Nashville, Tenn.—The Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) brought together industry leaders as the group held its fall board meeting here Nov. 17-18. The FCEF fall meeting celebrated the successes of the young organization but focused on pushing forward and exploring ways to address some of the industry’s biggest obstacles. While the FCEF was founded in 2019, the organization said it didn’t start its real work until 2021 due to the pandemic.
“You can’t build an organization like this without putting down the foundation,” said Don Roberts, chairman of the board, FCEF.
With that foundation laid, the FCEF said it is aware of the obstacles ahead and ready to tackle them head-on. The bulk of the FCEF fall board meeting was a brainstorming session focused on addressing the organization’s three largest challenges:
- Limited awareness of the flooring installation trade in the general population
- Connecting new trainees to quality jobs where they can continue to learn
- Continuing to raise the funds needed to make an impact on the installer shortage
With leaders from many of the largest and most successful companies in the flooring industry in the room, executive director, Jim Aaron, said he was confident there were solutions to address all these challenges.
During the group’s discussion on how to spread awareness and make the flooring craftsman career appealing, the challenges all trades are facing were addressed as well as ways the flooring industry can compete with trades that have been actively recruiting for years. “Every other trade is competition for the recruits we need and other trades are paying 100% of their training,” Aaron shared.
In addition to ramping up social media efforts and continuing to market to guidance counselors, the group said it discussed the need to further define the career path and highlight the aspects of a flooring installation career that are not offered by other trade careers—the artistry of the work and the fact that flooring is a part of the construction process that the end user actually sees.
Much of the job placement discussion revolved around the somewhat controversial topic of how installers are employed—W2 employees versus 1099 contractors. With a new generation of tradesmen, employers are seeing more desire for job security and benefits at the beginning of their careers. The group also said retailer representatives in the room explained that in order to shift from contractors to employees, they need to see the benefits and have clear guidance on how to make that transition.
Also addressed was the need to educate current installers and new recruits about the different models. “We need to lay out the different paths and teach the financial implications of 1099 vs. W2,” said Dave Garden, special guest and instructor for FCEF’s pilot program at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.
Thanks to large contributions from industry leaders, FCEF said it has been able to lay the foundation needed to get many initiatives going but without the support of the entire industry, the group will be limited in the progress it can actually make. “From corporate donations to tool and supply donations and the individual donations of $100/month, every little bit helps us get closer to our goals of reversing the decline of flooring craftsmen,” Aaron said. “We need everyone to do their part so we can ensure a bright future for our industry.”
In addition to brainstorming and discussions, the team shared the progress made on many fronts in the past six months. Kaye Whitener, director of operations for FCEF, highlighted the technical college programs taking place in January—an accredited 15-week flooring installation technician program at GNTC and a flooring elective option embedded in the construction program at Atlanta Technical College. Also confirmed for 2023 are programs at Piedmont Technical College in Atlanta and Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa. Now that the program is accredited and the curriculum has been developed, FCEF said it expects to be able to roll out these programs at a much faster pace.
“Networking with the technical college community has been fruitful,” Whitener said. “There’s a lot of interest out there to add this program and generate interest in flooring craftsmen careers.”
Another milestone for FCEF over the past six months has been the connection with school counselor organizations. “We know many students who choose a trade career path or study trade careers at a technical college are heavily influenced by their guidance counselors,” Aaron said.
FCEF attended the American School Counselor’s Association (ASCA) conference in July and said it has been working with the Association for Career and Technical Education to help counselors understand the benefits of a career in flooring and guide their students on making career decisions.
Throughout all the discussions during the day, the board of directors said it remained committed to the cause and was determined to build off the foundation created. Plans for 2023 include increased efforts to develop technical school programs across the nation, social media advocacy campaigns and guidance for retailers to activate on a local level.