Skills: As Important as Education, Declares Uncle Sam

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Recently, the President of the United States did something that was long overdue. He recognized that some of the best candidates for civil service jobs are being overlooked because their resumes don’t stack up to others when it comes to holding lofty university degrees. It’s a long-running custom in evaluating job qualifications, not only for government positions but in the modern private sector as well. Employers routinely filter out applications based on education in order to “narrow down the field.”  Common sense should tell us that’s simply not the best approach, especially when employers have always found that people with relevant job experience make the best workers.

Why Hiring Reforms are Good for Roofing Companies

A shift in focus to skills, knowledge, and on-the-job experience versus education may gradually grow the talent base of men and women with abilities to fill the demands in building and construction. More people who know how, and want to operate machinery, plan projects, and work outdoors will enter the marketplace. Good paying jobs in construction trades will become attractive to those coming out of school and facing competition for jobs in areas that tend to be saturated with applicants. The priority of young people may no longer revolve around high tech or executive management, but rather jobs that await smart, skilled craftsmen. In time, society will perceive building professionals in a new way.

Pride in American workers is growing already, and with reforms that reward skills as much as they do test grades, the future is bright for the construction industry’s labor force, including roofing.

executive order federal hiring

Executive Order on Hiring of Federal Workers - Impetus for Change

Here-ye, here-ye. From this date forward, let it be known that “federal government employment opportunities should be filled based on merit.” The implication of this Executive Order on Modernizing and Reforming the Assessment and Hiring of Federal Job Candidates is that formal education is no longer a main prerequisite for hiring qualified candidates.

On June 26, 2020, Donald Trump issued the executive order and it’s one that is not likely to be overturned by any future administration. Why?  Because, it makes perfect sense. Picking out job candidates based mainly along educational lines is at best random, and at worst counterproductive. 

“My Administration is committed to modernizing and reforming civil service hiring through effective assessments of the skills job seekers possess.  We encourage these same practices in the private sector.  Modernizing our country’s processes for identifying and hiring talent will provide America a more inclusive and demand-driven labor force.”

Donald Trump, June 2020

The Education Obsession and Construction's Strained Labor Force

The President’s edict changes the way Uncle Sam evaluates new talent. It’s also emblematic of the labor-shortage facing the construction industry. For more than a half-century, our culture has placed an inordinate value on a college education. The post-WWII economic boom meant more families having the means to send their children to college to acquire a 4-year degree. Soon, it became an important status symbol and not attending college became less than admirable. What a shame. This is not to say that going to college and earning a degree isn’t a good thing – it is. But as time’s gone by, young people have lost interest in pursuing careers in vocational trades.

Yearning to be decorated with a university diploma, kids drifted away from any type of skilled labor professions, seeing these as old-fashioned and less respectable.

It didn’t take long for the chickens to come home to roost… Today, college graduates struggle to find the dream jobs they think should be handed to them in exchange for their sheepskin. Plus, many jobs once considered prestigious for a college grad, including jobs in high-tech that require math, science, and engineering know-how, don’t command the salaries they once did. There are just too many applicants for those positions. Thanks to our obsession with boasting a university degree, and the lack of real world job opportunities college prepares one for, today there’s about 1.5 trillion dollars in student loans still outstanding. Meanwhile, skilled vocations such as plumbing, electrical work, and welding are in huge demand and can bring six figure incomes! Not to mention how much someone can make getting into the roofing business. 

Roofing’s Workforce Woes and the NRCA

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), which keeps a close eye on congressional proposals that can help conditions surrounding workforce shortages in the industry, last year urged its members to support legislation that would extend eligibility for Pell Grants. Normally, these grants are reserved for low-income students seeking a four-year degree, but the new legislation would offer support to those who want to enter training programs in building vocations. The Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students Act (S. 839/H.R. 3497) remains hung up in Congress over a year after the bill was introduced by bipartisan constituents. Now, many hope that  the President’s Executive Order will expedite changes that lead to a strengthening of the roofing industry’s labor force.

roofing license school

Roofing and Construction - A Great New Future for Many

One outspoken person championing the return of careers in building and construction is Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs. There is “a reinvigoration and enthusiasm around the basics of simply learning a skill that’s absolutely in-demand,” said Rowe during an interview on Fox News, July 9, 2020. Speaking about the workers who are employed in skilled labor, Rowe said “There exists in the wide world of work a band of brothers mentality. This is a group of people who understand that they are essential; who understand risk in a way that most of us don’t; who understand the benefits of showing up early and staying late.”

“If you have a skill that is in demand, you will be in demand like never before.”

Mike Rowe – Creator of “Dirty Jobs” 

Harkening back to Horatio Alger, the 19th-Century author who wrote rags-to-riches stories about youngsters making their way in the world through patience, belief in oneself, and hard work, Rowe said “It comes back to attitude, personal responsibility, delayed gratification, and work ethic. It’s not what everybody wants to hear but it’s for sale and leads to prosperity…”

Summarizing the essence of the Executive Order on Modernizing and Reforming the Assessment and Hiring of Federal Job Candidates is the passage reading “Currently, for most federal jobs, traditional education — high school, college, or graduate-level — rather than experiential learning is either an absolute requirement or the only path to consideration for candidates without many years of experience.” Now all that is going to change. 

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