by Heidi Riley
In 1972, Atlantic Roofers was founded in Cocagne, New Brunswick. Now, 50 years later, the company headquarters is located in the Caledonia Industrial Park in Moncton. It has grown to 160 employees at peak times and there are seven offices across Atlantic Canada, including a metal siding company.
Jean Allain, Vice President, is a member and past president of the Construction Association of PEI. Both Jean and Yves Bradet, President of Atlantic Roofers, worked for the company before they purchased it in 2014.
Jean’s first job with Atlantic Roofers was as a Labourer. A year later, he learned to run the equipment that melts the asphalt that was used on roofs, and then learned more of the skills needed to earn his Roofers License certification in 1995. Yves started with the company in 1991 as an Estimator.
About 17 people work on PEI, including Karolyn Willis, who has been with the company for 10 years. She started in office administration, and now she is the Manager of the PEI branch.
New hires usually start as Labourers. As they learn the skills, staff can move to different positions as Apprentice, Roofer, Foreman, Estimator, or Superintendent. “If someone is willing to learn and stick with it, we will work with people to help them progress,” says Yves.
The company works year-round on commercial or industrial roofs, which are usually flat, and therefore easier to work on than pitched roofs. Training and equipment are provided, and rails are installed on roof edges so that all can work safely.
Changes to the industry
“Roofing is no longer a dirty job – we don’t use tar or asphalt as often anymore,” says Jean. “We are switching to using membranes that can be torched, adhered or fastened over support boards or insulations.”
In the past 50 years, technology has changed the roofing industry. “Now we all use smart phones,” says Yves. “Our Foremen use an app to give us an assessment report, take pictures of the roof, make notes, and write a report to the building owner as to what needs to be done. There is also an app for repairs, including taking before and after pictures of the work done or what needs to be done. We are also using technology to go paperless and to share files.”
When installing a flat roof, different thicknesses of tapered insulation are installed to drain off the water. Roofers need to be able to understand which type of insulation is required at which spots on the roof. “This is where we could pair someone with years of roofing experience with a
young person who is good with technology,” says Jean. “We need the mentors, and we need the young people who are willing to learn.”
Roofing is a recognized Red Seal trade. With this designation, a roofer can work across Canada. The apprenticeship program prepares people to earn their Red Seal. The program combines on-the-job training with a qualified tradesperson (80 percent) and classroom training at a training establishment (20 percent).
Apprenticeship training for roofers, which consists of three six-week blocks, is available in New Brunswick and in Nova Scotia. In Saint John, New Brunswick, a new Roofing Training Centre is registered through New Brunswick Community College and is run by the New Brunswick Roofing Contractors Association.
“At least 12 to 14 Apprentices are going through every block of the program at a time, but the industry needs many more,” says Yves.
“Years ago, we would hire seven to 10 students during the summer, and perhaps three would stay,” says Yves. “We trained them, and they eventually became Roofers. However, these days, it is hard to find even one person to hire for the summer.”
When they can’t find the people they need, it affects the company’s bottom line. “There are some jobs we can’t even bid on because we don’t have the personnel,” says Jean. “We must be very strategic on how we work and how we pick our projects.”
Solutions to labour shortages
“We are trying to adopt new roofing construction techniques that don’t use as many components but still give a good result, so that we can build a roof with fewer people,” says Yves.
“We are also looking at hiring foreign workers, but it can be difficult to navigate the paperwork and costly to bring them in and retain them,” says Jean.
As employers, they realize they need to think differently about hiring methods. “We need to make a profile of who might be suited to work on a roof and try to connect with those people.”
Who is suited to being a Roofer?
Atlantic Roofers is looking for people who want to work, and who like doing physical work outdoors. “Many people are not suited to going to university or college, and do not like to sit behind a desk all day,” says Karolyn. “They would rather work with their hands.”
Wages and benefits
Wage levels depend on experience and designation. Yves says a newly hired Labourer earns about $17 to $18/hr. A Foreman can earn up to $33 or more. “It’s a matter of learning and sticking around long enough to get that promotion. As you learn the trade, there is opportunity to work as a Foreman or an Estimator or a Manager.”
Atlantic Roofers pays for all safety training and equipment. Hardhats, ear and eye protection, harnesses, and other equipment are supplied by the company, and a yearly allowance is provided for work boots. A medical and pension program is available as well.
“At the end of the day, when you see a finished roof and know you had a part in making it, you can be proud of that,” says Yves. “If you put in the time, watch and learn, and are proud of what you are doing, you will grow with the company.
“We are proud of our accomplishments during the last 50 years, and we want to keep the momentum going by using new technology and new ways of working,” says Jean. “Some of our staff have worked for us for 30 or more years, and we have formed a great bond between us.”
Jean encourages people to consider the roofing trade. “We are happy to have a conversation. Talk to us and give it a try to see if you like it.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Interested job seekers can contact Karolyn Willis at 902-368-1011 or visit www.atlanticroofers.com
For more about the New Brunswick Roofing Contractors Association, visit www.nbrca.ca
For more information on becoming a Red Seal Roofer, visit www.red-seal.ca/eng/trades/r.4.4f.2r.shtml