Ricky Gass, 23, was looking for a road to a middle-class job. GAF, the largest roofing and waterproofing manufacturer in North America, was looking to teach and train the next generation of skilled workers for its products.
The two came together through the GAF Roofing Academy, a two-week technical training program that GAF has been holding since the first quarter of 2020 at a location in Randolph.
GAF, based in Parsippany, works with schools, including vo-techs, and various community organizations to find attendees. It connected with Gass through Edison Job Corps, a technical program that connects young men and women from underserved communities with skills and educational opportunities.
Gass, who lives in Newark, was thrilled to find the opportunity. Gass, who completed the program in February 2020, quickly landed a job with Solar Landscape and helped work on the first community solar project in the state, completed in January in Perth Amboy.
Brian Cornelius, the GAF Roofing Academy program director, said there will be plenty of opportunities for Gass and others moving forward. He said the tuition-free GAF Roofing Academy is designed to help prospective workers build the necessary skills to begin a career in the roofing industry.
The program combines classroom and on-the-roof training with access to job opportunities from GAF’s national network of contractors seeking talent in an industry that analysts have said is expected to grow by 10% in the coming years.
“Access to skilled labor is the top challenge limiting the growth of the roofing industry and its ability to address the increasing demand from home and property owners,” Cornelius said. “The GAF Roofing Academy was started to help meet that need, create jobs and further grow the industry.”
GAF runs the program nationwide, with programs being offered in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, California and Washington in this month alone. And this is not a virtual effort. All of the classes are held in-person, with COVID-19 protocols, including masks and social distancing, in place, Cornelius said.
Cornelius said the goal now is to grow the program. GAF has been working with schools in various markets in New Jersey by offering their students and alumni information about the program as an avenue to enter into a career path within the roofing industry.
“We also have team members that attend school and community-sponsored job fairs, board meetings, educational events and graduations to further market our program,” he said.
In addition to schools, Cornelius said GAF also partners and recruit students through nonprofit organizations, both on a local and national level, and work with federal and state programs that assist groups in finding training and employment opportunities. And, while GAF does not work directly with the state’s Department of Labor & Workforce Development, Cornelius said GAF works with a number of DOL-funded programs.
Cornelius said starting the GAF Roofing Academy had its challenges — especially due to the pandemic — but he said that it has been a welcome addition to the company and in the industry.
“A passion and drive to grow your industry are paramount to starting a program like this, as is putting your people first,” he said. “At GAF, we truly value the qualified professionals that teach Roofing Academy classes and know that they are the people that are helping to inspire the next generation of roofers and grow the industry from the ground up.”
Gass, who was featured with Gov. Phil Murphy at the ceremony commemorating the community solar project in Perth Amboy, said he’s happy to have work and a new career.
“I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the GAF Roofing Academy,” he said. “The staff was so professional, and I could tell how much they wanted to help get us trained and certified to begin our careers.
“Getting into the roofing industry has helped give me a stable career and has allowed me to positively impact the lives of so many people across the state, which is something that is very important to me.”