The Story of the Man Behind the Roofing Alliance Student Competition

The competition’s goal is to enhance students’ experiences by exposing them academically and experientially to roofing as a potential career choice.

Kyle Thomas got into the roofing industry like many others have, through his family business. His father, Larry P. Thomas began working for a roofing company in the 1960s and by 1968 had acquired ownership. By 1980, he had bought out the other partners and had full ownership. It’s not hard to guess where Kyle’s summer jobs were throughout high school and college – working in the warehouse and on the roof for his family’s business, Thomas Roofing.

Deciding that he didn’t want to be a roofing contractor, Kyle attended the University of Alabama and earned a degree in finance. He found that the job offers he was receiving would put him in large cities, like Atlanta or New York, places where he didn’t want to live. Not knowing what he wanted to do, he packed up his truck and drove to Colorado to work in a ski resort. At the end of the ski season, he knew it was time to get serious about what he wanted to do. “I love the area that I grew up in on the Gulf Coast and love to be on the water, so I moved back to my hometown. After looking around for a job, I decided it was time to sit down to have a heart to heart talk with my parents,” Kyle explained. “So, in 1993 I joined the family business full time.”  

Industry Involvement

Soon after joining the business, Kyle became actively involved in the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), participating in meetings and serving on committees. “The association allows you to connect with others to form relationships and meet people that you can bounce ideas off of and learn from them,” said Kyle. “In the early years I learned a lot and now with the experience that I have, I am able to give back.” 

Kyle said that some of his best friends are people he met through the association, many of whom are in other states. “They are far away, but in the same industry, running a business and dealing with the same issues,” he said. 

Once the Roofing Alliance, the foundation of NRCA, was formed, Kyle said that Thomas Roofing made the decision to join. “Roofing can be a tough and challenging business, but it’s provided a good living for a lot of people, including us. We wanted to give back and to be part of something that you could see is funding great things to benefit the industry.”

Starting the Student Competition

Kyle has been instrumental in starting the student competition and as chair of the committee he has played a huge role in getting it to where it is today. He won’t take all the credit though, saying, “It started with Dennis Conway, Roofing Alliance member and former NRCA chairman, pushing us to address this as an association. Anecdotally, contractors have been working with local construction schools for some time throughout the country.” The student competition committee wanted to bring those efforts to a higher level by developing the competition.

When they began consulting with the heads of the departments at schools that already had relationships with contractors –Colorado State University, Auburn University and University of Florida – they learned that they were far behind. The schools were already engaged in competitions sponsored by organizations such as Associated Builders and Contractors and the Associated of General Contractors of America.  The roofing industry was not represented. Roofing Alliance staff researched the existing competitions to learn how they were organized, what the requirements were and how they worked with the schools. 

“The basis of the competition we developed is for the student teams to put a bid together and make a proposal on a project,” Kyle explained. “The first year, we only invited the three schools we had existing relationships with, in order to get the competition up and running successfully.”

How the competition works

In the fall of each year, information on the competition is sent out to accredited universities that offer construction management programs. The schools must then notify the Roofing Alliance of their intent to participate. The project information is sent over and the students work on their written proposals throughout the semester. Pulling together the project information takes a lot of volunteer hours. “With the exception of the first year, we have been able to choose a real project that was roofed in the city where the International Roofing Expo® is being held,” said Kyle. “We coordinate with the contractor that completed the project. It’s a big partnership between me and the estimator for the project.”

In addition to coordinating the details for the projects, Kyle also serves as a mentor to the Auburn University team. Each team is assigned a roofing contractor mentor who helps to guide them and answer their questions while they are working on their proposal. “It’s evident when we first meet with the student team, that there is very little roofing education within their curriculum,” noted Kyle. “I always think ‘wow, they have a long way to go’ and then when they are on the stage [at the competition] it’s astounding how far they have come.”

Once the student teams have submitted their written proposals at the end of the semester, a team of judges reviews and scores them. After scoring, the top three to five teams are invited to attend the IRE and present their proposals to a team of industry judges.  “Once the students arrive, we invite them to the Roofing Alliance welcome reception and after that we have a draw for presentation positions,” Kyle said. “The students are able to also do a site visit to see the project.”

The teams spend the morning presenting their proposals to a panel of seasoned industry veterans who score the teams based on a variety of factors to determine the winner. Awards are presented in the evening at NRCA’s Industry Awards Ceremony and Cocktail Reception. 

“These kids are incredibly impressive. It seems like in society we hear a lot of negative comments on the youth of America, but I have not found that with these students. They are sharp. They are driven,” stated Kyle. “It’s been great, the most fun and rewarding thing that I have done.”