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Meet the Expert: Kimberly Santiago

Adam Graham

Published on March 11, 2024


Meet the Expert: Kimberly Santiago

We interview roofing training manager, Kimberly Santiago, about what it’s like to work in the construction industry.

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Meet Kimberly Santiago, GAF CARE Training Manager. During a month that celebrates women in general, we wanted to know, from a woman in construction, what it's like to work in an industry dominated by men. Having spent five years in the roofing and construction industry, Santiago is well-placed to give her insights and share her unique experiences. We find out firsthand what it’s like to work as a woman in this field, the challenges that go with it, as well as her accomplishments and advice.

Image by Kimberly Santiago

Training the Future Labor Force

We start by getting to know more about Santiago and what exactly her professional role entails. She tells us “I’ve been working at GAF, a Standard Industries company and North America’s largest roofing manufacturer, for about a year and a half. I have five years of experience in the roofing and construction industry.” She continues “I’m currently a Training Manager in GAF’s Center for the Advancement of Roofing Excellence (CARE), helping to train roofing professionals in hands-on skills, product knowledge, and business acumen to help them continue to upgrade their skills within the industry.”

Her work forms part of the GAF Roofing Academy which, as she explains, is “a free, national two-week program developed by GAF”. As an instructor, she trains individuals “especially in underrepresented or disadvantaged groups, to build the necessary skills for an entry-level position in roofing – on the roof or in sales or other facets of the industry.”

The training program has had success, with Santiago commenting that “Since its inception in 2020, the program has trained 3,000 students and placed more than 1,600 in full-time employment within the industry.”

While it’s open to men too, she mentions how it can especially benefit women: “Last year, we had multiple all-women classes across the country and we’re excited to bring that back this year in partnership with National Women in Roofing in Manassas, Virginia. We’re also hosting all-women classes for our existing contractors, such as an upcoming CARE class in Minnesota for 50 women, to help them grow in their existing roles and explore additional opportunities.” 

She comments “These classes give women a chance to take a break from the male-dominated industry and really own their voice and space comfortably among other women.” 

Image by Kimberly Santiago

Inspiring Women

Her journey 

But what does Santiago’s journey look like to get to where she is today? “I was in academia, working as an instructional designer at a university to design Masters and PhD courses across the university. I pursued a Doctorate at The Ohio State University in education and after earning my EdS, I worked at different universities. But I’ve always worked and learned in a more interdisciplinary way and wanted to be hands-on in my work, which attracted me to the trades.” 

Her career switch meant she “worked part-time for a construction subcontractor in the business office while working as an instructional designer, and I was fascinated by how roofs were built. Building on that experience, I quit my job in academia almost five years ago and jumped into roofing by helping crews clean up.” It was from there that she joined GAF, where she says she can “combine my passion for education and my career in roofing to help train others, many of whom are looking for a new career or a second chance.”

Her success

She is also well-positioned to speak of the success of the training programs she now works for, saying “As a former graduate of GAF Roofing Academy myself, I gained not only the skills for an entry-level job but also the knowledge and confidence to take those skills and start my own roofing company. As a business owner, I led my team to install or repair about 100 roofs every year as a contractor.” 

Her success as a woman in the industry can inspire others. When we asked her about her proudest achievement, she stated: “I am most proud of the fact that I dared to change the script. I am the only woman trainer at the Center for Advancement and Roofing Excellence at GAF, and while I do face challenges, I continue to forge a path forward within this amazing industry.”

Image by Kimberly Santiago

Being a Woman in Construction


Turning our attention back to what it’s like for women in construction, Santiago explains, from her point of view, the biggest challenges she believes women currently face: “As a lead instructor, I notice that men sometimes do a double take and doubt me when I introduce myself as the teacher. Roofing and other trades are male-dominated industries, so it’s not common to see a woman come in and do well.” Yet this doesn’t discourage her, and she explains how persistence and perseverance are key, “once the male students see my skills and experience firsthand, there is no doubt that they respect me and follow suit. So it’s important to keep showing up and proving that women are just as capable and can succeed within the industry to help break down those misconceptions.”

Encouraging women

There is a labor shortage across the industry, and women have the opportunity to fill the gaps, but it might seem like a daunting prospect. What advice does Santiago have for women looking to join the industry? “Don’t be afraid – it might not seem like there is space for women in this industry, but we need to use our voice and show that we can do just as well as the men out there.”

“I want to show other women that they can pivot and succeed through roofing, too. Especially as a Latina, I want to make sure that all women, including women of color, are able to grow as much in the industry as I did in the past five years.”

Associations such as the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) are a great way to get more information and learn about opportunities. Santiago also recommends National Women in Roofing (NWIR) saying that it “is an amazing organization that supports the advancement of women roofing professionals in every aspect of the industry. They help to connect women in roofing across every stage of their career to learning opportunities, mentorship, and networking to ensure their success within the industry.”

Image by Kimberly Santiago

Creating an Industry for Everyone

The construction industry can be a rewarding career for anyone. And it’s not just women who are encouraged to set a career path into construction and roofing, as Santiago explains this in her training program: “In addition to all-women classes, we host trainings for anyone who might be interested in learning the trade, including veterans, at-risk youth, and justice-involved individuals all year round.” 

As a successful woman in roofing herself, Santiago leaves us with this message: “The roofing industry is rapidly evolving – women are bringing unique talent, perspectives, and skills that can make a significant impact. Instead of being discouraged by the male-dominated nature of the industry, I encourage women to use it to fuel our determination to break down barriers and pave the way for more women to join. Having greater representation in the industry will not only inspire others but also contribute to the diversification and success of the field.”

Written by

Adam Graham Construction Industry Analyst

Adam Graham is a construction industry analyst at Fixr.com. He has experience writing about home construction, interior design, and real estate. He communicates with experts and journalists to make sure we provide the most up-to-date and fact-checked information. He has been featured in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens, and written for various outlets including the National Association of Realtors, and Insurance News Net Magazine.