I just returned from Dallas where I attended the first Installation Summit to address the current installation crisis. You might ask yourself what “crisis”? Well, in many parts of the country we simply do not have enough installers and across the country, we have a shortage of competent installers.
Many topics were discussed:
• Bringing in and retaining new recruits
• Subcontractor Work Vs Employee Work?
• Number of illegal immigrants within the construction industry
• 20-year stagnant installer pay
• DIY (Do It Yourself) movement
• Manufacturers not requiring certified installers
• Lack of minorities in our field
Our industry has a perception problem. The installation side of flooring is seen as physically demanding and not a long-term career option. We are losing technical schools and the art of our craft. Many of the installers make a very good living (6 figures), but the perception that if you work with your hands you are not as good as a man in an office. Maybe we should go back to calling ourselves craftsmen.
Once trained and established, installing can lead to other career opportunities; sales, management, inspecting, training, and even employment at distributors and manufacturers. We need to reach out to high schools, vocational-tech schools, minority and military groups to let people know there is a great opportunity in the flooring installation fields. By reaching out to these groups, we could eliminate the hiring of illegal immigrants. We need to create a pathway to the trade, that includes training and continuing education.
We also discussed the difference between a business owner and a mechanic or installer. A business owner wants to go out, sell himself and his services, to get the work. An installer wants to show up put in eight hours of work then go home. With the system we currently use many installers are forced into the business side which might not be their strong suit and get discouraged. Conversely, some installers want to become a business owner and start their own installation business, but are not trained how to be successful. They might be brilliant at installing patterns and laying flooring, but can’t balance a checkbook or struggle with managing sales calls, scheduling installs, and other essential needs of owning and running a successful business. They become discouraged and move on to something simpler. Subcontractors have started to become employees without any of the benefits of being one. As a subcontractor, you are supposed to accept a pay rate that both parties agree upon, now subcontractors are being told what they are being by paid stores with no negotiating.
Another big topic discussed for installers today is training, specifically affordable training. Many installers don’t see the value of taking five days off from work with no pay to travel to St Louis, Dallas, or other cities to attend an expensive training class since most areas of the country don’t require specific training or continuing education classes. In the City of Tampa, there are five cosmetology schools with an average tuition of $16,000 that you are required to attend before you can cut hair. When you go into a barber shop/hair salon, the cosmetologist must have their license current and visible. Most flooring installers are not required to show any training documentation or certifications and are only required to purchase a business tax license. Generally, installers start off as a helper for an already established company (between $8-16 an hour) and get OJT (on the job training). If the person they are learning from is doing it wrong, they will likely pick up the same bad habits and continue to do it incorrectly.
All in all, the Installation Summit was a great starting point. How to begin is usually the hardest part of any large project. Great ideas were discussed and debated. Everyone has their own opinion on where to go from here. I would like to see something similar to the “Got Milk” ad campaign, focusing on the consumers, to teach them there is a difference between the handyman who says he can install floors vs the retailers and installers who have spent time and money sending their sales staff and installation teams to training and certification classes. I would also like to see the manufacturers go back to requiring “certified” installers to activate the warranty of their products. It would be difficult for the manufacturers to do this, as DIY is a very profitable category. An option would be for them to have a DIY and Professional product line. We would see an increase in pay for installers which would see an increase in interest in our valuable rewarding profession.
Our profession should not be an adversarial relationship between manufacturer, installer, retailer, and homeowner. Now that we have opened up the discussions let’s keep it going.