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More than recruiting

Creating positive experiences for potential young tilers

A recent report from Associated Builders and Contractors showed that in 2023, the construction industry needs to attract 546,000 new workers to meet the demands of the industry. The good news is this is down from the 650,000 new construction workers needed in 2022, but there is still a long way to go. So it’s more essential than ever to recruit young people into the trade. 

But in our college-oriented culture a job in the trades – any trade – isn’t championed or given the respect that a college career can be. How do you reach young people with the message that the trades – for our purposes, the tile trade – is a viable career that offers independence, pride in one’s work, artistry, creativity and longevity?

Molly Elkman, co-author of The House That She Built, targeted her book (thehousethatshebuilt.com) to kindergarten – 2nd grade girls, because that is the age when ideas form about one’s future. Helping girls picture themselves in non-traditional employment roles can spur their imaginations for acquiring and using their skills as they grow up. 

Some young people are getting the message from contractors who are reaching out and providing exposure and education at career days and job fairs. And this story will focus on two tile contractors who are taking the time in their communities to present tile as a positive career choice. 

Pre-schoolers and tile

Ken Ballin of Skyro Floors presented a fun tile-based craft to a local pre-school class during its Building Week.

Ken Ballin, Owner of Skyro Floors in West Creek, N.J., recently presented a “fun craft” to a local pre-school class during its Building Week. 

Volunteering isn’t foreign to Ballin, who spent his weekends in March building sets for the local high school, and has taken part in its career day. He’s also coached soccer for over a decade, so he speaks kids’ language.

For this event, Ballin guided pre-schoolers in cutting tile on a Sigma snapper and with nippers. 

The class got to work with hand tools, then adhered Lunada Bay glass mosaic to subway tile.

“I told them how we use things from all over the world to build stuff and how the tile was from Brazil, the glass was from China, the tools were from Italy, and the glue was from Wisconsin,” Ballin said. 

He captivated kids, showing them his “magic legs” (ProKnee pads). The class then adhered Lunada Bay glass mosaic to subway tile and each pre-schooler painted their initial on the top.

“Both boys and girls were equally interested, and so proud to be using the tools,” Ballin said.

Taking a personal interest

Megan Renk, Owner of Mosaix Tile Installation & Services in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, wants to “ensure more of a positive presence in my community, when it comes to the tile trade. I want the younger generations to see it as an amazing and wonderfully welcoming career and experience that can offer so many more avenues than just ‘setting tile.’” 

Though she’s worked only with girls to date, “I would never shy away from teaching young men about the trades,” she said. She plans to reach out with an art class or tile to elementary schools or a talk to older kids; possibly even offering a paid summer apprenticeship program for high school kids” in the future.

Megan Renk of Mosaix Tile Installation & Services gave a talk about glass mosaic art for a Girl Scout troop of 7-10 year old girls.

To date, Renk has had three “100% parent-approved” opportunities to involve young people in the trade. First, she gave a talk about glass mosaic art for a Girl Scout troop of 7-10-year-old girls, bringing an exhibit that included a library book explaining glass art over the ages, different tile tools like nippers and glass scorers, and examples of glass art from Renk’s collection. 

“I also printed photos of mosaic glass artwork done by two other highly-skilled females in the tile trade – Erin Epperson and Angie Halford Ré – as well as their photos so the girls could see them as people and not just names.”

Her exhibit for the Girl Scout troop included a book about glass art, different tile tools, examples of glass art from Renk’s collection, and photos of “mosaic glass artwork done by two other highly-skilled females in the tile trade – Erin Epperson and Angie Halford Ré – as well as their photos so the girls could see them as people and not just names.”

The girls made their own mosaic art pieces using frosting as thinset and broken candies as the “glass pieces,” Renk said. “The girls appreciated the hands-on portion more than me talking, but when I passed around photos of art done with glass – like a glass dog portrait – they couldn’t believe it!”

Next, Megan demonstrated the tiling process to Maggie, the daughter of a couple who hired Renk to tile two showers. 

“They loved that I was a female with ADHD (with a 7-year old with ADHD), because they have an 11-year-old daughter with ADHD and she wants to run her own business one day,” Renk said. “So I showed her the tile process as I installed. Her parents would let her sit and chat with me about what I was doing and how I handle business. 

“I’ve since gone and become a mentor for her on a one-on-one basis, to teach her sewing basics, as I also sew as a hobby,” she added. “There I will compare being a business owner in tile to her dream and will show her how she can take the steps to owning her own business. 

Renk said, “Maggie loved most that I am independent and free to make my own decisions in life. She sees my son also, as I bring him with me sometimes, and she can understand how being my own boss allows me the flexibility to be a mother, something she may want to be some day. “

Maggie is the 11-year-old daughter of a client who wants to run her own business one day, so Renk showed her the tile process as she installed.

Renk is also working with a client’s daughter who is home schooled and needs positive role models in her life. She had some challenges in public school including a tendency to get mixed up with the wrong crowd. 

This young woman is familiar with construction, since her mom and Renk had worked in construction together, and her mom has agreed to let her accompany Renk on big supply runs this spring and summer, “visit jobsites, learn about builders and supply centers, and talk about business and what it takes to own your own,” Renk said. “She is always so eager to see me and gives the biggest hugs. She will do great spending quality time with me, learning about herself and what she is capable of.”

Renk is focused on being “a positive role model for young women especially. In a world full of negativity and judgment, it’s imperative that my community sees a strong powerful female leader, who is wise, integrous and trustworthy.” And she emphasized that “children are such an important part of my job as a mother and community member.”  

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Editorial Director and Senior Writer for TileLetter and TileLetter ARTISAN

Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11. Her journey has taken her through a career in publishing and publicity, landing her the editor position of TileLetter and its special publications in 2006. Her goal is to educate, inspire, recognize and encourage those in the tile industry -- especially the tile and stone contractor.

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