Written by: Denver Roofing – Stuart B. Stoneberg

14 vocational students fill a room in Parsippany, New Jersey. Today’s challenge? Turn a TPO roofing membrane into a piece of art. A few hours later the room is filled with unique creations from a ninja cape and crown to a purse filled with TPO ‘flowers.’ 

What are these students doing and what does making TPO sculptures have to do with vocational training? The 14 students are participants in roofing product manufacturer GAF’s Roofing Academy. The goal of the program is to give the students skills and knowledge to make it big in the roofing world. 

While it seems the TPO projects were in good fun, they were a lesson in learning to manipulate and properly utilize the membrane roofing material. “We have to do a lot of welding where we’re in tight places and bending material in weird ways,” says program director Brian Cornelius. “So we give them total creative freedom to do an art project, and they make something out of the TPO material. It’s fun for them, but it also has some real meaning because right after that, we transition into welding some of these more difficult details.”

This is GAF’s second run of the Roofing Academy in Parsippany after other pilot programs across the country. The two-week program is held at GAF’s 400,000 sq. foot headquarters at GAF’s Center for the Advancement of Roofing Excellence (CARE.) The program calls on 16 to 24-year olds who aren’t in school or employed to come in and learn a valuable skill for their future. The latest program participants come from the Job Corps Center, but GAF is also focused on helping others who might have trouble getting jobs like former felons or military veterans. 

The program is also encouraging the next wave of skilled roofing professionals in a shrinking workforce. “One of the greatest challenges facing the roofing industry today is a shortage of skilled labor,” says David Millstone of Standard Industries. “We saw the Roofing Academy as a way to address that by training new workers and connecting them with contractors.”

The program spends one week on steep-slope roofing and one week on low-slope roofing including solar installation. The idea behind the Academy is for students to leave the program and secure employment immediately. GAF stands behind the program and their willingness to give people a chance at a better life. “My dream is five years from now, I’d love to see a handful of these students owning their own company and making millions,” Cornelius says. “I can promise you that’s going to happen.”