It’s been a while since I’ve updated everyone on NTCA University. And in case you haven’t heard of it, NTCA University is an online training platform accessible from smartphones, tablets, and computers 24 hours a day/7 days a week. The site contains introductory courses, business courses, and Toolbox Talks. Last year it became a true member benefit, and it can be incorporated into your company’s training program.
Learn standards and methods to support on-the-job learning
NTCA University was developed as an online training platform for your new hires, but business courses for the company owners and management were quickly added. While we are currently developing the rest of the training program courses, the idea is that you can hire someone with no construction skills and put them through online courses for their first few years with you to learn the industry standards and methods to go along with what they are learning on the job.
Business courses were added because we were seeing a lot of our members struggling with running their businesses successfully. After all, most were tile setters first, then ventured out on their own. They weren’t used to bidding projects, balancing books, or promoting themselves.
All of these courses and more are available on the site for anyone to take. Last year we added Toolbox Talks to NTCA University. These brief, topical presentations were created by NTCA years ago. While we no longer have them available on our website, they are still relevant and able to be used as course materials. Now members can easily access, download, and use them as they wanted.
Free to primary contractor account holders
One of my main objectives when we first started NTCA University was to make it a true member benefit. While it was always offered at a low cost, at the beginning of 2022, NTCA University was offered for free to all primary contractor account holders. This ensures that every contractor member company has access to all of the courses and Toolbox Talks available on the site. Manufacturers, distributors, and those that aren’t the primary contractor account holders can access the entire NTCA University site and course materials for a year for only $25 per person per year.
So now that you know what NTCA University is about, how can you use it?
Establish an in-house training program
One way is to help establish a training program. NTCA University can be a part of your U.S. Department of Labor-registered apprenticeship program. You can utilize the NTCA National Guidelines for Apprenticeship. And you can use it as a part of your company’s in-house training program. Either way, if you are just starting a training program, it will take some time and effort on your part to get it up and running.
One of the first things that I ask someone is why they want to set up a training program and what they want to get out of it. While the answers are all different, there are some common themes, such as:
- They want to be able to train new employees
- They want something that will help them gauge an employee’s progress, which leads to pay raises, additional responsibilities, or job title changes.
- They want to be able to replicate the program.
Setting core competencies
Another common theme that I continuously hear from contractors without training programs is that they have an employee who has been on the job for six months, feels like they know everything and needs a pay raise. But they may not work as hard as everyone else, or they haven’t picked up what they should have by that point. These contractors don’t really have a solid, repeatable solution to this situation that can be used for all their team members.
Within the NTCA National Guidelines, we have added competencies to gauge or quantify the skills of the employee. But just because they are in the National Guidelines, doesn’t mean that they can’t be used for in-house programs – in fact, it gives more validity to the process.
For example, you could have a competency on mixing and then list line-by-line all of the specific tasks: read instructions, add the right amount of water, use the appropriate paddle, mix at correct RPM, mix for correct amount of time, slake if necessary, remix, take material to correct location, and clean up properly. Then across the top add terms such as: no mastery, with supervision, mastered task. Now the contractor has something that they can use to help gauge an employee’s skill level. And if the contractor states that certain competencies must be met before the next pay raise, they have set real goals for the employee.
In order to create a training program for your company, you must be willing to invest time into the creation, implementation, tracking, fine-tuning, and getting your employees on board. Tile contractors who have their own programs will tell you that it is time-consuming and will take a while to get it where you want it to be. But what makes it worthwhile is that once it is in place, you will see a difference in the level of skill for all of your employees.
Woody Sanders, of DW Sanders Tile and Stone Contracting, has some tips on starting a training program. “NTCA built the skeleton that a contractor can build their program around,” he said. “You will need to customize it to your needs but the basic information is there. Train on the methods that you use. Build your program off of how you install tile, types of methods, and standards.
“But it all starts with the bigger picture,” he added. “What do I want [my workers] to be when they are done? For me it was a Certified Tile Installer and journeyman. So based on the end goal, we worked back to the start of the program. Don’t rely on how you’ve learned the trade because you may have learned it wrong. Use NTCA University to teach the book information [found in the ANSI manual, TCNA Handbook and NTCA Reference Manual].”
If you want to learn more about NTCA University, NTCA National Guidelines for Apprenticeship, or starting your own in-house program, please email me at
Becky Serbin is the Training and Education Director for the National Tile Contractors Association. Serbin oversees the implementation of NTCA University, a learning management software program the association offers for continuing education for tile and stone installation and specifications. As part of this program, she has worked closely with staff and committee members to develop an Apprenticeship Program that combines on line courses with field experience training.
Serbin joined NTCA after having worked 13 years for Georgia Pacific Corporation where her duties included architectural and technical services, associate product management, and continuing education curriculum development and implementation. At Georgia Pacific, she served as the TCNA Backerboard SubCommittee Chairperson and participated in NTCA Technical Committee meetings and document development. She holds a Masters Degree in Business Administration from Kennesaw State University.