The readers speak out.

Dear FCI,

A "few more" qualified installers has been a desire for most carpet retailers during the past several years. With a strong construction and remodel economy driving the demand for installers, retailers are limiting their ability to schedule installation. The upside is that most metro markets are rewarding quality installers with better pay and more work. The downside is that the industry could sell more carpet at higher prices if qualified installers were available. Rarely a month goes by without another opinion on "the problem" being printed in our industry trade publications. For the record, here's my view.

Attracting new installers, and keeping experienced professionals in the trade, involves many complex issues. Driving down the numbers of installers are: high demand by related trades; physically demanding work; low initial pay; and several less-evident factors, including employer/contractor relationship laws. But in my opinion, the true gating issue to attracting and keeping installers is a lack of structured, formal training. Expanding the ranks of skilled carpet installers is highly dependent on the local community of workrooms, retailers, and others to establish a sustained training presence.

This statement recognizes that apprenticeship and ongoing union training programs already exist across the country. In most respects, the union model of apprenticeship and continued education for journeymen fulfills the need for a sustained approach to training. The union model recognizes that: a) training has a cost, b) training is a responsibility, and c) the customer is appropriately expecting to pay for a skilled, professional installer. Unfortunately, the union training programs are exclusive to their membership, and service only a portion of the commercial and residential sectors. The majority of non-union businesses that employ installers and independent contractors do not include an allowance for training in the price of their goods or labor. Ignoring training (and the associated cost) has driven formal training opportunities to near extinction, and created attendance barriers to the few installation clinics that are available.

I also recognize the local floor covering associations and CFI chapters that have scheduled training programs in their communities. National industry associations and their members also dedicate hundreds of hours per year to installer training. The FCICA offers the FIT program, which enables businesses to implement their own installation skills training program. The WFCA offers the similar RITE program, with an excellent curriculum and training assistance. The CFI continues to dedicate a hefty part of its budget and large volunteer force to installer training. Carpet mills and manufacturers also dedicate resources to training. These successful manufacturers employ quality trainers that do a great job. Training clinics are scheduled or available by request.

However, the traditional barriers to getting most of the training services mentioned above are travel, time, and money. The installer usually has to travel to a distant location for an in-depth course, or a trainer comes to his location for a "clinic". Either way, the candidate, helper, or practicing mechanic must make a commitment to travel and/or take time away from the job to get the training. This attendance dilemma is a problem of access. It's about allowing the installer, usually low on cash and time, to take a course when the installer is ready and available. The courses need to be inexpensive, available in "off" hours, and on a repetitive schedule. I believe this will require the courses to be institutionalized; i.e., an organization with paid administrators and instructors. The program should be affiliated with a local vocational technology school, a junior college, or some equivalent institute that has an educational mission and, as such, staying power. Similar classes in automotive technology, welding, machining, cabinetry, etc. come to mind. I may be dreaming, but it seems reasonable that a quality program with evening and/or weekend classes will attract enough installer-students to survive and prosper, especially if the local retailers, distributors, contractors, and workrooms support it.

Add a conservative amount of public funding to pay the instructor - bilingual when appropriate - and administration. What I've proposed here appears to be a workable plan. No doubt it’s been implemented in some communities. Sincerely, Robert Zajdel Orcon Corporation