As one wag put it, “Certifications are like opinions; everybody has one.” The right certifications will pay huge dividends, enhance your reputation and reinforce your quality offering. Others given on a conferred, pay-your-money-and-get-a-certificate-suitable-for-framing basis smack of earning online college degrees that are impressive but without much worth.

In the flooring business, you’ll likely need to be involved with several types of certifications. Please note that if I mention a specific entity, it is by way of illustration or my own experience and not a recommendation. Do your own research; there is more than one road to success or bankruptcy.

In both residential and commercial flooring, the foundation of your success will be exemplary customer service and flawless installation. First up, get everyone on the same page by using a framework for in-house training, certificates and awards.An important step for a company to take is to require every employee to go through some form of knowledge introduction about the floor industry and testing intheir chosen area. You wouldn’t have administrative personnel learn how to seam carpet, nor would you have an installer learn critical data input; however, both should learn something about the flooring industry, their position, how their actions affect co-workers, and essential, effective customer service.

Example: FCICA, the Floor Covering Contractors Association, has its FIT training modules that offer an excellent track for basic or remedial training of installers, as well as an introduction to other employees in a variety of areas. It is quite comprehensive with workbooks and videos and is designed for a long term in-house program.

Make training fun and effective by requiring attendance, but allow give-and-take discussion. Superior test scores should earn awards and certificates for completion. To integrate customer feedback, you may wish to have a research company like Market Pulse develop a client questionnaire with input from you. Submit client names and get a tabulation of results on how each segment of your organization is doing. The value of such a continuous grading system is affected by the quality of the questions, type of rating, overall averaging out to eliminate bias and anomalies.

The real issue is this: What does a company do with the information when received? Look for patterns, isolate unfortunate incidents and deal with them promptly.


Apprenticeships and Certification by Third-Party Associations

Installer training and certification are intertwined because one should not exist without the other. Certification implies that one has expertise in an area. Some may be based upon widely recognized national or international standards, while others may only be recognized by a product manufacturer or for a specific type of installation.

Specific, well-branded certification levels may quickly indentify installers with the skills needed for a complicated carpet or resilient project or manage a project to its successful completion. When I needed an installation crew for a large project and couldn’t use my own guys, I relied heavily on the certification credentials of the lead installer or a phone call to the national office. “Hey, what about Joe, I see he’s rated as a ‘Masters II’?”

One must have minimum experience levels in order to attend training seminars and when the subject of certification arises, some first think about how to “ace the test” rather than the important journey of arriving there with the knowledge to take the test. Therein sits the need for apprenticeship.

Arguably, the most stringent requirement is from INSTALL, the International Standards & Training Alliance, UBC, with a four-year, minimum of 160 hours per year, of training. Their well-documented curriculum is highly regarded and quite comprehensive; various segments cover most installed flooring. An installer must complete each segment in order to advance to the next level. This training is recommended by manufacturers and product suppliers alike. Consult their website for training locations.

CFI, the International Certified Floor Covering Installers Association, requires a minimum of two years experience for the most basic level of installer training and skills assessment certification. For advanced certification, a minimum of four years. There are different requirements for those installers that specialize in residential installs versus more complicated commercial jobs where it’s not just the actual install but project management

 CFI is recommended by various manufacturers; some certification levels allow an installer to apply for other manufacturer certifications without additional testing. CFI also offers specific training, skills assessment certification on a variety of flooring. Their website also has a comprehensive list of upcoming training events.

There is no question that the intent of both organizations is to maintain their brand by insisting those that apply for training and certification meet minimum criteria. This avoids wasting time on both sides, lowers failure rates and ensures 90-day installer wonders do not proliferate. “Six months ago, I didn’t know which side of the carpet to install, but now I can run a seam, have my own truck and a crew of helpers.”

A curriculum of specific training with coverage of all aspects of the job is important. Fundamental industry knowledge, floor prep, seaming, and power stretching is only a part of the equation; reading a floor plan, spotting problems in a layout, written communication, and crew conduct.

The quest for a national standard for professional carpet installation has been underway for many years. In January, the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) announced that the BSR-IICRC S600 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Carpet Installation is available for public review and comment.You may contact the IICRC for a copy; I urge you to take a look.


Certification by Product Manufacturers

Some manufacturers offer a certification that covers a specific product and may be narrow in scope. A woven carpet manufacturer found the number of complaints and claims of defects resulted mostly from inadequate and improper installation. They began offering training seminars in exactly how to cut, seam, seal, and power stretch their products. The complaints dropped and they began to require certification to install their products. A graduate of their training was highly prized by those selling high-end patterned, woven carpet.

Many companies have their own technical personnel; others outsource seminars along carefully constructed guidelines. If you’re making a push into a specific product line, why not have at least one or two journeyman installers get training if offered and available? It will come in handy when there’s a question about how a product was installed. Such a manufacturer certification may allow you some help even if it is determined that you made some mistakes. At least you were trying.


Marketing and Certifications

Among organizations that ratecertifications, there is the issue of accreditation vs. certification. The general consensus has been this: if comprehensive testing is done with a documented pass/fail rate, that is a certification; think of the bar exam or the CPA exam. The most stringent requirements are those that have some legal basis; local or state government rules for electricians and gas pipe installers as an example. Most viable certifications have specific, hard-core standards, with reliable testing methods verified by third parties. If everyone passes, then maybe it’s an accreditation and should be judged as such.

Spend the money for training; make sure you have qualified people by sending them out to be certified. Think of it this way: either you’re going to spend money for training or will spend the money paying claims and rebuilding your reputation. You’ll pay one way or the other; it’s up to you. Add clout to your reputation and zip to your marketing with the right certifications.