FCEF: Progress made in tackling installation crisis

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Floor Covering Education Foundationo
Kaye Whitener, Don Roberts and Jim Aaron of the Floor Covering Education Foundation

The history of flooring dates to 3,000 BC when the Egyptians developed stone construction with stone and brick floors soon to appear. The need to recruit and train installers seemingly has existed almost as long and yet it took until 2021 AD for help to arrive in the manner of the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF).

Why the wait? While flooring industry professionals have complained ad nauseum about the installation crisis, it has always been left for others to figure out. Or as Don Roberts, veteran flooring retailer and former Floor Covering Education Foundation chairman, likes to say: “Everyone wants to put the frosting on the cake, but no one wants to make the cake—to do the hard work.”

Created by the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) to bring awareness to the opportunities available within flooring, the mission of the Floor Covering Education Foundation is to recruit a new generation of installers and fund [through scholarships] new recruits and help facilitate available industry training that leads to job placement. It’s a tall order, and the FCEF leadership team led by Jim Aaron, executive director, and Kaye Whitener, director of operations, has by all accounts achieved more than could have been expected. But more needs to be done, and it will take the industry’s collective efforts.

Aaron said he understood the executive director position would be a “ginormous” task but nonetheless feels good that they have a plan in place and are headed in the right direction.
Piet Dossche, who serves on the FCEF board, delivered a rousing speech to industry principals at the group’s winter summit, urging everyone to rally for the cause.

“The [installation] crisis is here today and the time to act is now,” Dossche said. “Our industry can only grow if we can recruit professional installers; otherwise, growth will be stunted. It is up to us to inspire young people that it is a great way to make a living.”

Technical college program

Less than two years into its existence, FCEF can claim at least one major achievement, which is the approval and accreditation of the Basic Floor Covering Installation program. Created in partnership with CFI, CTEF and NWFA through the Technical College system, it has allowed college-age people to earn an associate degree in installation—the first major step to full-time employment. FCEF initially piloted a Basic Flooring Installation program at Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC). The 10- week program covered all major flooring types and taught students through hands-on learning. A second session offered a 15-week accredited course that took place in the fall.

In addition to GNTC, Atlanta Technical College (ATC) is also offering flooring instruction, which is embedded in a construction program offering students exposure to flooring installation along with other construction disciplines. Following accreditation of FCEF’s
basic installation curriculum, the group is set to bring it to scores of other technical colleges across the country next year. “I never imagined 20 months in that we would be spending so much of our time with the technical college implementation, but I feel great with what we accomplished,” Aaron said.

As the installation curriculum grows nationally, it will require more trained instructors. To that end, Dave Garden, chief training officer for CFI, has been recruiting qualified teachers—some from retirement—who can give back to the industry.

Financial support

According to the FCEF, $12 million to $15 million annually is needed for scholarships (and some marketing) to recruit students and assist with training. Several flooring manufacturers—Shaw, Mohawk, Engineered Floors, Mannington, The Dixie Group and AHF Products for starters—have already made significant financial commitments. In addition, CCA Global and Floor & Décor have pledged their financial support. Aaron and Whitener met with Floor & Décor brass in the fall of 2022 and came away encouraged.

“They love what we are doing and want to support it,” Aaron said. “They said to us: ‘Be  bold in your ask.’”

While some flooring entities may object to Floor & Décor’s involvement, Roberts said he
views this akin to a “rising tide lifting all boats. We would be expanding the pool of applicants so everyone can succeed.”

Whitener noted that the early backing from industry players has fostered positive momentum for fundraising efforts. Flooring retailers, for their part, have been asked to pledge $100 per store each month to help with recruiting efforts. Distributors are also making inroads as Salt Lake City-based Midwest Flooring will donate to FCEF coffers through a partnership with Welspun. Roberts said the industry for too long has operated in silos.

“My goal is to tear down these silos and have everyone doing this together,” he noted.

Recruiting efforts

While FCEF looks to build technical school accreditation nationally, it understands that all recruiting efforts are best served at the local level.

As Aaron noted, “Everything about this is local. Recruiting has to be local; training has to be local. The real magic formula that will produce results has to be done with us working in conjunction with local efforts. Let’s say we recruit a student who lives in Pittsburgh. He sees our marketing ads, raises his hand and says, ‘What do I do next.’ We connect them with CFI or NWFA or one of the other training groups, but they don’t have a location in Pittsburgh. The recruit may be responsible for 50% of the cost of attending one of the training sites [after FCEF scholarship is applied], which is kind of ludicrous to think that that’s going to happen. We have to go where the people are when it comes to training.”

When it comes to recruitment efforts, FCEF is leaving no stone unturned. Potential target
groups include immigrants coming from the southern border, Afghan refugees and certainly U.S. military veterans. Statistics cited by Aaron show service members who leave the military and return to civilian life seek a job in their hometown. Worker displaced by other industries are also being discussed. Aaron noted that a full-scale approach is necessary at a time when thousands of installers are retiring each year, and the average age of installers is 56.

“Now is the time to do something about it and take care of it before it’s too late,” he said. Roberts said once young people are made aware of flooring installation and its career potential, their interest perks up. “We get very good interest from the kids once we are talking about it, he said. The more people talk about it the better. At the same time, this effort will take time. This is a marathon, not a sprint—an Ironman competition where you have to persevere.”

FCEF has established a website (flooryourfuture.com) for those interested in the trade and to show the potential of a career in installation.

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Jan. 23/30, 2023

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