At the recent board meeting held in Nashville, Tennessee, the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) brought industry leaders together to celebrate 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 didn’t start its real work until 2021 due to the pandemic. The FCEF staff and board are pleased with the progress they’ve made in less than two years but are not losing sight of the work that is yet to be done.
“You can’t build an organization like this without putting down the foundation,” Don Roberts, chairman of the board, FCEF.
With that foundation laid, the FCEF is aware of the obstacles ahead and ready to tackle them head-on. The bulk of this fall’s 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 was confident that there were solutions to address all these challenges. Aaron kicked off the brainstorming session with a reminder that “a problem well defined is half solved.”
During the group’s discussion on how to spread awareness and make the flooring craftsman career appealing, they addressed the challenges all trades are facing and explored ways that 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,” shared Aaron.
In addition to ramping up social media efforts and continuing to market to guidance counselors, the group 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. During the group discussion, 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. The group also addressed 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 versus W2,” said Dave Garden, executive director of education, International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI), and instructor for FCEF’s pilot program at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.
Thanks to large contributions from industry leaders, FCEF has been able to lay the foundation needed and get many initiatives going, but without the support of the entire industry, they fear they will be limited in the progress they can actually make. FCEF is working to make supporting the organization flexible and simple for organizations and individuals.
“From corporate donations to tool and supply donations and the individual donations of $100 per month, every little bit helps us get closer to our goals of reversing the decline of flooring craftsmen,” stressed Aaron. “We need everyone to do their part so that we can ensure a bright future for our industry.”
In addition to brainstorming and discussions, the FCEF team shared the progress made on many fronts in the past six months. Kaye Whitener, director of operations, FCEF, highlighted the technical college programs taking place in January – an accredited 15-week flooring installation technician program at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, 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, Georgia and Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Indiana. Now that the program is accredited and the curriculum has been developed, FCEF expects to be able to roll out these programs at a much faster pace.
“Networking with the technical college community has been fruitful,” said Whitener. “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 that many students who choose a trade career path or study trade careers at a technical college are heavily influenced by their guidance counselors,” said Aaron.
FCEF attended the American School Counselor’s Association (ASCA) conference in July - the first time flooring has been represented at this event - and 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 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.
For more information, visit FCEF.org.