You don’t need me to tell you how bad the installation crisis is. Chances are you live it every day. But maybe I can share with you some of the things I’ve been hearing that are giving me a more hopeful outlook.
I asked Floor Trends’ installation columnist and all-around installation guru, Jon Namba, for his view. Namba doesn’t mince words.
He says current skills among installers are not getting better; in fact, they are diminishing as we see greater crossover among flooring categories.
With all of the new products, formats and construction differences we’re seeing in flooring lately, keeping up with all of these changes is only going to get more difficult.
Here’s what Namba had to say. “Installers are getting into the floating floor installations because they feel it’s a fairly easy category of flooring, [but] they don’t understand floor prep and moisture issues. Understanding waterproofing is something that is critical to a wet area and many installers are not knowledgeable enough. On the hardwood side, with the introduction of factory finished floors, many installers know only the basics of the installation and once again they don’t understand all the site conditions involved with wood flooring.” Similar issues apply to ceramic tile.
Real Progress Is Happening
So who’s actually doing something (anything) on a national level to address the installation crisis?
The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) for one. Not only does it continue to provide ongoing installation training classes – at every level from apprentice to master craftsman, including courses to maintain certification once achieved – but it has been working to attract more people to the trade through an online university that to date has resulted in the completion of more than 60,000 courses. More importantly, 78% of users had never interacted with the NWFA before!
While this is not meant as a replacement for hands-on training, it is a convenient, cost-effective way to reach and recruit the next generation of installers. At the rate of 75 online courses a day, the NWFA is making real-world progress every day.
There’s more: Michael Martin, president and CEO of the association, said, “This past March, we received an official apprenticeship from the U.S. Department of Labor for the ‘Wood Flooring Specialist’ designation. This is a major accomplishment as it opens the door for federal funding for both the employer and the apprentice, as well as some state funding. We are working with several member companies to pilot the initiative, and are preparing a roadmap for other members to follow to launch the program in their own companies as well.”
Certified Flooring Installation Association (CFI) continues its mission of providing training and certification to installers here at home and abroad. Robert Varden, vice president, said the association continues to push forward its training agenda and is having good success.
The outlook for the installation crisis has also recently improved with the World Floor Covering Association’s (WFCA) big announcement to commit additional resources and has come up with some creative solutions toward solving the problem.
We know that the WFCA, particularly through the work of the CFI, has expanded its installation training efforts and continues to provide classes throughout the country (and internationally) but this new commitment goes beyond that.
To recap, the WFCA has pledged $1 million dollars to the effort. It is bringing various manufacturers together into a cohesive effort to support and extend installation training, and it has a business plan that calls for hiring a dedicated executive director to oversee these efforts.
Perhaps most exciting of all is a mobile classroom – a retrofitted 18-wheeler that can literally travel around the country bringing installation training to local communities.
As Scott Humphrey, WFCA president and CEO, told me, the challenge is that with so few available installers in a time of such high demand, retailers and installers themselves are extremely reluctant to walk away from paid work backlogs to attend installation training classes where they don’t get paid. The mobile classroom will hopefully make it easier for working installers to upgrade their skills and for new installers to begin their training.
I love this idea and I fully expect this will make a positive contribution and thanks to these efforts and others like it, we are making headway. But it is simply not enough.
Even with the WFCA’s participation, it will be years before we see any real change. In the meantime, the challenge of finding installers, and improving their skill set remains a formidable one that will not be resolved anytime in the near future.
Who’s Making a Difference Today?
The good news is that most retailers, work rooms and contractors, and distributors are doing what they can on the local level and with some success.
Namba shares this simple advice that has helped him navigate these tough times: Pay more.
He said, “Our success with our subs comes by way of compensating them with what they deserve.” This approach, he says, not only creates a better working relationship with his crews but it also improves customer satisfaction. It also leads to more work. Everyone wins.
Beyond recruitment, beyond fair compensation that draws young people to the trade, beyond available training and apprenticeship programs that give them a clear path to success, there’s something else Namba thinks we need to do to improve the problem with installation.
It’s about pride and creativity. “The industry needs to show the artistic side of flooring,” said Namba. “Share the passion for creating a piece of art on the floor.”
Fundamentally, the issue is how do we attract young people to the field? That’s something you can do at home. Bring one of your young installers to career day at the local high school, inform students about available training, job opportunities, apprenticeship programs and good pay, maybe even a job offer. You might just walk away with your next installation star.
While, thankfully, flooring’s major associations have stepped in big time to offer their help and leadership, the only real solution is for the entire industry at all levels to get involved, including us.