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Craftsman lives his passion by training youth

Jonathan Burton got his start in the trowel trades the way many did in the 1970s. Unlike most of his 13 siblings, and despite pressure from parents, he wasn’t interested in college. “I did my 12, I’m done,” he said. “I’m just going to go to work and raise a family” was his plan. But his dad made it clear that getting any old job wasn’t an option. If not going to college, his dad demanded he learn a trade.

Johnathon Burton started down the road to the tile trades at the urging of his father.

So Burton joined a friend who was going into carpentry on a tour of the nearby trade school. Intimidated by the math skills required for carpentry, Burton gravitated to the masonry program. “Little did I know masonry has just as much,” he chuckled. And thus, a future journeyman tile setter and tile contractor started down a career path born out of some magic combination of misperception, lack of direction, and parental interjection.

Fast forward 30 years and Burton can name dozens of people working in the tile trade in southern California whose careers probably would have been something else had their paths not crossed with his. Some probably wouldn’t have a career or even a job at all, he said. Recognizing so much of his younger self in the many young people he’s encountered in decades of church involvement, Burton takes every opportunity to suggest to young men and women a career in tile or masonry. 

“For some reason everywhere I go I end up talking about the trade,” said Burton. But it isn’t just talk. He exposes young people to the trowel trades any way he can. He created and ran a trowel trades workshop at one church he attended, and he has trained through his own company, Exclusive Tile Concepts, for years. Sometimes they’re interested on their own and sometimes they get a push from their parents, says Burton, who knows that feeling well. 

Recently, Burton held a four-hour informational event at his shop, a mix of general information about the trade and hands-on stations for demonstrations and participation.
Recently, Burton held a four-hour informational event at his shop, a mix of general information about the trade and hands-on stations for demonstrations and participation.

Sharing your passion with potential tradespeople

Borrowing from his approach, others can look for similar ways to connect the dots. Burton gets immense fulfillment when he can transfer some of his passion for trowel trades to a young person who hasn’t yet figured out their path, particularly in connection with his youth ministry work.

Jonathan Burton (left) of Exclusive Tile Concepts in Riverside, Calif., exposes young people to the trowel trades any way he can.
Jonathan Burton (left) of Exclusive Tile Concepts in Riverside, Calif., exposes young people to the trowel trades any way he can.

But there are young people everywhere looking for their thing, and not-so-young people looking for their new thing. To connect the dots in your area, step back and look for opportunities to do so. Are there career fairs at your local schools or exhibit halls? Can you develop an age-appropriate activity or presentation for your kids’ social or school groups? Can you post something on social media, welcoming interested people (and their kids) to contact you to talk or even visit some jobsites with you? 

Burton created and ran a trowel trades workshop at one church he attended and he has trained through his own company, Exclusive Tile Concepts, for years.
Burton created and ran a trowel trades workshop at one church he attended and he has trained through his own company, Exclusive Tile Concepts, for years.

Recently, Burton held a four-hour informational event at his shop, a mix of general information about the trade and hands-on stations for demonstrations and participation. He promoted the event with a postcard-sized flyer at high schools and churches. Can you do something like this at your shop?

Next, take inventory of what you love about the trade, the most fulfilling aspects for you, and develop that into talking points. Burton promotes the active aspect of the job, and the reward and fulfillment of seeing the finished work. Even over the phone, his optimism and energy are infectious. He’ll talk to you about tile as long as you want.

And consider this: If someone asked you right now why they should consider going into the tile trade, what would you say, and how would you say it? In other words, what’s your pitch? Please share it with us at [email protected], and it may form the basis for a future Training & Education article in TileLetter! 

Stephanie Samulski
Director of Technical Services at National Tile Contractors Association | [email protected] | + posts

Stephanie Samulski is NTCA Director of Technical Services. Her tile career began in 1999 as a tile layer apprentice with BAC Local 32 in Detroit, where she worked mainly on commercial installations for Shores Tile Co. A former project manager for the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), Sunulski has worked on industry standards as well as knowledge and installation curricula for training and certification programs.

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