January 16/23, 2017: Volume 31, Number 16
By Ken Ryan
Various sectors of the industry are working closely to tackle the two-headed installation crisis—an aging workforce coupled with the challenge of finding the next generation.
Leading the way is the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), which believes installation-training programs should be created and funded at the industry level and executed at the local level. “My experience is installers will not travel a great distance to attend training classes,” said Tom Jennings, vice president of professional development, WFCA. “In addition, many installers do desire to improve their skills but are simply unaware of the opportunities that exist. It is critical that local dealers and distributors make training as publicized and accessible as possible to reach the greatest audience.”
In some cases, that is already happening. For example, retailers like Fike Brothers, Yeagertown, Pa., look for early opportunities to recruit installers. Denise Fike, CFO, has cultivated a relationship with the faculty of local vocational schools in her market. Fike and her staff visit the school, talk with students about opportunities in the trade and even conduct installation demonstrations. “You have to start at the high school level to give them a taste of what it’s like,” Fike said. “We go in with a two-week program to whet their appetite.”
Taking that strategy to another level, Tom Jacobi, owner of Jacobi Carpet One, Hastings, Neb., utilizes what he calls “guerilla recruiting.” He leaves no stone unturned and does outreach with the Nebraska-Iowa Flooring Association, the Department of Labor in Nebraska and the Central Community College Hastings Campus.
“You look around to find young men who need some guidance and you put your teeth into them and provide the proper employment plan. We start in the high school shop classes, which are geared more to the construction trade and carpentry.”
Other retailers take a different approach. Richard Quinlan, co-owner of DownRight Floors, Abbotsford, British Columbia, strays away from traditional online job searches. Instead, he relies on friends and colleagues to recommend people of character who could fit the culture of DownRight Floors. The skills part, he says, can be taught. “I would rather find someone who is raw but has the people skills all day long than someone who has the mechanical skills but can’t deal with people.”
Beyond searching for installers, some retailers are developing creative incentive programs to entice both current and new employees. Matt Andrews, service manager/scheduler, Allwein Carpet One Floor & Home, Annville, Pa., said the company has upped its wages for hourly employees and implemented newer ways of paying some of its teams. He also looks to hire in pairs as a way to incentivize his experienced teams to split up for a period of time to train the new guys. “We have a modified apprentice program where we give them benchmarks to work toward.”
Along the same vein, Carpetland USA (The Langan Group), Davenport, Iowa, encourages continuous training, sponsors mechanics to attend installation training seminars and has raised the bar in terms of compensation. To continue its growth the retailer acknowledges it must ensure its mechanics are motivated and satisfied. “We are very aware we have to keep them happy,” said Doug Bertrand, executive vice president. “We feel if we show them they are important they will be loyal to us.”