In an effort to introduce more young people to the hardwood flooring industry as a career option, the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) hosted a "Learn the Ropes" day at the NWFA Expo on April 14. Local area high school students were shuttled to the Tampa Convention Center where a panel of experts explained their own career paths into the flooring industry. NWFA Regional Instructors demonstrated how to bend wood for flooring applications, and the students went on a guided trade show tour.

According to Stephanie Owen, vice president, education, NWFA, the NWFA’s Emerging Leaders Council had been planning a student event at Expo since 2020. One of the group’s objectives is to advocate for careers in the wood flooring industry and develop new leaders. The group initially had the event planned for Milwaukee, with several schools scheduled to attend, and then the pandemic forced the cancellation of the entire Expo. The group was determined to fulfill its mission, however, so they set their sights on Tampa.

"For a first event, we couldn’t be more thrilled with the number of students that attended, and their level of engagement," said Owen. "The career panel presented a variety of paths to enter the wood flooring industry, and the students asked great questions. They also loved the demos with regional instructors and, of course, Kayleen McCabe was a hit. My favorite part was seeing them walk the trade show floor in their yellow t-shirts and having local Florida member companies track me down so they could talk to the students about job openings and connect with the chaperones and teachers for future engagement." 

Operating as emcee and moderator was Kayleen McCabe, contractor, TV host and marketer, who, over the course of her career in the trades, has experienced the employee shortage first hand. "We are still going into high schools, saying the only pathway to being successful is to go to college," she said. "That's not true at all." 

A group of flooring industry professionals served as a panel to talk briefly about their own journey in the industry and to answer any questions the students may have. Joshua Neuberger, director of marketing, Uzin Utz, kicked off the panel discussion. 

small_NWFA panel.jpgA group of flooring industry professionals served as a panel to talk briefly about their own journey. Photo: Beth Miller.  Neuberger got a four-year degree in business but ended up answering an ad in the paper for a sales position with a hardwood flooring sanding and finishing company. "My message is don't discount the trades," Neuberger said. "It's a wonderful industry to be a part of whether it's on the installation side or the business management and sales side of things."

Renee Tester, vice president marketing, e-commerce and digital, QEP, got her start in construction management and interior design. "Even though everyone of us up here are competitors in some aspect, we are a true family," she said. "This show is a really great opportunity to network, learn and understand."

Carlos Mangalo, program manager, National Flooring Contractors Apprentice Program, was encouraged to attend college by his father, but he quickly realized it was not for him. "With this apprenticeship program, we are bringing the next generation into the flooring industry to show them how to run their own business and how to be successful," he said. 

Getting his start in poker, Marquis Wright, owner, Mr. Wright Flooring, was introduced to the flooring industry through a neighbor. "There are so many different avenues you can go into in this industry," said Wright.

Christina Curry, owner, Florida Hardwood Floor Supplies, never though she would end up in the flooring world but now runs a company alongside her husband. "No matter what you think you are going to be doing in the future, nothing is set in stone," she said. "This is a very lucrative career."

According to Corey Cathcart, president, Integrity Floors, he never finished high school. He began finishing floors more than 20 years ago. "This will be hard work whatever you do, so make sure you like it," said Cathcart. "This is a great opportunity. You, sitting here, are the most wanted people in America right now, so prepare yourself, listen, and I hope you take something away today." 

Veronica Skowron with Atlas Floors spoke to the students about the unique and vast opportunities available in the flooring industry. "Because of what we do, we get the opportunity to travel internationally to tour a lot of different plants and mills to learn about their processes," she said. 

Dee Lenston, technical and training manager, Bona, tried out a multitude of career opportunities before landing in flooring. He spent two years in college playing basketball followed by playing basketball in the military in Asia, then moved on to accounting and ultimately ended up in flooring, starting as a hardwood flooring finisher. "What I recommend is don't limit yourself, said Lenston. "Don't put any roadblocks your way."

Following the panel discussion, NWFA Regional Instructor Todd McDonald led a hardwood bending demonstration to illustrate how to create a custom hardwood installation. "If you like to work with your hands and you like to see what you accomplish at the end of the day, this is a great career to go into," McDonald said. 

small_NWFA Kayleen at demo.jpgKayleen McCabe, contractor, TV host and marketer, shows students the finished bent wood product. Photo: Beth Miller.  Students were allowed to stand on the demo floor where McDonald walked them through the design and creation process. The demo floor was a custom installation created onsite at the Expo over the course of three days.
small_NWFA Todd leads demo.jpgLocal area high school students listen to Todd McDonald, regional instructor, NWFA, talk about the custom hardwood flooring installation built onsite at the Expo. Photo: Beth Miller. 

 After the hardwood flooring demonstration, the students were guided through the trade show, stopping at booths along the way to discuss the hardwood flooring industry and the career options available to them.

"It is going to be fun following these students as they continue to develop relationships with our members and hopefully establish careers in the wood flooring industry," said Owen.