I have had the privilege of attending multiple training events over the course of the last year or so. Each time, I learn something new about the trainers, the participants and flooring installation. Those who take the time out of their busy workdays to support flooring installation education in some capacity understand the commitment involved and the value in the knowledge exchange. In March, the Certified Flooring Installers association put on multiple trainings in Nashville, Tennessee at Buddy Allen Carpet One Floor & Home where a wide range of ages, ethnicities and experience levels came together for one purpose—to learn.
"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young,” said Henry Ford. Jennifer Ratliff, installation manager, Buddy Allen Carpet One Floor & Home reminded me of this quote when I asked her about the importance of flooring installation education.
Right now, so many organizations and associations are working hard to create awareness surrounding the trainings they offer as well as revamp current courses to reflect the ever-changing floor coverings being produced. These courses are an opportunity for installers of any experience level to fill gaps in their knowledge and receive formal installation training.
“Installation is the crux of what we do as an industry,” said Steve Abernathy, COO, World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). “If it's not installed, it really doesn't matter what anybody else up the supply chain actually does. You can make all the products you want. You can sell all day long, but if you can't get it on the floor, then, it's all for naught. So, when you look at the importance of installation to the industry, it is the final, most critical piece of the whole thing, and all of that good work that's done above that can just fall apart if installation is not done properly.”
In the training I attended, 12 flooring installers learned how to properly install hardwood, laminate and luxury vinyl plank (LVP). The class was taught by Efren Llamas, technical application specialist, Taylor Adhesives; Roland Thompson, owner, Thompson Flooring, Installation & Consultant Services; and Bryan Artioli, owner, Artioli Floor Covering.
Artioli, like Ratliff and Abernathy, believes that training is integral to the success of the flooring industry. As a third-generation installer, he spent many years installing high-end natural fiber carpet but would go on to work as a consultant for various large flooring dealers. However, with the need for more highly skilled trainers, Artioli has been pulled back into the fold and now spends his time teaching.
“When I see that light bulb go off, I know that young man or woman is now going to go on to make better decisions, be better, make more money for their family and have more pride,” said Artioli. “I want to be sure they understand they are an artisan. They are not told that enough, and I'm here to help.”
Taylor Adhesive’s Llamas started with CFI in 1998 and traveled wherever he was needed. His current role with Taylor allows him to continue to do trainings across the country. For this particular set of classes, he was purposefully brought in for his ability to teach in Spanish.
“It's been amazing with the guys to see them grow from where they started to where they finished, and half of them did not understand why they needed to do this,” said Llamas.
Some of the knowledge gaps witnessed by the trainers were proper glue application, proper expansion and proper balancing. According to Llamas, one student admitted that he struggled with slivers in his flooring installations; however, he now knows how to pre-balance and perform pre-layout properly.
“You can see that light bulb—that spark—coming from all the little stuff that they did not know,” said Llamas. “[They realize] how easy it is, but no one ever showed them.”
Participating in the class, AJ Moore, owner, Floors By Moore, is a fourth generation installer who had the trade passed on to him much like a large majority of tradesmen and women. It started with his great grandfather in 1950. Moore greatly values this legacy and even has a photo of his great grandfather finishing a hardwood floor on his business card.
“I always wanted to know more; I've done this for the biggest part of my life,” said Moore. “I got out of it for a while, but when I came back, I decided I wanted to know as much as I can. I want to be as good as I can be. I feel like I'm able to do good work, and I’d like to have the paperwork that says it.”
According to Llamas, obtaining flooring installation certifications gives participants a level of validation that signals to their customers that they have received professional training. Further reinforcing the quality of training that the participants receive is a lifetime guarantee provided by Taylor Adhesives on all of its products to anyone who completes a CFI course.
Jeff Roesner, owner, Artisan Wood Tile Stone, has 30 years of installation experience under his belt and got his start as a wood guy, but he moved into tile due to the demand for it in his area. According to Roesner, the amount of hands-on training in the course was surprising and much appreciated; he enjoyed the trainers and recognizes the value in the training to help him set himself apart from others.
“I’ve got years behind me doing a lot of this, and we have a lot of crews [in my area] that should not be installing some of these products,” said Roesner. “It’s not only trying to stay a step ahead so that customers can see my work but also have that accreditation behind me, showing that I’ve done the proper schoolwork and completed the training for it.”
The investment in bettering the current installer pool as well as securing the next generation isn’t possible without the help of retailers like Buddy Allen Carpet One Floor & Home. According to Ratliff, Buddy Allen’s owner Zach Allen is a proponent of flooring installation education.
“Zach Allen firmly believes in educating and investing in his employees and passing that down to installers,” said Ratliff. “I think that’s why they’ve been able to stay in business coming up on 60 years.”
Buddy Allen incentivizes its installers to attend trainings. Three of the students in the CFI hardwood/laminate/LVP class work for Buddy Allen. Two are full-time employees while one is a subcontractor. For full-time employees, Buddy Allen covers the cost of the class. Subcontractors are given a bonus to cover training costs if there are no incidents within six months of passing the class.
“I do a fair amount of certifications and am really impressed with how the owner of this company stepped up to the plate, having his installers at the weeklong training,” said Thompson. “It was nice as a trainer to see the installers come in looking forward to the class because the owner was 100% behind them, willing to do what it takes to give them the best training possible.”
According to Ratliff, Buddy Allen Carpet One Floor & Home is looking to create a more structured mentoring program for their flooring installers. This means they will be hosting more training events in the future to ensure that education continues to move forward in their area.
“We don’t want to sit back and hope someone is educating,” said Ratliff. “We want to be on the forefront, leading the education. These are going to be our next 40 years of installers, so we better make sure we educate them.”
CFI is celebrating its 30-year anniversary this year. In that time according to Abernathy, the association has trained more than 40,000 individuals across the country.
“So many of our installers today have never had formal installation training,” said Abernathy. “They've either learned it from someone else or tried to figure it out on their own. That's why you get such variability in the job is that there's no formalized way of doing it. So, the type of training that CFI does is to help bring that formalization to it. There are many different ways of installing flooring and many of them are right in terms of the way it's done, but how you do it in the sense of following the manufacturer's recommendations and following the standards that have been developed for it, that's a different thing. I may cut a board differently than somebody else cuts a board, but at the end of the day, when the job is finished, there's a certain set of rules and standards that should be followed for that product to perform the way it's designed. That’s what CFI does. Formalizing that education and teaching things the right way helps folks—even if they have been in the industry for many, many yearslearn some things they might not have learned along the way.”
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