Mission impossible: Novel ways to recruit, train installers

February 08, 2018

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 6

By Reginald Tucker

 

So much has been said about the “installation crisis” that retailers are probably weary of talking about it. Nonetheless, it’s a situation that virtually all facets of the industry must deal with.

Like any problem, different people handle challenges differently. Some are taking a grassroots approach, while others are looking to leverage the scale and power achieved only through partnerships.

Following is an overview of how some business owners as well as associations are tackling the installation issue.

Pay to play
“Quite frankly I’m tired of hearing people complaining about not be able to find installers,” said David Meberg, president and CEO of Consolidated Carpet, one of the largest commercial flooring contractors serving the New York tri-state area. “We hire good installers and we pay them a respectable wage. We have very little turnover with our crews, which ensures we provide quality for our clients.”

Dealers on the residential side are also becoming more aggressive in this regard by being more proactive. “We went out and recruited two of the best subcontractor installers we could find and brought them on board as employee installers,” said Mike Foulk, owner of Foulk’s Flooring America, Meadville, Pa.

Pool resources
The installation problem is such that it cannot be solved by any one dealer, group or association alone. That’s why industry-leading organizations are pooling their resources—which includes intellectual capital as well as training facilities and funding—to address the issue. Case in point is the World Flooring Covering Association’s merger with the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) nearly four years ago. Actively recruiting the next generation of floor layers is priority No. 1, and the groups are developing training programs to do just that. “These programs are really starting to take off,” said Robert Varden, vice president of the CFI. In the past year, CFI has graduated three classes (or 40 people) in Cincinnati and four in Forney, Texas. Some of these students had no previous training in installation; and yet, after five weeks of rigorous course work and mentoring, they were able to graduate and start working.

Welcome veterans
Various industry associations are looking at new potential labor pools for installer candidates. This includes veterans who are returning home looking for work after tours of service. Last year CFI announced a partnership with Legacy Flooring of Raleigh, N.C., to help transitioning veterans find a career in the floor covering installation trade. Under their non-profit entity, Leave A Legacy Foundation, Legacy Flooring’s mission is to assist the CFI with the Next Generation initiative to recruit new installers for the floor covering  industry. How the program works: Their personnel will work with the various military transition offices in an attempt to attract veterans and their families to the training classes.

“Legacy Flooring has always prioritized hiring veterans,” said Ian Durant, owner and CEO, Legacy Flooring. “CFI has been the gold standard for flooring installation training for more than 23 years so it made perfect sense to align with them.”

CFI’s Varden sees this as a big step in recruiting and training installers while at the same time helping veterans transition back to civilian life. “By establishing a network of donated service providers and military spaces, our partner, Legacy Flooring, will help CFI bring students much closer to a classroom. This will help drive enrollment by identifying new training spaces with a focus on underutilized military property.”

Other groups have launched veteran recruitment programs of their own. Last year INSTALL and Helmets to Hardhats (H2H) forged a partnership calling on INSTALL contractors to sponsor veterans with the goal of bringing new skilled workers into the floor covering industry through an apprenticeship program. The partnership has since been actively recruiting veterans in both the U.S. and Canada and has seen tremendous results. (At the outset of the partnership INSTALL and H2H set a goal of enrolling at least one veteran into the INSTALL apprenticeship program per month in 2016. Since April of 2016, INSTALL has entered more than a dozen veterans. Additionally, more than 80 veterans have shown interest in an apprenticeship. To that end, INSTALL is connecting them with some of their contractor members to explore possible career opportunities.)

“Entering the H2H program was a broadening experience,” said Tim Guinns, floor covering installer at Strahm, Fort Wayne, Ind. “I learned new skills and different ways of dealing with people—a sharp contrast from military routine. Through H2H I was put on the fast track in the INSTALL apprenticeship program to become a journeyman and was able to develop the skills I needed to perform in the field.”

Learn online
Industry-leading associations are looking to make training more accessible for potential future installers—as well as experienced floor layers seeking to improve upon their skills and certifications—by offering online training in addition to field work and apprenticeships.

Since the National Wood Flooring Association launched its NWFA University a year ago, more than 15,000 online courses have been completed. NWFA University offers a combination of online and hands-on training for wood flooring professionals.

“The engagement with our online learning platform has been overwhelming,” said Michael Martin, NWFA president. “Having 15,000 courses completed in just one year certainly has exceeded our expectations, but what’s even more impressive is when you realize what that number equates to on a daily basis: That’s more than 40 courses completed every single day. That’s just an amazing level of participation.”

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