The Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) recently announced it opened a satellite office in Shanghai, China.

“A year’s worth of planning, negotiating and research has culminated in a partnership with the Shanghai Chemical Building Materials Trade Association (SCBMTA),” said Robert Varden, vice president of CFI. “Our new arrangement in China represents CFI’s first free-standing overseas operation.”

The new facility, which will be overseen by Chun Yuan Qi, director of the SCBMTA, opened its doors in September. Qi will report to Varden, who will remain based at CFI headquarters in the U.S. Introductory installation classes at the new facility are slated to commence in Q4 2017. The initial lineup of coursework will include courses in carpet, tile, and stone. All classes will be taught by certified CFI instructors who were trained by lead instructors. The Asian outpost will be offering a full slate of CFI classes in all categories of flooring by the first quarter of 2018.

“CFI has experienced phenomenal growth over the past few years,” Varden said. “We are clearly capturing the attention of the industry and making great progress toward resolving its installation crisis.”

FCI recently sat down with Varden to discuss the new training facility for professional installers in China.

FCI: How did partnership with the Shanghai Chemical Building Materials Trade Association develop?

Varden: We started communicating with a group from Domotex the year before last. Scott Humphry [president and CEO of the World Floor Covering Association] and I went to Domotex 2016 and we met with the group and started discussing the fact that they needed some education and training in China as desperately as we needed it here. So, we went back and forth via email and they had a representative come to Neocon last year where we had another face to face and again our goal.

We have done a lot of training in other countries—probably eight other counties—but it was situation where we just did training for a group. We did train them to train themselves. You know the old saying “You give a man a fish, you feed him for the day; teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime,” so that was the concept.

The representative went back from his group and they were all for it. During my last trip to Shanghai they already acquired the facility, and they showed me the classroom where we would do the hands-on training and where the offices would be, the whole nine yards. It’s being paid for by the association and maybe some government support. They would need at least two people to staff the facility. We finished up a memorandum of understanding and laying out the program and I will go down with one or two other trainers and maybe an administrative person and do the hands-on training.

FCI: How many people do you anticipate training?

Varden: I would not be surprised to see us train 150 to 200 people the first year. Our problem here in the U.S. is we have good training programs. CFI trains in every surface—hardwood, laminate, ceramic tile, carpet—and we have so many great programs. And if you look at other associations—NWFA—hey have a great training program— the NTCA—the problem is we don’t have the mechanisms to recruit people into these classes. Many times, we have classes that sit empty and we don’t conduct enough of them to make an impact. China is in a much better position than we are in the sense that they have many provinces, outside of Shanghai for instance, and many of those people from other provinces go directly into trades, working with their hands. They have the people to work the trades, but they don’t have the training and education in place to train them. We have the opposite; we have the training and education programs, but we don’t have the recruits to train.

FCI: Why is recruiting such an issue here in the United States?

Varden: As we have looked at this, we have worked with the many groups. Those kids are here; we’ve just done a terrible job of recruiting them. I have sat down with too many young kids over the last few years to discuss where they go looking for a job and how they look for a job. They don’t know how to cross over that wall to take advantage of the program. If you look at our high schools, and that’s one program we’re doing, this individual is going to be talking with high school counselors, they are geared toward colleges and let’s work your credits to get into college. They don’t have a program to help a contractor get into a trade. That doesn’t exist. But as we’ve spoken with different programs, we find that they’re starving for it. Many students aren’t going off to Texas A&M or other schools. If you look at these [college or university] education programs, you are looking at a multi-year cost for 12 months, 18 months, two years, four years, and student end up with massive student loans when they get out. We have programs that are five or six weeks that allows students to leave with 100 retailers ready to hire them. And they would make a decent living.

FCI: Where do you see the recruiting happening?

Varden: If you look at our industry in terms of flooring installers, we have a mass majority of installers in the country who are Hispanic. In my workrooms, I have worked with hundreds of them over the years and I have great relationships. The bottom line is they are best recruits out there. They will contact their cousin or their uncle, their nephew. They connect well and do a great job of recruiting each other, but we have to do more to get the word out.

FCI: What’s the model you’re using for the Shanghai training?

Varden: We took our five-week residential class. That class allows us to take a guy who has never installed before and in five weeks he has the confidence to go out and do a base grade carpet in a three-bedroom home, no problem. I ask any skeptics to come around our class in week four or five and see what these kids can do because our training is very precise. Showing an individual how to hold a tool, how to use a tool, the learning curve is so much shorter.