A year ago, the National Wood Flooring Association conducted its annual Industry Outlook Survey, which provides important insights about how the wood flooring industry is fairing across the entire supply chain. At that time, COVID-19 was not on our collective radars yet, but there was something else in play that was having a significant impact on flooring businesses: a lack of qualified tradesmen and tradeswomen. In fact, nearly 70% of contractors responding to the survey reported having difficulty finding the right people to hire. And, compounding the difficulty in finding the right hires, nearly every contractor reported turning down work during the past year due to not having enough labor resources to meet the demands of adding another job to an already packed schedule.
Things have improved slightly according to the NWFA’s 2020 Industry Outlook Survey, but 57% of contractor survey participants indicate they still are struggling to find adequate skilled labor, even with the large number of people looking for work after being displaced by the pandemic.
The reasons are numerous, but one cited for decades is a lack of knowledge about the career opportunities available in the flooring industry. The NWFA is working to change that at all stages of the supply chain, and particularly on the contracting side. To that end, the NWFA spent three years working with the United States Department of Labor (U.S. DOL) to establish a federally approved Wood Flooring Specialist Apprenticeship program. The program is designed to provide employers with a detailed process for training and employing a skilled workforce, while providing paid, on-the-job training for individuals interested in learning the wood flooring installation, sand, and finish trade.
The Wood Flooring Specialist Apprenticeship is a hybrid program, consisting of an estimated 2,800 – 4,000 hours of instruction. The majority of the instruction is paid, hands-on skills training that occurs on-the-job. This training is supported with a minimum of 150 hours of classroom instruction, and 40 hours of online instruction.
Apprentices receive comprehensive training in the various aspects of wood flooring installation, sanding, and finishing, starting with the basics. This includes 160-240 hours of safety training, which includes topics such as personal protective equipment, tool operation, tool safety, personal safety, fire safety, and chemical exposure.
Once this training is completed, another 160-240 hours of jobsite preparation training takes place. Topics included in this training include evaluating the exterior of the home, evaluating the structure of the home, evaluating the interior of the home, evaluating the environmental conditions of the home, and subfloor preparation. Subfloor preparation includes wood subfloors, and concrete subfloors. Wood subfloor topics include flattening, overlaying, and safety. Concrete subfloor topics include addressing cracks, repairs, concrete flatness tolerances, flattening concrete through grinding and self-levelers, and safety.
Moisture testing is the next topic covered, with 80-120 hours of training required. Topics include identification and operation of moisture meters, identification and operation of thermo-hygrometers, concrete moisture testing, acclimation/conditioning, and vapor retarders. The vapor retarders sessions include identifying moisture sources and controlling them, types of vapor retarders and permeability ratings, sheet goods vs. liquid-applied vapor retarders, and safety.
The installation process and techniques topic involves 720-900 hours of learning. This section includes racking, nail-down installations, glue-down installations, floating installations, room layout (including center layout, wall-line layout, trammel points/3-4-5, and transferring lines through the entire job), parquet, borders and feature strips, medallions, remodels, existing floors, and safety. There also is a section for board replacements/repairs, with 80-160 hours of instruction.
Once the installation topics are covered, sand and finish topics can be tackled, starting with 80-160 hours of safety instruction. This includes topics such as personal protective equipment, tool operation, tool safety, personal safety, fire safety, and chemical exposure.
Sanding equipment training includes 200-320 hours of instruction, and covers belt sanders, split drum sanders, big machine sanders, edgers, buffers, rotary machines, multi-head sanders, maintenance/repair of sanding equipment, and safety.
The sanding process topic includes 720-900 hours of learning. This section covers abrasives, rough sanding, removal of scratches, flattening the floor, final sanding, detailing, filling, scraping, and safety.
The topics of finishes and sealers includes 300-440 hours of instruction and learning. Topics include types and classifications of finishes and sealers, safety data sheets, finish application, sealers, film-forming finishes, natural oil finishes, application methods, tools, and safety.
Another 80-120 hours of learning is committed to colorants, including instruction for stains, dyes, reactives, and safety.
Repairs are covered with 120-200 hours of learning for repairing scratches and dents, repairing colors, and repairing finish issues.
The final topic is maintenance and recoats, which includes 100-200 hours of learning.
The order in which this training is provided will be determined by the flow of the work on-the-job and may not be in the order listed. The times allotted to each of these processes are based on average estimated times in which an apprentice will learn each phase of the occupation. They are intended only as a guide to indicate the quality of the training being provided and the individual ability of the apprentice to absorb the training information in an average amount of time. Once the apprentice has completed all of the necessary requirements, he or she will be eligible to become an NWFA Certified Professional.
NWFA’s Wood Flooring Specialist Apprenticeship Program will create a competitive advantage in the labor market. The approved program also provides consistency across the industry and a path where new labor can earn as they learn, working while completing their apprenticeship with financial assistance. While it is a federally approved program, funding varies by state. Depending on your specific company designation, the federal government or the state where your company is based may be able to offer the employer and/or the employee financial support through workforce development grants, the GI Bill, and more. NWFA is working with every state to help identify and develop a pipeline of talent throughout the U.S.
Having a professional accredited three-year apprenticeship puts the wood flooring industry on par with other trades that are vying for the same talent in a shrinking pool of applicants. And with the added incentive of potential funding at the federal and state level, aligned with the NWFA’s well-defined path of online and hands-on training, this program offers a competitive advantage for attracting new skilled labor.
In the end, our goal as an association is to create a labor pool with consistent skills, where individual workers feel valued for their accomplishments. The whole industry wins, with fewer callbacks, replacements, and touch-ups because the labor pool is trained properly from the beginning of their careers.
For someone entering the workforce who does not want a college degree (and for some who go to college and still do not want to do office work), construction jobs actually pay better than most other industries, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
But this does not happen without a trained skill. The AGC notes that depending on the skill level and geographic region, entry-level residential construction workers make anywhere from $12 to $20 per hour, and that can easily double or triple in the first five years. Nationwide, average hourly earnings in the construction industry are $28.55 per hour. To attract labor, we have to compete with these kinds of salaries, and with an apprenticeship program, we can bring some of the brightest, well-trained people who have a love and passion for wood into the industry. With their help and your support, we can build a better, brighter, more sustainable future, both with product and with talent.
For more information about the NWFA’s Wood Flooring Specialist Apprenticeship Program approved by the U.S. DOL, visit https://nwfa.org/apprenticeship-program/.