  • Opportunities for those entering the profession should be excellent because there is low competition and people often leave the profession. This is largely due to the fact that working conditions can be uncomfortable.
  • Though most occupations in the construction industry are unstable according to the economy, roofing is more stable as much of the work consists of maintenance and repairs.

Roofing Career Overview

Roof damage can lead to costly damage to homes. In order to keep buildings free from water damage, roofers keep roofs sound. Roofs are made of asphalt, rock, thermoplastic, metal, tar, wood, tile, or shingles made of those materials. Roofers install new roofs and repair and renovate older roofs. Roofers can also make foundations and floors waterproof.

Roofs come in two different categories. They are either flat, which is most often the case on public, commercial, manufacturing, and apartment structures; or sloped, which is most often the case in residences. Many workers work in both categories, though some focus on only one.

Flat roofs usually involve in multiple layers. They begin with applying a layer of insulating material on the surface to be covered. Once the insulation is installed, they apply a layer of thick, sticky, melted bitumen. After the melted bitumen is in place they put multiple layers of a material called roofing felt, which is a cloth that is soaked in bitumen, over the entire area. Roofers then apply heated bitumen on the area with a brush or mop. This layer makes the roof watertight and closes up the joints. Roofers repeat all of these steps to create multiple layers which they refer to as “plies.” Roofers then apply a glaze to the final surface to make a regular, attractive surface. Sometimes instead of using a glaze they embed gravel or rock chips into the heated bitumen which makes a textured service.

It is becoming more and more common to wrap flat roofs with a thin coating of impermeable rubber or a thermoplastic mixture. Workers fasten long sheets of these materials on the top of the insulating material using glue, staples, or stone weights. They then fasten the joints and make the whole thing secure and solid.

The majority of roofs on homes use shingles. Installing shingles is a complex process. To begin with, roofers measure, cut, and position yard-long sheets of roofing felt to cover the entire area. The next bolt or staple shingles over the entire roof by making overlapping layers starting at the lowest point. Roofers usually need to shape the felt to fit around corners, vents, chimneys, dormer windows, or other architectural features. At places where roofs join or where there are opening for vents or flues, roofers use either cement or nails to fasten pieces of shingle or metal plates to seal the seams and make them impermeable. To finish, roofers apply cement or caulk to places where nails are exposed or any other area where water might get in. Roughly the same procedure is used for using other types of shingle, tile, or other materials to cover roofs.

Roofers can also be hired to work on brickwork, stonework, or concrete. They make sure that walls, ceilings, foundations and floors are completely impermeable and won’t let in any water. First, roofers get the area ready by smoothing out irregularities on the surface by hammering or sanding them away. They can then apply the waterproofing material. They apply liquid waterproofing with a brush or spray gun. Alternately, they roll out large sheets of waterproof film over the entire surface. Roofers need to make buildings safe not only from rain or flooding, but from any kind of moisture, even just humidity that could cause structural problems. To do this, they usually use a spray gun to apply a covering based on bitumen. They thoroughly coat the entire area, both inside and out.

Working conditions for roofers are often uncomfortable. They need to carry heavy materials and use heavy equipment. They also spend a lot of their time working on heights, like on ladders or roofs. Also, they spend a lot of time outdoors, which means they work under extreme temperatures or inclement weather, as often repair work needs to be done immediately. The work is also physically demanding since it requires a lot of kneeling, standing, and bending over. Roofers risk many hazards like falling from ladders, getting burned by heated bitumen, or slipping on shingles.

Career Training and Qualifications

The majority of workers enter the occupations as assistants to professionals. They begin by performing simple tasks like transporting and unloading materials, building scaffolding, or constructing pulleys. After a couple of months of observing, they are instructed in the proper way to calculate the amount of roofing materials needed and how to cut it. They eventually learn how to install roofs themselves. They start out with simple shingles and then learn about more complex materials. Some materials are very rarely used and so roofers might work for years before using all the possible types of materials and techniques. Increasing importance is being placed on safety issues and so trainees spend a lot of time learning about safety guidelines.

Not all workers gain their skills on the job. Many complete formal apprenticeships. These programs usually take three years and involve both practical training and coursework. Apprentices need to complete at least 2,000 hours of practical experience, which consists of assisting professionals, much like informal trainees do, learning techniques, and practicing increasingly difficult tasks like waterproofing. During their 144 hours of coursework, apprentices learn about tools, math, safety guidelines, different types of materials, and basic first aid. Many apprenticeship programs are run by boards that are made up of people who represent local roofing contractors and regional members of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers.

Job and Employment Opportunities

There will be excellent opportunities in this occupation in coming years. Most of the job openings will be a result of retirements or career shifts by experienced workers. Because the work is so difficult and uncomfortable, there is not a lot of job longevity in this work, and so many people only work as roofers for a couple of years. Many roofers transfer to other occupations within the construction industry. This makes for many openings for new roofers.
Job growth for roofers is expected to proceed at about the average rate for all jobs in coming years. Roofs need to be replaced or repaired more often than the rest of buildings since they are more exposed to weather conditions and they use materials that are less permanent.

The construction industry is notorious for being vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy. However, roofing work is more stable because roofers do more repair, maintenance, and replacement work than other construction occupations. Also, new jobs will be created by the increasing amount of construction generally. As the population and economy grow, there are more houses, hospitals, offices, stores, and schools that need to be built.

Most roofing work is done during spring and summer when the weather is conducive to working outdoors, so opportunities will be best at those times.

Historical Earnings Information

Most roofers are paid hourly. The majority of workers made between $11.20/hour and $19.60/hour in 2002 with a median income of $14.50/hour. The lowest tenth on the pay scale made under $9.10/hour and the highest tenth made over $15.40/hour.