It does not make a difference what the trade is; they could be painters, carpenters, masons, carpet installers or tile installers. For as long as I have been in this business I have never known of an abundance of skilled tradesman in any craft. Nor have I ever known a skilled tradesman (or woman) who couldn’t find a job. (Some have not succeeded in business but business skills are separate from skill levels in a trade, so we will leave that subject alone.)
So how do we get qualified installers? We train them. But training is a skill in itself. So I ask: How do you educate yourself so that you may teach others? Are there any real advantages to investing the time and effort to learn more when you’re already working six days a week month after month? First let me say that if you are working six days a week in a craft, you are the one who needs an education so you can pick and choose your work a little better, raise your prices, or hire someone, possibly all three. But, you don’t want to because you’re afraid after your new hire gets some training he will be your competitor. Well, that is always a risk you take to possibly gain a better quality of life or enhance your income.
So is it worth the risk? Ask any successful person what is their most valuable asset and they will likely tell you it is their support structure, primarily those that surround them. Very few of us are fortunate enough to achieve any amount of success without good help. You will inevitably have new hires that go on to become your competition (or work for your competiton), so why do it?
Well perhaps you should think about your goals. If your desire in life is to have a life, have a spouse, take the kids to a ball game, go fishing on weekends, and enjoy time with friends on a regular basis you may not want to hire someone. On the other hand, if you’re that busy, the things you enjoy in life can also slip away if you don’t do something. Once you start adding employees, initially, the little joys in life may be more difficult to achieve but that is a short-lived situation if you do it right.
Fortunately, the person who desires a regular job and has such a lifestyle is often the perfect employee. Experience has taught me that the more effort you put in training a person the more loyal that person becomes. We often see that loyalty in people who have received a substantial amount of field training before coming to one of our structured programs. If his or her mentor uses methods that differ from the instructor’s by-the-book approach, the student will often resist the classroom lesson. Quite often a lively discussion ensues.
Which brings us to our next point: should the training be knowledge-based or skill-based? This is often where a true inner struggle begins in teaching others a trade. Years ago most craft training was skill-based in nature. In ceramic tile there were three main products to deal with: the tile, sand, and cement. In tile there was only one method, mortar on either floors or walls followed by tile set with pure Portland cement on a wet mortar bed. Choices in other floor covering products were also very limited. These types of installations required skill to install; limited knowledge was required of the actual products themselves as they were both very basic and limited. Tile was wet set, carpet seams were sewn, and linoleum was torched down to the floor. Our substrate selections were also limited to old Douglas Fir (much stronger than current wood products, by the way) one-inch board floors, and concrete. All one has to do to see the folly of skill only directed training is to consider the dazzling array of products now seen in any one of the previously mentioned categories. There is very little we do today that was done the same way 50 years ago. In fact little is done the way it was 30 years ago. This leads to one of my favorite responses when I hear people say “I’ve been doing it that way for 30 years and never had a problem.” I tell them if you are doing things the same way you were 30 years ago, you definitely have problems out there-whether you realize it or not.
So, you decide to take the plunge and teach your protégé everything you know. Hopefully you’ll learn a few things you didn’t know along the way. Then, suddenly, your ultimate fear is realized. He quits! Now what? Back to six days a week and start all over again? Sadly, that is probably the choice you will have to make. But, there is a bright side to this. If you thoroughly trained him and gave him a good knowledge base, he could be good competition. Initially he may try to “buy” some jobs. Everyone always has a sale when they start out. But, before long he will find out that setting tile on his own or installing any other product for that matter is only part of the job, and the best part at that. He will learn (as you did) that your true overhead is not 5%, but closer to 20-25%. Also, if he was well trained, he will exhibit the same caution that you did when bidding a job.
Once he figures all this out his prices could well be in line with yours. Then it will become all about who provides a better comfort and service level such as being there and completed when promised. Service is what truly distinguishes one person from the other in selecting trades. If all a business cares about is keeping their prices low, there is not a lot of profit to be made. Better to let the other guy keep that end of the business.
When you do make the choice to train, it typically involves on-the-job training where skills are learned by repetition. Generally, it takes about three to six months of employment to assess whether the person is trainable. Once that determination has been made, based on field training only, it seems to take about 12 to 18 months to develop a basic understanding and skill set. Attending seminars when available can certainly help shorten that timeline. To turn someone into a true craftsperson takes years. In days past, unions were the primary source of training for building trades. While some unions still provide excellent training opportunities, they are not universally available in all areas. Those individuals who do participate in union-sponsored programs are considered apprentices and do not reach journeyman status until they have 400 to 500 hours of classroom training and three to five years of field experience. Before one can be recognized as a journeyman he must pass a test and demonstrate both his knowledge and skills. If he fails he will not receive journeyman status regardless of the time invested. These programs and formats vary widely but that is the basic premise. Most industry associations either have training programs available or can recommend a program.
Manufacturers also offer many courses on use of their products. BNP Media, the parent of National Floor Trends, has been a long-time supporter of education and usually carries a list of opportunities in the back of the magazine. Some programs are better than others to be sure. I can only speak for those who attend our programs or those we host but I can say with pride no one has ever said they were a waste of time. The most common reason for not attending or cancellation is “I don’t have time.” Took me till I was about 35 to realize there is never a good time for a challenge. Maybe you should sign up for the program of your choice today?