By Ken Ryan
San Antonio—For most of its 26-year existence, the International Certified Flooring Installers (CFI) stood for professional training and certification. While those principles remain core to its values, times have changed. Today, CFI’s focus is on aggressively recruiting the next generation of installers.
That reality was evident here during CFI’s 26th annual convention, which also coincided with a meeting of the Floor Covering Leadership Council on installation. “Our DNA will always be education, certification and training installers, but we need to be more than that,” Robert Varden, CFI vice president, told FCNews. “That recruiting piece is becoming more and more of our DNA.”
While flooring industry executives generally agree that installation—both recruiting the next generation as well as raising the professionalism of existing installers—is the No. 1 issue facing the industry, not everyone is so quick to call it a “crisis.” Varden begs to differ. “Research tells us that in the next 10 years we are going to have to round up 180,000 installers,” he said, citing the number of floor layers who will be retired by then. “Knowing how many installers are coming into the business, it sure sounds like a crisis tome.”
The dearth of young installers trickling into the business comes at a time when many skilled labor trades are hurting as millennials pursue higher education or are uninterested in this career choice. “Kids come out of school today and don’t know how to build anything—they don’t know how to swing a hammer,” Varden said.
For its part, CFI is looking to seize opportunities wherever it can to educate young people on the opportunity that flooring installation provides. For example, the group is in discussions with Tidewater Community College in Virginia on offering a basic two-week installation course in the hopes it will generate enough interest to become a five-week course. CFI has also partnered with other industry associations (NWFA, FUSE, Informa, FCICA, etc.) to work together to find solutions. “Our success depends on our partners,” Varden said. “It’s going to take industry support.”
Laying the groundwork
Earlier this year, CFI held the inaugural Build My Future Flooring Edition in Plano, Texas—an offshoot of Build My Future in Springfield, Mo., which encompasses many different trades. Build My Future Flooring drew more than 100 high school students for a full day of hands-on installation training and learning about the business. “This event required 20 trainers—Mohawk brought eight—and these trainers paid all their own expenses,” Varden said. “This is just one piece of the puzzle that seems to work.”
Of course, no one is more acutely aware of the installation challenges than CFI installers themselves. Many of them have weathered their own crises—be it industry consolidation, the Great Recession or aging. Despite all that, this proud group stands at the ready to help pay it forward for the next generation.
A case in point is Dave Garden, president of Troy, Mich.-based Installation Services of Michigan, who has been with CFI since the early days. “If you look around this room, you won’t see that much difference, as our core [group] has not really changed—but our mission has changed,” he said. “It used to be that we identified installers and their skill levels. When I first got here, I just wanted to see how good I was. Now our mission is to train the world—train everybody on what a professional is. I’m proud of where we are going as a group—and we are just getting started. Check back with us in three years to see how far we have come as an organization.”
Donald Perkins, an installer who runs his own shop in Torrington, Conn., joined CFI three years ago at the behest of his father. “After the recession I made the decision to learn more and to do better, and that brought my dad and I to CFI. My dad, who had been with CFI back in the 1990s before leaving, was blown away at what this group has become in terms of education and programs.”
Perkins said being a certified CFI installer resonates with customers. “Being certified comes with great benefits as I’m connected with a professional organization that I can promote out in the market. It’s also a confidence builder for the customer to know that I am certified with a professional group.”
CFI has been expanding its global footprint in recent years via collaborations in Canada, India, South Africa and other countries. Last year, it established an office in Shanghai, where it has led trainings and certifications in the areas of carpet, hardwood, laminate, ceramic and resilient with the goal of raising the standards across the globe and expanding awareness about the importance of using certified installers.
At convention, CFI signed a memorandum with Kodat Institute of Technology & Enterprise (KITE) to launch an installation training academy in Thailand. KITE chairman Sabahat Chaudhry told FCNewsthe academy is going to be a place where the world of floor covering can connect. “Young people want to go to Thailand—it’s accessible to many continents,” he said. “This academy will lead into many exciting opportunities—bringing people on board, training them and connecting them with the opportunities in flooring.”
Varden said there is lasting benefit in establishing a school with dedicated personnel on the ground. “To me, it’s like the old saying: ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’ The No. 1 issue is reaching the youth and recruiting them—that’s what we’re here for.”
FCLC Task Force issues rally cry
By Key Ryan Robert Varden, vice chairman, FCLC, believes only an industry-wide effort can solve the installation crisis.
San Antonio—The Floor Covering Leadership Council (FCLC) Task Force met during the CFI convention here last month to explore next steps in combating the installation crisis that impacts the entire flooring industry.
The mission of this FCLC Task Force is to recruit 3,000 to 6,000 new flooring candidates and deliver them to the industry’s training organizations for the purpose of becoming the next generation of installers.
Robert Varden, vice chairman of the FCLC, told attendees that all flooring interests need to do their part to help ease the burden of skilled labor that is costing the flooring industry millions of dollars annually in projects that simply cannot be completed.
“Retailers are feeling the pain and I think some manufacturers are, too,” Varden said. “It’s going to take industry support. Everyone needs to wake up, get their heads out of the sand and do something.”
The task force is still in its infancy and needs to first set up an organizational structure. “The consensus seemed to be that setting up a 501(c)(3) was the best way to go,” Varden wrote to attendees follow- ing the August meeting. “Therefore, we have begun drafting initial bylaws.”
Varden laid out the next steps:
Step 1—Confirm that others within the industry are willing to financially support the initiative. “Once we have financial verbal commitments, our goal would be to have the coordinator hired and in place by the end of September or the beginning of November 2019.”
Step 2—Start interviewing for the coordinator position that was discussed during the meeting. The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) has agreed to absorb the expense of this individual up until the 501(c)(3) is established. Once established, funds can then be collected by the new 501(c)(3) entity to not only reimburse the WFCA but also to move forward on FCLC initiatives. “Our goal would be to have the 501(c)(3) structured and to be set up and in position to accept funding by Nov. 1,” Varden explained.
Step 3—Finalize the 501(c)(3). The group is looking for founding members to place on the board of this entity.
Step 4—Initiate funding efforts in order to put the marketing plan in place by Jan. 1, 2020.
Step 5—Coordinate efforts to facilitate a minimum of four Build My Future events in 2020.
Step 6—Seek other venues/ini- tiatives to further develop new pro- grams targeted toward the group’s goals and purpose.
Varden said he looked forward to working with industry players in an effort to correct an issue that has plagued the industry now for several years and continues to only get worse. “I applaud you for stepping forward to help make a difference,” he said.