There has been a lot of movement in the push to remedy the flooring installer shortage, and the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) has made it their mission to focus solely on this endeavor. In a short amount of time, the organization has covered a lot of ground, literally. Jim Aaron, executive director, and Kaye Whitener, director of operations, have flown across the country, meeting with various colleges and communities and participating in conventions to promote the foundation’s mission and its education program. The FCEF board members recently convened to discuss the program’s progress over the course of the past 16 months and highlight future challenges.
Program Progress: Where We are Now
At the beginning of 2022, FCEF launched its pilot program, Basic Flooring Installation, at Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC). The 10-week program covered every flooring category, providing students an opportunity for a hands-on experience. The first semester was at capacity and every student completed the course. The second semester of the course is currently underway at GNTC.
In order to launch the program at the first of the year, the process required FCEF and GNTC to offer the class as a non-credit course. However, in March, FCEF announced that the program received accreditation, a milestone in the organization’s progress. Additionally, the 10-week program will expand to 15 weeks for the fall semester at GNTC. The course, Flooring Installation Technician, is a 12-hour credit course.
The course has been approved at the Atlanta Technical College (ATC) and will be offered as part of the college’s construction program where approximately 120-150 students will be exposed to flooring installation as well as other construction disciplines, according to Whitener. The course will start in August and end in May. In addition to the program’s approval in Georgia, the program has been approved in Oklahoma and Utah with nine other states in the development process, according to Aaron.
Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology and the FCEF have applied for a grant to implement the program, starting spring semester 2023. Upon approval, the cost of the program will be covered for all four years and will be open to students in January.
Shaw Industries introduced FCEF to a training program for Afghan refugees that is based in Utah. This program starts in September. This partnership consists of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, Utah Refugee Services, and the International Certified Flooring Installers (CFI).
It is important to clarify that both the 10-week and 15-week courses are available, depending on each college’s or program’s needs. The 10-week course is not being replaced by the 15-week course.
“The need is different for each college, said Whitener. “What we are finding is that where one college may want the 15-week program, another college in a different state wants the 10-week program because their workforce development can support it.”
According to Whitener, the FCEF intends to maintain a high level of integrity when it comes to implementing either course. “It’s important that we keep the level of the program together and to make sure that the conclusion of the program is still turning out students who have been taught the industry standards and are ready to go into the job force as an advanced helper,” she said.
Another community that FCEF is collaborating with is the Native American Tribes through Edith Baker, owner, Native Business Strategies. Baker acts as a consultant to connect organizations such as FCEF to the tribes. This relationship, according to Whitener, developed after FCEF attended a Council Tribal Employment Rights (CTER) convention in 2021 where they connected with an International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) member who is associated with the Native American Tribes.
“Ultimately, our purpose and our mission for working with [Baker] is to understand that community and be able to be instrumental in helping to change a dynamic in their processes," said Whitener. “They do a lot of training. They are doing a lot of building in each of the tribes in the different areas. So, we are not just focused on technical college programs, that’s just the door that has been opened.”
The FCEF is looking to connect with our U.S. Military as well. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that according to the Department of Defense (DOD), approximately 200,000 service members transition into civilian life each year. “We only need 5,000 of those,” said Aaron. At this point, the FCEF reports that it will revisit this once more information has been gathered.
Future Challenges: What We are Up Against
Board members identified a number of challenges that they must consider and do their best to address. Among those challenges was the level of awareness of flooring installation as a career option as well as the labor pool deficit.
“People cannot choose that career path if they don’t first consider it,” Aaron said. “They can’t consider it if they’re not aware of it. Most people that we want to recruit into this industry are not even aware flooring installation is a thing. I had someone tell me they thought the floors came with the house. That’s what we’re dealing with.”
While it is no secret that all of the trades are working to recruit from the same talent pool, what is surprising is the reality of the deficit. Vying for the same workforce has caused a high level of starvation for labor, according to Aaron.
“We as an industry have to ask ourselves, why would a person that’s in our target demographic choose our trade versus another trade,” said Aaron. “I think a lot of things have to change to get to a point where we can answer that confidently and with a lot of pride.”
As the program expands and more and more colleges and organizations are made aware, the need for more sponsorship is still present. However, the FCEF indicates that it is exploring other financial avenues.
“We intend to pursue grants as a way to fund our organization in addition to industry support,” said Aaron. “I want to be very clear that we continue to need industry support, and we don’t have enough retailers, supporting our foundation.”
Aaron points out that currently, the FCEF is being supported by less than 100 retailers out of approximately 10,000+ flooring retailers in the U.S. and only eight or nine major manufacturers. “We need financial donations from distributors, retailers and every manufacturer and supplier,” he said.
Other forms of support include material donations and supplying guest instructors. Since January there have been $105,000 in donation values from Ardex, Taylor Adhesives, Laticrete, Tools4Flooring, JJ Haines, TileTools, Sika, Bostik, Powernail, National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and RFMS.
For more information or to donate, visit FCEF.org.