The Masters Commercial Carpet Certification is a four-day certification program that is open to anyone in the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) with four to five years of on-the-job experience as an apprentice/journeyman. The curriculum is exclusive to IUPAT and will be primarily scenario-based, according to Robert Varden, flooring installation veteran, and CEO, International Floor Covering Training Alliance. 

Varden and Val Chestohin, lead floor covering instructor DC 16 FTI Northern California and Nevada, IUPAT, have been working to develop this program with input from various mills. The program is slated to launch in June. 

We reached out to Varden and Chestohin to discuss the program in more depth as well as the intended goals. The following are excerpts of our conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety at

FCI Magazine: Let's talk about this new certification that you are launching soon. 

Robert Varden: My background is in the commercial market, so most of the troubleshooting, the training, the things I did [like] opening schools around the world, you know a lot of that had to do with my background on the commercial side. I have always wanted to develop something that really had some meat to it. 

It amazes me how many times manufacturers would contact me to go look at something that when I’m looking at it, I think, I wish the installers were at a level to where they could communicate with the manufacturers. 

My goal is to raise the level of professionalism of the installer within this industry. But what if we could raise it to a level where the mill wouldn't have to send me out because the guy that’s out there on the jobsite has as much knowledge and [as many] skillsets as I do. 

Looking at the extensive nature of this certification— it's four days of very intense training—if I were to group together 200 installers just randomly out of the industry, I don't know if I would have two that would actually pass it. It's that extensive. So, the only way you launch something like this is if you've got the base like the IUPAT. 

They've got a four- and five-year apprenticeship program that whatever is not already in that curriculum, we built it into that curriculum. So, when they do reach that level of a journeyman, which are the only ones obviously that would test at this level, they do have those skillsets.

FCI: You stated that the certification will be ready to launch in June. Briefly, break it down for us. 

Varden: It’s ready to go now. We're just finishing up some of the paperwork, some of the written testing. It's going to be a lot of verbal testing along with written testing. Obviously, tons of hands-on skills. We wanted to develop it from the beginning. So, [we’re looking at it from the standpoint of] we're going on to a commercial project. 

The first thing you do when you approach a commercial project is you've got to do a great site evaluation. You’re gonna see what the issues are, what the finishes are, what the trades are, what kind of demo there might be, what kind of prep [is needed]. Without a good site evaluation, sometimes the installers show up, and they are unprepared.

From there, we went into site prep. Then, into the prep itself—issues, [adhesive compatability], starting the install, the types of carpets, the pattern carpets which you know a lot of guys struggle with, especially if you've got a deviation as far as a little bit of bow or skew or elongation, they throw their hands up and start screaming at the manufacturer. We would rather just partner them with the manufacturer. 

FCI:  Val, how long you have been the lead floor covering instructor for District 16?

Val Chestohin: I've been the lead instructor for about 12 years now, but I've been instructing for 17.

FCI: How do you see this folding into your current curriculum? 

Chestohin: There'll be a few things that we need to add or change, but for me and the apprenticeship, this gave us structure. So, as we bring the apprentices through, now we're going to train towards these certifications, both the carpet and the upcoming resilient [certification]. 

It gives us a structure; it gives us a goal to have the [apprentice/journeymen] be ready for that, and by them [completing the certification], they're going to be very versed in a lot of the trade.

FCI: This is exclusive to IUPAT union members, right?

Chestohin: Yes, correct.

FCI: Do you see this curriculum ever being utilized elsewhere?

Varden: As far as IUPAT's curriculum, that's something that's very private. There's so much time and energy and money put into the development of these things.

You know the mass majority of installers in the field today have not gone through formal training. Only groups like IUPAT and some of the other union groups have the ability to do that. You know they can go through other third-party trainings, which I strongly promote and recommend from all those entities that do it. You know the CFIs, the NWFAs and NTCAs. Having the ability to control what they have to attend, which is what IUPAT has,  is so beneficial and so significant to really be able to create and make the difference.

Outside of that world, it ends up being the individual that has that drive and, thank God, I was blessed with that drive to learn everything I can and seek every bit of knowledge and education I could. But unfortunately, we're such a small, tiny percentage of the actual installer base in the industry today. That's the goal, too, outside of what I do with IUPAT. Just trying to promote guys to get more training, to seek more training, to raise that level of professionalism within our entire industry. 

And one thing I can say [about] IUPAT and one of the reasons why I partnered with them and work with them is that they do have that mindset. Their mindset is they want to partner with the industry. They're all about training and education, union or non-union. They're all about raising that bar of professionalism. 

FCI: For decades, if anyone mentioned the word union, it was viewed negatively. How is it so different now than it was, say, 20 years ago?

Chestohin: With IUPAT, we're not totally locked into the union. A lot of our classes, we do train non-union. They're more than welcome to come to our training center and participate with the union. Again, the training people need that, and they're not getting it. There's a big void right now with the installer that they aren't getting formal training and the products are different than they were a long time ago, and they need that training. So, I think people are starting to look at us differently. 

In our region in the San Francisco Bay area—well, basically the whole West coast, we're on a lot of the bigger projects, and we do a lot of other things too not just with training and installing. We do a lot of community outreach. I'm on a project right now for a VFW. We're putting in some concrete floors for them. Now, we do a ton of community outreach. We want to help the whole industry. We want to make everything better.

FCI: Aside from the four to five years industry experience, are there any other prerequisites that are required before applicants can sign up for the certification?

Varden: The prerequisites are all going to be built into those apprenticeship programs. So, in other words, everything that we cover in that certification, any of that content information/technical stuff that's not already in the curriculum, they will go back and make sure it is so that by the time they reach that level of journeymen to test out at that level, they should know this stuff. 

Just giving you a little bit about certification. It’s a pass or fail. If they don't pass, they'll be given a complete evaluation. You know the whole bit about here's your weakness, here's what you need to work on, here's the area you need to study, so that when they come back, hopefully, they will pass it.

FCI: Do you think that this is going to be a requirement in the industry maybe in the future?

Varden: Obviously, for a journeyman to stay, he'll only get so many times to pass this, and if he can't pass, he will be [moved to a different area.] So, with them, it will be a requirement. You will have to be at this level to be a full-fledged journeyman within the IUPAT.  

Now, as far as that being something in the industry, as much as I would love to see it be, that would be something that would be far beyond my son's son's sons if it were to ever happen. 

FCI: What is the class capped at?

Varden: We could accommodate eight, but ideally six. Then, you start thinking, if you are only certifying six at a time, how do you ramp up and get guys certified? Well, they've got 100+ training centers. They've got 400+ trainers. So, this could be happening multiple times across the country. 

Our first one we're doing at the end of June. We're not sure if it's going to be at the San Leandro facility or at the Henderson training facility. Obviously, there's train the trainers that we'll have to do. Getting the trainers up to this level and making sure they're able to deliver the content, which at this level, even that will take a little bit of doing.

FCI: What do you think the frequency is going to be like. How often do you think you will offer these? 

Varden: With us launching the first one in June, by the end of the year we would have several of them in place, and then, toward the end of the year, have a master plan of here’s the date we want to have, here's the structure we have, here's how many guys we want to get in and certified by this particular date. 

Chestohin: In the Bay Area, we have over 300 apprentices. The other areas I'm not sure of their numbers. We're gonna gear it up, and then, when they turn out, we're gonna run all the apprentices through it. With the journeyman, we're gonna bring them back through our journeyman update training, which we have on Saturdays. So they'll be able to come in and maybe take a refresher, and then they'll come in for two weeks and take each certification. 

Then, we're going to tie it to their status somehow. We're still working on that—they're journeyman status. 

Varden: I don't know if you picked up on it. I am heading the carpet cert. Val is heading the resilient cert. We're going to follow right behind the carpet with the same thing on the resilient side.

FCI: Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Chestohin: I am really excited about this. We've been around for a long time, and we needed something like this to get us pointed in the right direction. I love the structure, and I feel this is gonna be a big benefit to our members. 

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