Jen Zurn, education project manager, Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF), is a mother and wife first, an installer second, and an education advocate as of recently. She intended on joining the military after high school, but life took her in a different direction.
We sat down with Zurn to get more on her unique flooring journey, and her plans for the future of flooring in her new role. The following are excerpts of our conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety below.
FCI: Tell us where you're from and a little bit about your siblings, your parents and what everyone's doing.
Jen Zurn: I am from Wisconsin. I moved all over Southeastern Wisconsin, but I guess I would call home Slinger, Wisconsin. I am one of five kids, all half siblings. I'm exactly the middle one which might explain some things. My dad is a mechanic, and my mom was in the medical field. She just recently retired. My upbringing was with one of my siblings, and then a single mom. So, that’s where I got it ingrained in my head that you have to be independent. You need to not wait for somebody else to do something when you're perfectly capable. A lot of my mindset comes from my mom. She worked her butt off to make sure that she had a roof over our head and clothes on our back.
FCI: What’s one fun or interesting that you don’t typically share with folks?
Zurn: I guess the only thing I can say is that if you know me, this might make sense. I was a tomboy through and through. I didn't have many female friends. I was running with the boys because I wanted to do sports; I was very competitive. I was always trying to show them up, and that I could do exactly what they could do. [I] was a five-foot-three, hundred-pound-when-soaking-wet child. I was always coming home with all kinds of bruises and scuffs and stuff like that.
Now, I enjoy seeing people thrive. I have more fun cheering other people on and seeing them reach their goals. I enjoy that as opposed to being the competitive one.
FCI: What were your plans after graduating high school?
Zurn: I was planning on going into the military, but I had met my now husband and that ended up changing. After high school, I was in the office, managing the flooring side of the [business], because that is something that he did not want to do or care to do in any capacity. I was trying to figure out what to do in college because I really did not know. I had some accounting skills based off of my classes that I took in high school, but it was really difficult. I was 18; you're supposed to know what you're going to do for the rest of your life.
I was just working a regular job. I started taking some part-time classes at the technical college. That didn't last very long because we had some people, which I’m sure a lot of installers have run into, not show up for the job, and it was, “Hey? You wanna go to work today?” Yeah, sure. I'll come out in the field and see what's going on. I've always been one to work with my hands. I took all the shop classes that I could in middle school and high school. So, this wasn't anything new for me.
When I met my husband and he told me he was a second-generation floor installer, I was like, “That's a thing?”
But a lot of people in high school [didn’t] know flooring was even a thing. I didn't know that. When I met my husband and he told me he was a second-generation floor installer, I was like, “That's a thing?” That was exactly what I said.
I remember my first job that we went to that day. That was a residential bathroom that we did on the second floor, putting in sheet goods on a new construction. From there it just kind of grew. I was doing a lot of the office stuff, but then I started working more and more in the field. My integration in that always varied by where we were in life. Were we having kids?
With our first one, I was pregnant putting in VCT in a salon in Milwaukee. I remember very clearly, because I had to walk over to Jay and say, you know I’m not sure, but I think I’m having contractions. Just letting you know. Gonna go back to work. And so, I was actually trimming in around a door jam, and he comes up to me about ten minutes later and says, “Could you just please call the doctor because I really don't want to deliver our baby?”
I responded with an eye roll. “Okay, I think you're being a little dramatic, but I guess so.”
In all fairness, he was right because I didn't think anything of it. It was seven weeks early, but you know, better safe than sorry. As it turned out, I was going into labor.
FCI: When did you start in flooring?
Zurn: I started in about 2000.
FCI: At what point did you start thinking about getting into the education side of flooring installation?
Zurn: 2010 to 2012. [When] you've got so much time in, you start to see a lot of the deficits on the installation side—just knowledge that we're lacking that's not being considered by how people are coming into the trade and how information is getting passed down. There were always these gaps, like, what is your business really making, and what you need to consider as a 1099 subcontractor. There's just so many things that these installers weren't taking into consideration.
What do you charge? That's a big one you still see today on social media, and that's not an easy question to answer because there are so many caveats to what that number needs to be. It's not the same across the U.S. I think that was really a big eye-opening moment [to realize] we really need to make sure that us, as an installation community, are educated in being able to run our businesses because otherwise we're gonna go away. Because, if we can't pay our bills while running our business, then why are people going to keep doing this?
From there, I started getting involved in organizations, and CFI was a big one. That's mainly because they were more prominent in our area. I saw a way of being able to help our community.
FCI: When did you get involved with CFI?
Zurn: That would have been 2012, I believe. Maybe 2011. It was around that timeframe, and then from there, just seeing that a lot of like-minded people wanted to see the same things, it really helped reinforce that.
I started amping it up with our kids [after that]. I would volunteer a lot at school and be working with kids one on one, and that sparked my interest even more so on the education side of things, and then through everything else working in flooring. I also went back to school to get my associates degree geared towards education.
FCI: You just started with FCEF in this new role a couple of months ago, correct? So, you're still settling in. Tell us about this new role. What are the expectations? What are you going to be doing? What do you hope to accomplish?
Zurn: Right now, we are working on getting the basic floor covering installation program in some local colleges. We do have a few that are going to be starting at the beginning of the year. Everybody knows about GNTC in Dalton, Georgia. They're going to be starting their next course the beginning of January with Justin Faulkner. Atlanta Tech is supposed to be working on coming online. We have Piedmont College in Georgia as well. We have another one that would be coming in next spring; that would be Hawkeye Community College in Iowa. There's a bunch of other different organizations that we're working with to keep that momentum going.
You know what we accomplished at GNTC and what we've learned through working with the Georgia Technical College System has helped us understand some of the processes that need to take place. From start to finish, it's about six to eight months of implementation. I'm the one that is helping to create that to help make it happen alongside Jim Aaron, Kaye Whitener and Tiffany Mills.
FCI: Do you plan on visiting high schools and implementing the program there?
Zurn: We are trying to build out a high school program that could be implemented into [say] their carpentry courses. We are working on how we can better support our training partners such as NWFA, CTEF, CFI and their initiatives with certifications and programs. We are working on some different aspects like the Department of labor to better understand what different apprenticeships look like. So, just getting that information and having those resources really help us better navigate different systems and put together a stronger program that will be recognized industry wide.
One of the things that we need is people coming into the industry. We want qualified people coming into the industry and staying, which we desperately need. Eventually, we want to create similar vetting or criteria for our installation community as you would see in HVAC licensing. Plumbers and electricians have to hold a certain educational backgrounds. We need that in our industry to ensure quality.
That's one of my personal goals that I would love to see for the installer side of the industry, because I think it's something that's needed. I think people don't give it a whole lot of consideration, but there's a lot of aspects that we tie into in the floor. Sometimes we come into plumbing, electrical. There are structural things too, and I feel like we can't just let anybody come in and start tearing this stuff apart.
I've seen it personally as an installer. You know what kind of a mess somebody who doesn't know what they're doing can end up creating, and the person who suffers is the end user.
My personal goal for what I hope [to come] will end up aligning and merging FCEF’s future is that we try to elevate the voices of the installation community, the training partners and the standards.
FCI: What do you think it's going to take to get more women interested in the trades, specifically flooring installation?
Zurn: I think we need to market to them. We need to ask them. We need to let them know that they have a place here just like their male counterparts. Unfortunately, we've been conditioned to think differently, and it's just now that we're starting to fall away from the stigma of trades as a career path, period. Let's get away from the stigma of women belong in the house, and men belong out in the workforce. I think that thought process needs to change. We need to market to [women] because a lot of what you see is guys on the front of advertisements for these different trade careers.
FCEF has done a fantastic job by integrating women into their marketing. [Women] just need to know. At job fairs, are they coming over? Are you actually speaking to them? Because that’s different than them saying, “Hey, what’s this about?” versus “Hey, I want you.”
Women have inherent qualities like being detail-oriented and patient. There are those strengths that we can bring into the installation side that we may never even consider. “Oh, I might be good at working at a daycare because I have patience.” No. Maybe you have patience for setting tile because you have that attention to detail. We need to let them know that we want that—we encourage it.