Merging the roofing industry with the solar industry is one of our top goals at GAF Energy. It’s important for roofers to feel comfortable with solar, as the ones performing solar roof installation. That’s why we worked so hard to ensure Timberline Solar was created to meet the needs of roofers — as a nailable solar shingle that uses the same process and materials as traditional roofing. That’s also why we find it so important to communicate with our roofing partners using the language they prefer.
Just ask Fanuel Ulacia, or “Fan” as we call him around GAF Energy. Fan is senior manager of the technical training team at GAF Energy, and he leads a team of employees who train our roofing partners on solar installation.
“When I first started here,” says Fan, “I always used to hear, ‘80% of the roofing industry is Spanish speaking.’ But I think it’s actually higher just based on my experience of being out in the field and working with our roofing partners. I’d say more like 9 out of 10 of the crews that I work with speak Spanish primarily.”
Fan’s entire team speaks Spanish and English, which makes training on Timberline Solar installation a more enjoyable experience for our roofing partners. “Being able to get out there and smoothly communicate with the folks that are actually installing the product provides a level of comfort,” explains Fan.
Comfort is important when you’re introducing such a revolutionary product as Timberline Solar, which uses the world’s first nailable solar shingle. “Sometimes they’re nervous, understandably, to install this brand new product,” Fan says. “Roofers are really good at what they do — and solar kind of throws a curveball at that.”
By speaking Spanish with roofing crews whose primary language is Spanish, Fan says he can see their facial expressions become less hesitant right away. “When the trainers get on site and they’re like, ‘Hablamos español,’” Fan says, “I can immediately recognize a peace of mind.”
The team even went as far as to hire a video content creator, Victoria Rendon, who can create training videos for roofers in their native language. “Our end user is the roofer, so we want to make sure they’re able to receive that information and understand it,” Fan recalls. “It’s really important that we’re able to provide bilingual content and Victoria has been great for that.”
Overall, Fan is hoping to bring more Hispanic roofers into the solar conversation. “I’m Hispanic and I feel a lot of pride in being able to help my community, and to teach people in the roofing industry a new skill,” he said. “Solar is something else they can add to their resume. If you understand the components of our system, you pretty much understand solar. And so, when we get on the rooftop and we train them on Timberline Solar, we’re teaching a skill that they can carry on to other projects. Not just for GAF Energy, but roofing in general. It feels good to help roofers have a seat at that table.”
In many circumstances, roofers don’t have a seat at that table because of how they entered the industry. “A lot of folks didn’t go to school for roofing. They just joined the trade,” said Fan. He made sure to give a shoutout to another program that helps give people a seat at the roofing table when they might not have had one otherwise: Roofing Academy, put on by the leading manufacturers of roofing materials, our sister company GAF. The GAF Roofing Academy combines classroom and on-the-roof training, giving students the necessary skills for roof installations. “Roofing Academy is great because they essentially work with folks and teach them this trade, and then help them get jobs. There’s actually two members of my team that came to me from Roofing Academy, which I think is awesome. And they’re rock stars — David Espinoza and Juan Pablo Jimenez — both Roofing Academy grads.”
Fan recognizes that nothing beats on-the-roof training. “Most of my team didn’t go to college. We just got field experience and on-the-job experience,” he said. “Cumulatively we have 100 years of roofing experience. These are veterans in the industry, and now they’re able to pass on their knowledge, while also teaching a new trade in solar. We take a lot of pride in that.”
To formalize the training team’s Hispanic roots and recognize the group’s collective nature despite being in different locations, they call themselves los lobos, which means “the wolves” in Spanish. “We’re trainers so we’re all dispersed around the country like lone wolves separate from each other,” said Fan. “But at the end of the day we always run as a pack. Last week we went go-kart racing for our team outing, and everybody was howling. It was so cool.”
We’re glad to have people like Fan leading our teams on rooftops and beyond. If you’re interested in joining GAF Energy, check out our careers page for open positions.
Learn more about the GAF Roofing Academy, a tuition-free program focused on reaching underrepresented communities or those that need help transitioning into the workforce, including women, at-risk youth, recently incarcerated individuals, and former military members.