October 23/30, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 10
By Steven Feldman
We forever talk about the shortage of installers, to the point of often dubbing this the “installation crisis,” but how many of us are doing anything about it? I mean, many retailers throughout the country are finding innovative ways to recruit, train and retain mechanics, but unless you’ve spent the last decade burying your head in the sand like an ostrich, you would agree this situation will only get worse. At the recent National Floorcovering Association (NFA) meeting in Newport, R.I., someone told me the average age of a floor covering installer is 57. If that is true, the situation is more pressing than we think.
Talking to Dean Thompson, president of the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, a few days ago at the group’s fall meeting, he feels there is an immediate need for extensive research to be undertaken so we can all gain an accurate handle on the landscape—number of installers out there, average age, attrition rate, number of new people breaking into the field, etc., layered on top of industry growth forecasts. Once the picture is framed, it might be easier for the industry to come together to develop a plan.
The discussion has always centered around where the responsibility falls. Sure, the installer works for the retailer, or the independent installer is commissioned by the retailer. But a dearth of qualified installers impacts everyone across the chain, including the manufacturers. Without qualified mechanics their products cannot be installed properly.
Stay tuned for more on this in upcoming issues of FCNews. But for now, let’s talk about what some retailers are doing. For instance, Deb DeGraaf, DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich., is looking to develop an internship program for installers. She is attempting to get with the local high schools and recruit new installers because of the need to develop a program to get people interested. Many high school seniors don’t want to go to college and sit at a desk. They want to learn a trade. And we need people to learn our trade.
That’s just one part. There are also veterans in her area who have the GI bill to use, but those funds currently can’t be used for training for anything in our industry. So DeGraaf wants to bring some attention to that and figure out how they can allocate those funds toward our industry. She feels if a program can be developed where young vets who come back from serving our country can be recruited, placed in the field with one of their seasoned installers and get them into a training program, maybe through WFCA or CFI, it would be a good start.
Others are also being proactive. Jim Walters, Macco’s Floor Covering Center, told me the company has had some success in attracting young people into the trade, but it’s been more on the hard surface side. Carpet is still a challenge, he said, because he believes hard surface is better perceived as a trade. Like DeGraaf, the retailer is reaching out to the high schools, but Walters is finding more success in the rural communities as opposed to the cities. He has no idea why. He said it seems like the young people in the rural communities have a great work ethic, surmising that perhaps growing up on a farm, they may have had more experience working with their hands. Whatever the case, he said the wage scale has gone up to the point where it’s a good career for that person who has that skill set to work with their hands.
This is an issue that will not simply go away. It’s time for us all to step up.