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Doing My Part: Training the Next Generation of Flooring Installer

Flooring / Doing My Part: Training the Next Generation of Flooring Installer

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About 10 years ago, I remember reading an article about the worker shortage in the trades. I was 20 years into my self-taught career. This resonated with me as most of my career centered around fixing others’ mistakes. I’ve had thoughts and ideas about the shortage but didn’t know where to go with them. Any of the trainings that I did see were too expensive or too far away to attend and were basically set up for people with minimum experience. There was no incentive for the younger generation to choose or become interested in joining a trade.

I became the in-house installer at MDG Flooring America four years ago. After a year, I was promoted to Operations Manager. After failing miserably for a year at that, they approached me about becoming the Installation Training Manager. I was excited for this and immediately started writing a curriculum for a class geared toward high school students. It included classroom, training panels and on-the-job training.

When I approached the owners with this idea, they were on board. At the time, we didn’t have the space or interest. So, we decided to switch gears and do an apprenticeship program instead. I wanted to be aggressive with the training and only do a one-year apprenticeship. I challenged myself in guaranteeing that after a year the apprentices would be able to go out on their own to do basic jobs—small bathrooms, two connected rooms and diagnose and perform repairs.

The First Apprentice

Gavin Swanson was the first to join our program. He started in our warehouse as a delivery driver; however, when we started the program, he showed interest in going out in the field. He was a shy, quiet kid but was a hard worker in the warehouse and picked things up quickly. At first it was a small struggle with his quietness. I had to completely start from scratch with him. He didn’t know how to use a tape measure and had very limited skills with power tools. However, his attentiveness and comprehension were impressive. He asked good questions when needed and didn’t just stand around.

Gavin picked up the process quickly but struggled with communication. Talking with customers and calling in issues to the office was a struggle. He picked up the nuances of the products and installation techniques quickly. If he struggled with some of the more difficult cuts, he didn’t just give up, he tried a few times before I stepped in to help. Once he figured it out, it was a small win, but I could see the pride and excitement from the accomplishment. That’s what we as trainers should celebrate and encourage.

Graduation and First Project

After nine months of a one-year apprenticeship, I was confident in his skills and graduated him. I gave him his first real test the following week. I sent him to demo and install two small bathrooms. It was only five minutes from our warehouse, so if any issues arose, I wasn’t far away. The two bathrooms took a little longer, but he accomplished the job in the time allotted and they came out beautifully with a happy client.

Overcoming Challenges

MDG kept Gavin with me for another year to gain more experience, and we couldn’t find another candidate. Over that year, I watched Gavin grow as an installer even more. He showed up and greeted customers every morning. He is more open to talking and joking throughout the day. Watching him run a job start to finish and diagnose problems and decide on a solution; watching his output increase because of the confidence he has gained over the past two years; seeing the smiles from the small wins—the excitement of doing the challenging cuts, all of this is why I do what I do.

What I’ve Learned and How We Need to Change

We have to show [this younger generation] the pride in the finished product, show them why this is a great trade to be a part of, and show them the potential for a profitable future.

I’ve had a great experience training Gavin. I not only challenged him, but the training also challenged me. We as installers and business owners need to change the dynamic of how we were trained. No more days of yelling that they are doing it wrong and make them stand and watch. No more days of having them just picking up trash. We as a collective need to show more patience, explain the process and why it needs to be done. We need to give them the opportunity to figure things out, allow them to make their mistakes, explain to them what was done incorrectly and show them the correct way. We need to show them how to interact with customers. As seasoned installers, there shouldn’t be much that we can’t fix.

This younger generation is different than when we entered this field. We have to show them the pride in the finished product, show them why this is a great trade to be a part of, and show them the potential for a profitable future.

Reaching the Next Generation

When I fell into this trade, I never thought I would be a 30-year installer. I didn’t think this was going to be my lifelong passion. I never thought I would meet and become friends with others all over the country. These are the incentives we need to push to bring this younger generation in. We can’t just settle for classes in the trade schools. We need to get into the high schools—to be able to at least talk to these kids who aren’t looking at college. We need to show them that there is a bright future in this trade and that it’s not just a job.

Now it’s time to go start training my next apprentice.