Nukia Holmes’s dad would often tell her to steer clear of his handiwork while he made repairs around her childhood home—but her curiosity often won him over.
“As a little girl I’d be right over his shoulder passing him his tools but what I really wanted was to help fix things just like him.”
Now, as an adult, she’s making it happen.
A few years ago she’d found out about GAF Roofing Academy while at the Gathering Place—a Denver, CO-based community center—during an informational pop-up and liked what she heard from their team.
“I’ve always wanted to pick a meaningful trade and what’s better than learning how to help literally keep a roof over people’s heads?”
As critical of a skill it is, roofing is one of the most non-inclusive industries, with less than 3% of women roofers in the U.S. As a Black woman, Holmes was a unicorn, but was relieved when she’d attended her first session and saw it was being led by a woman of color.
“I’m a Latina and it’s so refreshing to know you can grow so much within the industry, especially as a minority,” said Kimberly Santiago. After completing classes with GAF in residential and commercial roofing, she returned as an instructor. With the skills she learned, she was able to open a roofing business last year and to date, have installed more than 100 roofs.
She says she’s incredibly passionate about her students and roofing, something she’d never seen for herself. “My trajectory prior to coming into roofing was very different,” Santiago said. “I used to be in higher education.” She received her Bachelor’s degree and Master’s in English Education, and was pursuing a PhD when she realized life in academia wasn’t for her.
“I felt like I wasn’t contributing—that I wasn’t giving back,” she told ESSENCE. “I was creating curricula for people who had access to a higher education and designing courses for PhD students but I was like ‘something is missing.’
After spending time with some friends of hers who are in roofing, she had a chance to see the work up close and looked into what it would take to make the transition. A few years later, she did just that and hasn’t looked back since. “I know it sounds like a crazy pivot and maybe even a random one but if you think about it, it’s such an essential industry. Being a part of GAF enables me to combine both of my passions, working with my hands and teaching,” said Santiago. “It’s really a program that offers people a second chance at building the life they want.”
Launched in January 2020, the GAF Academy has already trained 2,000 people and placed approximately 52% of graduates into jobs overall. According to the organization, as of 2022 the job placement rate was approximately 57%, leading to 516 graduates placed in jobs—31% of which were Black.
“I know we have a long way to go in diversifying the industry but there’s progress being made,” Santiago said. “I want women to know there are so many untapped opportunities waiting on you. The sky is the limit. Not even the roof, the sky.”