Milestone: 84% Growth Since 2019!
We’ve come a long way!
In April 2019, the Vinyl Siding Institute's (VSI) Workforce Development database had 1,600 professionals in it, most of whom were not certified as installers. Today, VSI is proud to announce that we now have 10,000+ tradesmen and women enrolled in our Certified Installer and Trainee Program. This sharp expansion is the culmination of four years of hard work, innovations and – most importantly – a vision for growth driven by a prospering industry anxious to meet market demand.
“In 2018, with the labor shortage in the U.S. becoming a top impediment to growth in our industry, the VSI Board of Directors decided to expand the workforce development program at the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI),” said Kate Offringa, VSI’s President & CEO. “The existing VSI Certified Installer Program was designed for installers with two or more years of experience in the industry to hone their skills and differentiate themselves with a top-notch certification. That program was expanded to include a VSI Installer Trainee program to recruit and train new members of the installer workforce.
"In the years since then, the program has experienced massive growth."
This expansion also includes the recruitment of the program’s first Director in 2019, a home improvement and supply chain guru named Rob Balfanz, who shared VSI’s vision for industry growth.
“We called this vision ‘Strategy 24’ because we wanted to achieve a goal of 10,000 within five years,” said Rob, now VP, Siding, Home Improvements and Workforce Development for VSI member Progressive Foam Technologies. “To meet this lofty objective, we had to fully redefine the program, tiers, costs and curriculum based on a thorough analysis of the landscape and challenges in front of us. This approach helped us identify the proper pathways and make the necessary pivots to connect candidates with the best quality education.”
The development of tiers, Rob explained, includes:
- Master Trainers
- Certified Installer Trainers
- Certified Installers
- Installer Trainees
The objective was to develop a database with more trainees, followed by Certified Installers, so that VSI could create a pipeline of candidates and hence, a supply.
To create buzz and to provide the best quality training experience to such a broad range of professionals, the VSI team transcended its educational platform from in-person classrooms to a wide range of dynamic course formats, including eLearning, virtual and multilingual offerings.
Thanks to this dynamic training, VSI has significantly expanded the supply of certified installers and installer trainees so that home builders and consumers can now visit VSI’s website and find a VSI-certified professional in their local area. And because interested professionals can pursue their training at home, on the job or in the classroom, VSI is confident that the number of certified installers will continue to grow to meet the projected demands in the coming decade.
Pivoting Through COVID to Build Critical Mass
When the COVID crisis nearly shut down how most people do business, VSI was well-positioned to help the industry prepare for long-term success. VSI was already developing a virtual format as part of its efforts to re-engineer the training program that began in 2019; so, in April 2020 – a month after the pandemic forced a shutdown – VSI trained a record 1,200+ newly certified installers and trainees. By the end of July 2020, VSI reached 3,500 new certified installers and trainees and more than doubled its database of professionals to 5,100.
VSI knew that to redevelop the training program, they needed to better understand the installer. Before starting with VSI, Rob received training to become a certified installer. He had already worked with vinyl siding installers, so he knew what they were doing “year-round.” And he had already established an extensive database of installers and trade professionals in his previous roles.
His next move would be to engage with the member manufacturers and demonstrate the huge return on investment when they 1) train more installers and 2) recruit more seasoned installers to become trainers. This formula would be an essential element to the success of Strategy 24.
Other keys to VSI’s success in reaching the 10,000 certified installers and trainees mark include:
- Be a resource for educators. Establish strong relationships with trade organizations, junior colleges and trade schools, as well as with government groups and large homebuilding companies, to explore the adaptation of VSI’s training program in their curriculums.
- Keep building value for the participants with infographics, new metrics and other helpful tools. Prime examples are the “Work in Vinyl Siding” page on VSI’s website and VSI’s Workforce Development’s Ladder to Success, which illustrate what a successful and lucrative career track as a vinyl siding installer could look like.
Bringing the Training Program In-House
Thanks to the support of VSI’s leadership and Board of Directors, as well as the Workforce Development Management Committee, VSI moved the training program to an internal operation so the team would have the flexibility to build custom solutions for courses and related training. Key contributors to this effort were former Committee Chair Jason Culpepper of Progressive Foam Technologies and Karl Zidar of Westlake Royal Building Products, the current Committee Chair. Both members worked tirelessly to gain industry support for the newly revamped and expanded training program.
VSI’s in-house, on-demand Learning Management System (LMS) includes a myriad of valuable features that benefit both installers, trainees and the industry, including:
- A training platform that follows you everywhere – you can take classes from your cell phone on a jobsite during breaks or downtime
- Multilingual training capabilities
- An online dashboard for each program participant so that they can check their progress and discover new resources
- Certification printable on demand
The 10,000 certified installers and trainees goal of Strategy 24 has been met, but more progress is needed. Never one to rest on their laurels, VSI and the vinyl siding industry are poised to meet the projected demand for new housing and housing renovation projects in the next decade. The user-friendly training program has allowed more schools to host classes and conduct training using the LMS. A few municipalities have even adopted the program as a requirement for their city contracts.
“The workforce development program has been in place for a long time, but our new platform enables us to reach professionals more broadly in different languages and venues, and it allows us to develop new relationships,” said Matt Dobson, Vice President, VSI. “It’s been a real leap these past few years. Trade educational foundations are a big target for us, and this dynamic, new program gets us in the door. For example, we just signed a partnership with the Building Talent Foundation [and forged an alliance to promote construction jobs].”
“Strategy 2024 was not just an idea; it was a vision, based on personal and professional goals, and urgently needed by the industry,” says Rob. “Our industry and the people we get to serve deserve to have a seat at the table. And VSI, at the time, was the seat and the table – especially during the pandemic. I am so proud of the work we completed, the lives impacted for the better and the changes we made around the industry. We are changing the narrative together and I’m excited to see what’s next.”
Don Browne is a writer, entrepreneur and local legislator who believes that the power of words can change the world. He provides unique writing services for clients in the construction, health care, IT and hospitality sectors. He has a passion for small business and start-ups, as well as writing about Irish history, family and corporate biographies. As a homeowner and father of four who is passionate about community development, Don looks forward to writing more about the exciting possibilities of creating traditional neighborhoods and more sustainable communities using modern materials.