After eight months, more than a dozen events attended, and thousands of miles traveled, the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) convened for its board of directors meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, November 9-10, 2021, to report on its progress and to map out plans to recruit more flooring installers in 2022. 

The board has a daunting task: recruit flooring installers. Its mission: to provide awareness of the job opportunities and career pathways available in the floor covering industry; improve the perception of those pathways; connect individuals to training opportunities within the industry; provide scholarships for installer training—with the goal of placing those individuals in jobs within the floor covering industry.

Based on a 2018 study for the Floor Covering Leadership Council, the International Certified Flooring Installers Association estimates that approximately 180,000 installers must be added over the next 10 years to keep up with industry growth.

"Our competition is fierce," said Jim Aaron, executive director, FCEF. "Other trades are more well known, understood and organized. Other trades offer employment, not just work. The subcontract model [among flooring installers] is an impediment to recruiting."

FCEF was started with $1 million in seed money from the World Floor Covering Association in 2020. Since then, three major backers have aided the initiative: Engineered Floors, Mohawk and Shaw.

Through 2021, the FCEF reports it will have awarded over $89,000 in scholarships to 38 scholarship recipients. The average scholarship is $2,500, supported by 135 sponsors and donors. Fifteen scholarships were awarded via Goodwill Industries, and students used the funds for training via the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation and CFI.

Since Aaron took the helm of the organization eight months ago, the FCEF has worked quickly and furiously to launch a brand campaign, meet with leaders across the country to recruit volunteer and financial support, and to develop key partnerships with training organizations. These include: The Technical College System of Georgia; Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance (TERO); the training arm of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; the training arm of International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; and a collaboration with Brian Cooksey, development director, Shaw Industries, for the NW Whitfield Construction Course currently offered by CFI. 

The shortage of qualified installers is costing retailers. FCEF informally surveyed 143 retailers and 82% reported a shortage of qualified laborers. Of respondents, 64.5% said they could grow their business up to 25% if they had enough installers, and 29% said they could grow their business up to 50%.

Deb DeGraaf, owner of DeGraaf Interiors in Michigan, and FCEF and WFCA board member, said more trained installers means shorter lead times and higher profitability for her business. "We could certainly sell more if we were able to install it. I'm willing to pay more. Trained installers mean less problems for me."

In 2022, the group plans to continue fundraising, address awareness and recruiting issues, work on how to replicate high school and technical college programs, and engage more advocates at a local level. 

"I have commercial companies looking for bodies--that's our most important focus," said Geoff Gordon, executive director, Fuse Alliance, and FCEF board member. "Without the recruits, we have nothing."

The issue is not just for flooring. Data shows that there is a lack of students pursuing education for building trades. Since the pandemic, Aaron said technical colleges are seeing 14% declines in enrollment. 

"There is starting to be a rhetoric or a movement toward young people looking at construction or the trades. But the reality we face is we have to be a whole industry because we are competing with the carpenters, the electrical workers, the plumbers, and all of these others that are going after that same type of person," said Bart Bettiga, executive director, National Tile Contractors Association.

While the board set a number of goals, the board emphasized that the organization is still in its early stages, and expectations must be moderated.

"We've had this installation problem for the last 30 years," said Piet Dossche, board member, FCEF and Shaw Industries. "What I really see now is that something is being done about it. Not just theoretically but practical steps that will over time help to solve this problem."

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Watch Our Interview with the FCEF Board Members