If the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) wasn’t on your radar before, it should certainly be top of mind now. The group, whose primary mission is to bring together representatives from all aspects of the flooring industry to tackle the installation crisis, has been making the rounds at virtually all the major flooring industry conferences and trade shows to drum up awareness and support for its cause.
“There is no silver bullet; solving the installation crisis will take multiple efforts on multiple fronts,” said Jim Aaron, who took the reins as FCEF executive director earlier this year to spearhead the group’s mission—addressing the shortage of floor covering laborers.
Indeed, FCEF’s goal will require a collaborative approach. The group has been working in conjunction with industry-leading trade associations and convention organizers to network with professionals representing different segments of the industry and brainstorm with thought leaders on ways to recruit, educate and place floor covering installers. A prime example of this effort was the group’s participation in the recent National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) Expo, which co-located with Coverings, the largest North American ceramic tile and stone exhibition, in Orlando.
“Labor and material shortages continue to be a concern for many,” said Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO, during a panel discussion that included FCEF representatives. “In addition to the labor gap we’ve faced for years now, the pandemic has caused additional impact. NWFA has joined with FCEF to develop strategies to attract and educate new workers as we move forward.”
That spirit of collaboration is inherent in FCEF’s dealings with other parties and principals. At Surfaces this past June, FCEF held its first in-person board meeting with Aaron at the helm. Topics of discussion included ways to recruit and how to identify potential recruits, fundraising goals and initiatives as well as marketing. “Each board member brings a different perspective to the table,” he noted. “We all agree that a solution to the shortage of installers is essential to the industry’s continued success.”
Prior to the board meeting, several board members as well as FCEF leadership met with representatives from the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) and Georgia State Representatives. Aaron and the FCEF board said they strongly feel the absence of flooring installation as a course of study in high schools and technical colleges has perpetuated the consistent decline in the number of available flooring installers. The discussion focused on how flooring could become part of the curriculum offered in TCSG schools across Georgia. “We’re exploring all options in our quest to bring awareness to the opportunities in the flooring trade,” Aaron said. “If we can make this work in Georgia, we can replicate the program across the nation.”
Industry members are encouraged by what they’re seeing so far. “It’s exciting to see this all coming together,” said Bill Gaddis, FCEF board member and vice president of strategic sales, Mohawk Industries. “After years of discussing the problem and a delay due to COVID-19, we are excited to see action and all that Jim has already accomplished in his first few months.” To date, thanks to more than 100 sponsors and donors, FCEF has announced 24 scholarship recipients for a total of $57,000 (roughly $2,500 per scholarship).
Continuing the momentum FCEF has generated thus far, Aaron noted, will take a more sustained effort in conjunction with face-to-face meetings with interested parties and institutions. FCEF said it plans to continue participating in upcoming events in the flooring industry, and it encourages attendees to visit with FCEF members to learn more about how they can be part of the solution.
“We are starting to make headway,” Aaron said. “But we can’t do it alone. This is an industry problem and it’s going to take the support of the industry to fix it.”