Training train never stops

Installers need constant education to do jobs right

THE FIVE Ws HAVE NEVER SEEMED MORE URGENT when it comes to being trained on floor coverings.

Why do we train? Who gets training? When do we train? Where do we train? What products should we train on?

There is so much to learn, but luckily there are still experts out there to teach you how to get the job done right, no matter what surfaces you’re applying.

Why we train is almost self-evident these days — flooring technologies are changing so quickly that old methods just don’t apply anymore. Lee Senter, president of the Canadian Flooring, Cleaning and Restoration Association (CFCRA) of Vaughn, Ont., has witnessed many changes to the mix of products available over the years.

“Flooring products change both in the materials that they are made from and in the manner in which they’re made,” says Senter. “As a result of that, you must stay up to date with the training to know how to properly install these products.”

Senter likens floors to cars, where a couple of generations ago a mechanical handyman could repair a car. “You can’t repair a car in the same way now with the same skills you had 40 years ago,” he says. “The problem that we have right now is that there has been so little modern-day training provided to installers.

“Some people are still installing wood and carpet the same way that they did 30 or 40 years ago. Despite the fact that carpets aren’t made the same and the wood planks are not the same widths. You can’t do it, and those that do are doomed to failure.” Senter’s message is that at minimum you should be kept abreast of the latest changes.

Chris Maskell, c.e.o. of Surrey, B.C.-based National Floor Covering Association (NFCA), agrees. “Back in the day it used to be petroleum based, tar-based mastics and blackout adhesives,” says Maskell. “They would stick to anything forever and give you a moisture barrier at the same time. Now, it is all water-based adhesives and they do not present a moisture barrier. If you don’t know that through training, you are going to spread adhesive like you used to do back in the old days. The result is going to be a disaster.”

WHY THEY SHOULD TRAIN is equally important to both tile and stone installers and sellers, according to Dacia Woodworth, architect and design community liaison of the Natural Stone Institute based in Oberlin, Ohio. “Training is absolutely necessary because stone is so diverse,” she says. “The properties are different between different types of stone — even within the same types of stone. For instance, the classification of marble is probably as diverse as the number of insects or the way somebody makes a cake. There is so much to learn about stone properties in order to be successful in the way you implement them, use them or apply them.”

Woodworth adds that there is so much diversity in the size, the shape and the thickness of stone in flooring applications, and asks: “How is it installed? What is the underlayment? In cladding applications, is it tile, interior, is it a wet area, a dry area, is it exterior? Is it anchored or thin and adhered? In order for them to be successful, it is really important that retailers and designers, and that everyone understands how to use natural stone.”

AS TO WHO GETS TRAINING, why not everybody? However, the type of training should vary by professional classification. After all, the installer and the interior designer apply their skills in different ways. Moreover, satisfying the client is the goal of every project, notes Ryan Fasan, creative director at Bellavita Tile in Delta, B.C., and a distribution veteran with service specification and inside and outside sales experience. Fasan also came by some of his training through apprenticing to a pair of German master tile installers, so has fused knowledge from the field with his sales familiarity.

“What I have found is that there is a huge disconnect between either homeowners or design professionals, the materials selection and the installer. In a lot of cases, the concepts weren’t applicable in a real-world environment. I just knew that often times my actual cost was a lot higher than my forecasted budget and/or I would have to make compromises on site.”

Maskell echoes Fasan’s concerns. “Another aspect to training is training the general contractor to what is actually necessary for flooring to go down,” says Maskell, “and not become a disaster at the eleventh hour as it so often is. Because there is no training around process — what is actually required on site to have the floor covering installation continue as scheduled.”

Senter observes that training leads to learning faster and more efficient ways of doing things. “You want to learn those new things and there often is an element of sales with a lot of these things. People like to buy from knowledgeable people. When you are trained and knowing the ins and outs of a product, it makes it much easier to sell.”

So, within your own business it is very important to know your product, according to Senter. “To know both the selling points and the technical points — so much is sold in style and colour.” But after establishing that a product is esthetically pleasing, it’s important for people to understand what products will work with each other and what won’t. “For example,” explains Senter, “you can’t have a laminate floor in a moist basement. It will fail no matter what you try to do.

“It is the same idea with vinyl plank. If you walk into a house that has ceiling-to-floor windows all around the sunroom and you want to put vinyl plank floor in there, it is doomed to fail. You should be trained to know that that product might be able to receive some sunlight, but all day and it’s just going to fail. I think the in-house training is very, very important for sales staff to know which one of your products is applicable for the right scenario.”

WHEN AND WHERE TO TRAIN is key for flooring businesses that want their employees to service customers, so they become repeat clients. “John the salesperson, or the dispatcher or manager needs to go once a year,” says Maskell. “But the company that he works for needs to send someone else on a regular basis. The company is constantly training others, so the individual staff member isn’t bogged down, and it becomes a corporate cultural thing. John comes back and he’s got something to say and once a week at a board or sales meeting he shares the information. That is a good way to disseminate stuff.”

CERTAINLY, ONLINE TRAINING offers the greatest flexibility for professional development, something the Natural Stone Institute (NSI) delivers through NSI University, in addition to its face-to-face training at trade shows and road tours.

“Retailers don’t often train their staff as well as they could,” says Woodworth. “That is why it is great for them that we have the resources such as online training and CEU (continuing education unit) programs. They can go online and take our Stone 101 class as part of their onboarding for a new employee.

“We are a great resource for designers and contractors and retailers, as well as employees of retailers.” In Canada, TTMAC (Terrazzo Tile and Marble Association of Canada) has also started to provide online training.

Installers, however, do require more hands-on training, something that the online world can’t deliver. And organizations such as the NSI, NFCA, CFCRA and TTMAC, in addition to many of the flooring suppliers, provide training opportunities across Canada in different venues throughout the year.

Maskell said the NFCA is engaged in the ongoing process of providing “training for the architect, the general contractor, even the building owner project manager (PM), the city PMs or the health authority PMs on what to expect. What they need to do right is critical. So, it’s not just training within our trade.”

According to Senter, a lot of the training today is performed by distributors teaching how to install their products specifically. “When they do this product specific training,” he says, “there is an assumption that the basics of how to do things is a skill that the guys have. It has been my experience that these installers do not even have the most basic of skills for installing floor covering.”

Senter bemoans that many don’t have a knowledge of installation techniques, such as flat level substrates moisture testing. He points out that the CFCRA offers CFI (certified flooring installer) substrate preparation classes, among others. “I have never had anyone take this class that did not come away going, ‘Wow! How have I been doing what I have been doing without knowing this?’”

There are also many free classes being offered by the manufacturers of flooring products that can also be taken advantage of, Senter adds.

For more information on available training, go here or ask your supplier:

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