The installation trainings that are going on today are far different than they were years ago, according to P.J. Arthur, founder, Natural Fiber Installer Certification (NFIC), who was one of the speakers on the panel "How Education is Changing the Industry," held at The International Surface Event (TISE).
Dave Garden, director of education, Certified Flooring Installers (CFI); Jon Namba, Namba Services; and Sonny Callaham, chairman of the board, National Association of Floor Covering Technicians (NAFCT), joined Arthur to discuss the changes taking place with installation education and training.
According to Garden, many aspects of installation training have changed over the years, but society has changed the most. Rather than working to improve or change training for current flooring installers, CFI is now tasked with attracting and recruiting new flooring installers.
"That's a challenging task for us—how do we inspire future installers to be floor covering guys?" Garden asked. "That's how we are changing at CFI. We have to take a look at the environment. Now, the environment has changed on us. Everything around us is different than it was in 1993 when CFI started."
Garden pointed out that retailers are suffering from the same issues with their installer pool.
"The ones you have are not trained well enough," he said. "Not just that, but they are not bringing anyone else into the trade. We used to bring people into the trade, and we'd train the next guy and that guy would train the next guy."
Further compounding the issue is the pressure placed on flooring installers to get the job done properly. Garden says to remedy this, veteran installers are partnering with other installers to maximize profit, eliminating the need for an apprentice.
"What that doesn't do is bring anyone else into the trade," said Garden. "We've gotta figure out a way around that. That's what we are working on at CFI—finding ways to get people into the classes."
Currently, CFI's classes run five weeks and are designed to produce an apprentice and not a highly-skilled flooring professional.
"The goal is to bring in a guy who has no experience and teach him the basics," said Garden. "When he leaves in five-week's time, he'll have enough knowledge to get him on a jobsite and not embarrass someone. We can't complete the task without help from the industry. We can't complete the task without sending them to a business owner that understands they are green."
Ultimately, these freshly trained installers need to land in the hands of flooring retailers who will set them up for success. This means, according to Garden, not assigning them a monumental task that is not within their scope of knowledge. He feels it is important to build them up with jobs they are capable of completing and supplementing that with more education.
"If we start putting our dollars and cents into that education, what happens," said Garden. "We round out that installer. We show him his value. We show him his worth."
Jon Namba, a veteran flooring installer, spoke to both retailers and flooring installers concerning their roles in the current crisis, citing the shortcomings of each group.
"So, here's the dilemma," said Namba. "I have brick and mortar warehouses; I cannot compete with a person driving a pickup truck. Why do you as a retailer expect me to work for the same price as a guy who is working in a pickup truck? It doesn't work. That's why I don't work for retailers. I can't afford to work for retailers."
According to Namba, the solution is that the industry as a whole comes together to not only train installers, but to also train retailers on installation value. He points out that retailers are seeing the amount of product going into a project and the amount of money they are paying installers, but what they are not seeing is the amount of overhead required by installers to successfully remain in business. However, he points out that installers are not necessarily business savvy and this is an opportunity for retailers to step up.
"If retailers help installers become a better business person, they are going to be a value to your company," said Namba. "They may start to charge more, but that's okay. What do you learn in sales? If you have a profit margin to reach, just raise your percentages a little bit more to compensate. If you are willing to drop so low and not realize you have to make a profit, shame on you. And when you start cutting into an installer's profit margin, shame on you."
Conversely, Namba tells flooring installers, "Learn to run a business." Despite the many challenges installers face with just the physicality of the job alone, it is imperative that they grasp the business side.
As for training, Namba Services trains its installers and "brings them up to our standards." The flooring installers who work for Namba have the option to be set up as an employee or a subcontractor.
What is Namba's installer training goal?
"Train them right," he said. "If they leave your company and go somewhere else, that's their choice. You can't change that."
He encourages contractors to part ways with installers on a good note. This ensures a future working relationship where that installer can fill in if a contractor finds himself shorthanded. Investing in the proper training of each installer also ensures that the work they do for the contractor will meet their standards.
Another education solution, according to Sonny Callaham with NAFCT, is product manufacturer training. NAFCT partners with Ardex, Mapei, Novalis, Roppe, ISE Logik, Wagner Meters, HB Fuller, Loba-Wakol, America’s Floor Source, Laticrete, Schonox, Shaw and Divergent. According to Callaham, these companies incorporate NAFCT’s curriculum into their training.
The benefit to these trainings is that they are one-day trainings rather than multi-day. That is possible through online classes that participants are required to complete prior to the one-day hands-on training. This allows participants the option to complete each portion of the training on their own time and at their own pace, according to Callaham.
“If we can get as much training online beforehand, that’s less time the installers are gonna have to be away from work,” said Callaham.
The savings extends further through the low cost of the membership and trainings. To join NAFCT, the cost for an installer is $100 per year and for a contractor, $250 per year and that covers every employee. Trainings are $100 each.
“We are trying to make this as affordable and accessible as possible,” said Callaham.