By Becky Serbin, National Tile Contractors Association Education and Curriculum Director
The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) has a long-standing commitment to educate the tile industry. Over the last six years, the NTCA has diversified its education platform to not only include workshops, but regional hands-on training and NTCA University.
Workshops have been a staple of the NTCA education platform. These are three-hour programs, typically 5 to 8 p.m., at tile distributor locations across the United States. For years, NTCA had two trainers traveling the country to offer free training on various tile related topics. In 2019, we added two contract employees to also instruct with these programs, to allow us to reach more locations. This year, NTCA will have trainers on the road offering 140 workshops so we have added two more contract employees to get in-person training to more people.
For the first half of the year, workshop topics will include “Failures: Could it be Me?”; “Tile Matters: Best Practices for Pros”; and “The Ins and Outs of Layout.” Each three-hour workshop features a presentation discussing the topic with related standards and methods, followed by a break, and then the group moves into demonstrations or hands-on learning of the topic. During the second half of the year, NTCA will be introducing some new workshops with more hands-on learning components.
We realized that while we were reaching industry people with the workshops, contractors still needed more education. So, we developed regional training events, which are day-long programs with one hour of classroom instruction and the rest spent learning through hands-on instruction. Three programs are currently offered.
In the “Substrate Prep and Large Format Tile” program, the class utilizes ANSI standards and TCNA Handbook methods to properly check substrate flatness, prep floors and walls, install backer board, and set large format tile. “Substrate Prep for Gauged Porcelain Tile/Panels (GPTP)” gives the class the opportunity to prepare the surface for installations the next day. Lastly, “Standards-Based Installation of GPTP” teaches students the current GPTP standards, tools and how they are used for GPTP installations on floors and walls.
All three classes are limited to 20 attendees. Last year we had a contract employee driving around the country setting up all of the events; however the program has grown so quickly that this year he will be transitioning into a trainer role for these events. To see if NTCA trainers will be in your area, visit the NTCA calendar at https://www.tile-assn.com/events. Remember to sign up for the regional program as it is limited to 20 attendees!
NTCA University was developed in house for members. It is an online platform with tile installation courses for those who are new to the industry or need a refresher. These courses can be used as part of a training or apprenticeship program to ensure the learner is taught by-the-book methods and standards before they transition to hands-on or on-the-job learning. The site also offers business courses for the small business owner. All courses can be accessed through the NTCA website 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on any computer, tablet or smartphone.
NTCA first experimented with the idea of creating online courses that could be used for apprenticeship programs in 2014. The reasoning was the courses could much more easily be updated when needed compared to books. And with the accessibility of information from smartphones, we thought it would be a good idea to have this information available at the end-users’ fingertips. If they had questions while on the job, they could view the information immediately instead of waiting until they were back in the office.
NTCA University launched in 2016 with some introductory tile courses to teach correct skills and the standards behind them. Each of these courses also has a quiz associated with them that must be passed with an 80% or better score to receive a certificate of completion. We thought NTCA University should not only be used for new hires but for tile setters who transitioned into owning their own businesses. In most cases, they did not have a background in business and needed help understanding how to run one efficiently, so we added business courses such as accounting, finance, marketing, etc.
While we were developing courses for NTCA University, we also wanted to have a way for members to use these courses in conjunction with their own training programs. Since we had some members interested in US DOL-approved apprenticeship programs, we worked toward and achieved approved national guidelines for tile finisher and tile setter programs. Members can use these resources to help develop their own in-house programs or to apply for and register their own US DOL-approved programs.
Depending on their program, members can have students watching courses on their own, then coming in for classroom skills training; or they can watch the course together, discuss it and then move into classroom training. Either way, the online courses need to be used in conjunction with physical training and on-the-job learning to be successful and fully understand how to set tile.
While most members do not immediately enroll a new hire into all of the NTCA University courses, we do have members that use basic safety and introductory courses on-site to introduce a new hire to the trade before they are allowed on any jobsites. NTCA University is a way for members to document and test the individual to ensure they understand what they are viewing. Once they know the new hire is going to work out, they can ask them to start taking more courses to go along with what they are learning on the job.
The one thing I tell all business owners who call me and ask how to use NTCA University or start their own training program is that, while the courses on NTCA University are very good, members still need to be involved in the development of their employees. Don’t just give them access and walk away. You want to engage your employee, make sure they understand what they are learning, and how it is applies to your company’s work.
While we have always offered this program as a member benefit at a very low cost, we conducted an extensive search over the last year to find a way to make this a better member benefit. We ultimately found a new platform to host the University, allowing us to offer a free login to each of our contractor and Five-Star Contractor members. With so many of our members being one- or two-man shops, we felt this would truly be a benefit they can use. So now the main contact for these members has free access to take any courses on the site. With this new platform and access for the primary member, we have also added previously created “toolbox talks” free to members to use as needed.
NTCA University is still continuing to grow. We are still adding courses for the apprenticeship program and mapping out what additional courses and programs will be beneficial to members once the apprenticeship courses are complete. We look forward to expanding this offering to members.
The NTCA continues to look at new training opportunities to educate the tile industry. Visit our website at www.tile-assn.com to see what other opportunities are available, and what to learn from our trainers and—most importantly—your peers.