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The Education Flywheel

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The bottom line can be an unforgiving master in business. Laser focus on black and red can seem like the most sensible modus operandi, especially in a rapidly changing world where nothing is certain. And it may lead to success for some time. It comes with rough edges, however. Cost-cutting measures may degrade a product over time and employees can feel when the ground underfoot isn’t solid. Heidler Roofing takes a different tack altogether. Continued education is the positive lever it leans into time and time again. The roofing contractor sees education as the bedrock of its success and makes a sustained effort to ensure that everyone who works there has the access and opportunity to continually broaden their knowledge base. This lifts its employees individually and the company as a whole. Success simply becomes a by-product of a philosophy. 

Founded in 1959 in York, Pennsylvania, Heidler Roofing was born out of a basement and a dream. It wasn’t long, however, before Joseph Heidler Sr. and his small team quickly grew beyond the scope of the basement and garage. In time his two sons came aboard and the company was on the trajectory towards its current status as one of the premier roofing contractors in the mid-Atlantic. With offices in both York, PA and Hagerstown MD, Heidler Roofing has grown to become one of the most successful roofing outfits in the region, offering a diversity of roofing services tackling a wide breadth of customer needs. Unlike some companies that focus on a particular system to specialize in, Heidler prides itself on being capable of taking on commercial jobs across the spectrum, including those with older specs. Describing the benefits of Heidler’s broad approach, Division Manager Ashley Wood said, “Cross training is vital to our existence. The old school roofing or old school techniques, unfortunately it’s more of a dying trade because a lot of people are now focused on single ply. When you box yourself into focusing on single ply alone, you narrow yourself in what you can bid.” Often referred to as “hot work”, classical roofing with layers of hot asphalt is a spec that many newer roofing entities don’t touch. Whereas, Heidler just sees this as an advantage. It’s another arrow in their quiver to keep a leg up on the competition. And the only way they can retain that advantage is by maintaining the necessary equipment and by constantly training employees across disciplines. Wood continued, “A lot of the companies that focus on single ply can’t provide a bid because they lack the equipment – the kettles, the luggers – and the skills. We’ve got field employees that have been with the company for over 20 years and it is so important that the knowledge they hold be passed down to the younger generations.” 

“Heidler Roofing has grown to become one of the most successful roofing outfits in the region.”

A great reputation and strong company culture are two pillars that every business strives for. For Heidler, the one feeds the other. Culture is, of course, easy to envision. But a tangible, positive, generative working environment isn’t something that comes from wishing it so. There are plenty of businesses that make money but churn through employees because of poor practices. Heidler knows that its reputation with both its customers and the industry itself can only grow in estimation if its internal workings are in fine fettle. On Heidler’s approach to culture, Wood remarked, “Culture is at the core of what we do and our field employees are so important. If we don’t have field employees then I don’t have a job. They are vital to our existence.” As a result, Wood takes a hands-on approach to helping the field employees in whatever way that is most important to each individual. What is of paramount importance to one person will not necessarily be to another. This also creates leverage in recruiting and retention, where employees can have tailored assistance for their own specific career path. According to Wood, “Everyone has their own driver as to what motivates them and we’re trying to pinpoint that motivation for each individual employee. Because it is not something that is just a blanket across the entire field, each individual person has their own reasons for being here.” 

Working for Heidler affords its employees challenges of both scale and complexity. Working on a project for BWI airport certainly offered a job of significant size and scope. Beyond the large parameters of the gig were also the logistics of the operation. The airport had to keep operating and security, of course, couldn’t be compromised. Compounding the situation was the high-profile nature of the job. As a result, room for error was extremely small. Heidler managed it all with flying colors. The other quadrant on the difficulty graph is complexity. Heidler has embraced these types of projects as well. Cathedrals are notoriously tricky to work on for a variety of reasons – geometry and age to name just a few. The Baltimore Basillica provided a significant challenge for Heidler’s professionals but they managed to complete the project with aplomb. Reflecting on the job, Wood recalled, “The Basilica was extremely complex. The skill level required to complete a project like that is of the highest quality.”  

The challenges Heidler currently faces aren’t limited to intricate job specs. Supply chain issues in the wake of Covid present difficulties everywhere. Most industries face some form of material shortage, and roofing is no different. Key materials such as fasteners have become nearly impossible to source, forcing Heidler to consider its future options. What is different, however, is how Heidler is able to address the situation. Wood was able to tap into a set of resources that may not have been available had the company not been so insistent on giving its employees access to further education programs.  As a result of going through the NRCA Future Executive Institute program, Wood had peers all across the country. She said, “That allowed me to have the resources of 30+ classmates across the United States. If I needed something, I could reach out to them and ask, does anyone have this or does anyone have that? A classmate in Florida actually had fasteners that I was looking for, and we were able to work through that.” Solutions to problems no one could have seen coming manifesting directly from a philosophy of continued education. 

The materials difficulties will continue to have Heidler thinking outside the box. Restoration work may move further into the foreground and it’ll be working on education for the customers as well. Explaining what will be feasible in a world where it might take 9 months for a parts order to arrive will require a deft touch. Staying flexible will be the name of the game. If any company is built to withstand today’s strange challenges it’s Heidler Roofing. Investing in education has equipped it with a team of nimble-minded employees with a wide array of industry knowledge ready to rise to the occasion. The dividends pay out when you least expect it. 

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