So, pandemics can have silver linings.
While the training and education aspect of our industry has taken a hit with the suspension of in-person events, workshops and classes, necessity has been the mother of invention when it comes to virtual, on-line classes and events.
In September, we reported on the NTCA Roundtables Live that are led by our trainers and aim to keep people in the industry connected, impart information on tile-related challenges and methods, and provide a format that is conducive to civil and productive discussion. From the beginning, Custom Building Products was on board as an NTCA Roundtables Live sponsor. According to Will White CTC/CMT, Director of Technical Communications & Training, Custom Building Products, White brainstormed some ideas with NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein, then developed a “fun program of answering questions and directing people to the NTCA Reference Manual,” he said. The point was “to make that human connection and provide support and appreciation.”
Thus the Ask the REF (short for “Reference Manual”) was born. This feature of the NTCA Roundtables Live is to “point out the value to the contractors – of not just best methods – but also how to protect themselves in their businesses and set expectations for stakeholders on the job by using letters in the NTCA Reference Manual,” White said.
The format is more interactive than a Q&A, White said – kind of a combination between Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Cash Cab, with a group share where everyone can chime in and an “ask a friend” feature to get answer options.
Ask the REF is also useful to “break up the sequencing of conversation pieces,” White said. “When NTCA Roundtables Live started, everything revolved about COVID: the ups and downs, challenges, safety protocols, do customers want you in their home, etc. Putting in a game piece was important for a brain break, levity and balance. It also offered a ‘people piece.’ It helped direct attention away from COVID into installation and business practices.” And of course CUSTOM supplied swag too for winners – buckets and grout floats and tools that tile installers use every day!
CUSTOM training: live and virtual
In addition to its support of NTCA Roundtables Live and the Ask the REF program, CUSTOM has been running its own training events, which employ a hybrid format at present. “We’ve invested a lot of effort to produce and deliver virtual content,” said White. This is tailored to each segment of the market – architectural, tile contractors, distributors, general contractors. The company has even conducted virtual porcelain tile panel training, he said. The format involves a technical consultant who is giving the virtual instruction and a local rep on-site to assist with hands-on one-on-one trainings with a dozen or so attendees for special projects. There have been three virtual trainings and two of the hybrid trainings so far with plans for more. And reps are also available through a range of platforms – Facetime, Zoom, Webx, Teams, or GoToMeeting to meet customer needs.
Looking ahead, CUSTOM is eager to get Custom Technical University (CTU) up and running again full time in 2021. The facility, located in Seal Beach, Calif., has been closed since March 2020. But White foresees trainings resuming next year, albeit with some adjustments – “Using COVID precautions, working more closely with smaller, focused groups for in-person support where allowable and where makes sense,” White said. “We have to wait until the right time, and be respectful of clients, and their families and our employees’ protection – as early as April all the way out to a June start.”
The 50,000 sq. ft. CTU is designed to work with groups of about 40 people at a time, and to facilitate classroom and hands-on application with a six-person training team. Courses address surface prep, industry standards, guidelines, best practices, troubleshooting. Though, “We talk about how our products fit into those standards and let you apply those products,” White said, it’s not an “infomercial. Everything is keyed around product and installation standards, designed to be a visual, audio and kinesthetic learning experience for those who attend.” Essential industry manuals and handbooks are given to attendees to support the learning.
In addition, prior to COVID, the CTU was on the road, bringing that experience to local areas, offering road shows in large convention rooms in local venues and working with the local sales team to bring week-long trainings in waterproofing, surface prep or even gauged porcelain panel installations. “It’s like a mini trade show,” White said. “CUSTOM recognizes the value to invest the time and effort into these trainings.”
When the live CTU trainings resume, virtual training won’t disappear – in fact, White said, CUSTOM will soon push out a teaser for a new e-learning platform, called CTUOA – Custom Technical University Online Anytime – that will launch in first quarter 2021.
“It’s part of our plan to offer various experiences of engagement,” White said. “If you are in an office and can’t get out to an in-person program, we can set up in e-learning in bite-size pieces. New standards are coming, and those will be added to the menu. Most of us have been inundated with virtual world since that’s all we have. Going forward, we will get back to new norm, but I think the virtual experience will be as important.”