By Tom Jennings, WFCA, VP of Member Services
Since the WFCA assumed the operation of The International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI) last fall, I have been receiving frequent inquiries regarding how we intend to address the problem of getting new blood into the flooring installation trade.
Unfortunately, the labor shortage exists in all facets of the installation industry, not just in flooring. Our first task will be to make the flooring category a desirable vocation, rather than being thought of as “just a job.” The majority of today’s installers entered the field as helpers who needed a paycheck, not because they had any particular skills or passion for the trade. Unlike sales or management, aptitude tests for entry level installers are virtually unheard of.
We’ve simply got to raise our requirements to elevate the trade from its current state. The entire industry needs to paint a better picture of the benefits of being a professional installer, including the pride of a job well done, in contrast to where many seem to view installation only as a necessary evil. It is apparent to me we need to increase not only the numbers entering the profession, but the overall quality of the applicants as well.
If we are not proactive in making training a reality for those interested in improving their abilities, limited installation capacities will eventually have a crippling effect on both sales and manufacturing.
The industry needs to be more supportive of installation performed well. With no meaningful method of enforcing right from wrong techniques, the emphasis too often resorts to price and speed, leaving little incentive for a job to be performed correctly. It seems the industry would rather reactively deal with problems than proactively work to avoid their occurrence. We shouldn’t leave the customer caught in the crossfire when a problem occurs. We can’t blame the installers here – they didn’t create the environment they operate in. Earning potential simply must catch up with the times, but only if performance expectations are raised as well. The pay rates for installation simply can’t all be the same!
While we are always on the lookout for grant monies, etc., it is critical that the manufacturing, distribution and large retailing groups invest in providing scholarship funds to offset the costs of training for installers. While our tuition is very competitive with other trades that offer training, the typical applicant doesn’t possess the financial ability to self-fund their schooling. If we are not proactive in making training a reality for those interested in improving their abilities, then limited installation capacities will eventually have a crippling effect on both sales and manufacturing.
Since there is no one dominate method of communication with the installation trade, it will be critical that all facets of the industry cooperate in spreading the word of any upcoming training opportunities in their trade area, whether these be designed for novices or more seasoned installers. Opportunities to advance skill levels will be available in 2016, unlike any year in my memory, but they will only be as effective as attendance allows. Seeing this happen will require a commitment from all stakeholders. We need your voice!
In conclusion, while the WFCA/CFI is eager to facilitate the training of the next generation of installers, the need is greater than we could hope to satisfy alone. It will require a significant investment of both time and treasure on the part of all involved. However, it is critical that steps are taken to improve the situation now! Procrastination will only serve to make the need more urgent and the task more difficult. Surely our industry has sufficiently learned by now that doing the same thing repeatedly will not produce different results!