As residents in and around drought-stricken Los Angeles prepare for the effects of El Niño, those in the roofing business are picking up lots of jobs on a regular basis. With unusual patterns of heavy rain forecast to last from winter into the spring season, many roofers have been hard at work reinforcing, repairing and replacing rooftops on a large number of homes, apartment complexes and corporate firms throughout L.A. This construction trade is an occupation that will continue to stay active for years to come, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although these earnest laborers acquire their skills through on-the-job training, higher-paying roofers have already taken courses in math, mechanical drawing and blueprint reading. In L.A., roofers with up to four years of experience in the field earn an average annual salary greater than $36,000, according to current employment data. Top roofers hammer in yearly wages of around $45,000.

On-the-job training teaches novice workers how to use materials, machines and tools during a probationary period. Within the first month, trainees are tasked with carrying machinery and erecting scaffolds. By the third month, new hires should be able to measure, cut and fit roofing materials precisely and lay commonly used shingles. Because roofing involves heavy lifting, climbing, bending and kneeling for hours under Southern California’s hot sun, workers know early on whether they’re physically-fit for this vocation. Roofers also have a high rate of injuries, due to accidental falls and burns.

Encouraged by a rising employment rate and the likelihood of earning larger paychecks, many ambitious roofers attend a three-year apprenticeship program that includes technical coursework and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. They learn the basics of roofing and construction, in addition to building-code requirements and important safety practices. After completing the program, roofers are considered journey workers that can perform duties without supervision.

Southern California Roofers/Waterproofers J.A.C. in Pomona offers a comprehensive apprenticeship program, which pays qualified candidates $19.21 per hour. Applicants must be at least 18 years of age and able to read, write and understand the English language. A written test and oral exam will be given.

Sharon Raiford Bush is an award-winning journalist. Some news articles she has authored are archived by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

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