Numbers don’t lie. The numbers tell us as leaders in the tile industry that we have a challenge we must overcome, and it is two-fold. First, we are facing a tile market poised for growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics forecasts that prospective employment of flooring installers and tile and marble installers should grow at least ten percent by 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Technology in the tile industry, coupled with a healthy construction economy, creates opportunities to exceed these projections. This is the good news.
The bad news is that currently it does not appear as if there are enough trained and qualified people working in our industry to meet this demand.
Industry leaders are aware of this dilemma. In 2016, there were approximately 58,000 tile and marble setters working in the trade, and that is expected to grow to almost 65,000 in the next several years. As workers retire or leave the trade, we must not only replace them with new ones, we must recruit thousands more if we are going to help the industry meet expectations. The entire construction industry realizes that recruiting new people into the trade is a daunting challenge, so the competition to find quality people is fierce and the winners will be the ones that act quickly and aggressively.
Ceramic tile installation takes years to master. Experts believe that to be a craftsperson who can master most tile installations, it requires a minimum of three to four years of experience in the field, coupled with a strong training program to reinforce product knowledge and create awareness of industry standards and best practices.
Training is the second part of the challenge that our industry is facing. It is not enough to just find workers to choose the tile industry over other career choices. Instead, we must make sure these workers are being trained and certified in a professional manner, helping them to establish a strong career path and meet our industry needs.
The National Tile Contractors Association is investing time and money into helping address this challenge. We have added professional staff to develop programs that can make a big impact on training, recruitment and certification. Here is a snapshot of how we see this developing:
Becky Serbin is the NTCA Training and Education Coordinator. She is overseeing the development of apprenticeship training curriculum, utilizing online learning modules available for members to train both new installers entering the trade and current installers on product knowledge and industry standards. Currently, NTCA members can use these courses to develop their own company apprenticeship programs, and they can work with federal and state Departments of Labor to have the program monitored and approved.
In a new development, NTCA is working now to gain federal approval to be an administrator of our own apprenticeship program. This should allow the association to seek partners in educational and vocational schools, and use our members to offer supportive training and most importantly, jobsite experience to go with the curriculum. This is important because
companies that only need a few apprentices to come to work for them – but who don’t have the resources to develop their own program – could work with NTCA to solve this challenge. We hope to roll out this program in 2019 to our members.
NTCA has hired Stephanie Samulski, formerly with the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), as our Director of Technical Services. She will work closely with our Technical Director Mark Heinlein, Technical Trainers and Training and Education Coordinator to provide technical content, consistency and accuracy in our program development.
Training and Certification programs
NTCA Technical Trainers now offer regional hands-on training in many areas, helping installers master their skills, and preparing them for certification tests being offered by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation. Certification is important to help instill consumer confidence in our industry’s ability to perform successful installations with today’s innovative but changing technology. Large-format, gauged porcelain tile panels and slabs are a perfect example of this. Certification and training are essential for these products because even highly skilled installers who have been in the field for years will admit this is a different type of installation than what they were trained for.
Marketing focus on recruitment
One thing we’ve realized is we need to promote and market our training and industry certification programs to our industry and to consumers, builders and general contractors who are looking to us to solve their problems. So NTCA hired Avia Haynes as Director of Marketing and Communications to help create programs to recruit workers, promote certification and training, increase participation and engagement in our programs.
We realize that many things will need to happen for us to be successful. Recruiting young people into our industry who have the desire to learn a trade is essential. NTCA provides important tools to our members – apprenticeship programs and online learning systems such as NTCA University – to help prepare workers quickly, and to help them to become certified and highly skilled. Marketing their skills to consumers to instill confidence in our industry is the final piece to this puzzle.
NTCA prides itself on being a leader in the tile industry, and we will continue to work with manufacturers, distributors and our contractor members to help ensure our trade can meet this important challenge in the next several years.
Bart Bettiga is the Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association and Publisher of TileLetter. Bettiga is a member of the Board of Governors of Coverings, one the largest tradeshows in North America. He has over 30 years of experience in the tile and stone industry and has served as the NTCA Executive Director since 2002. He is a well known speaker and author on ceramic tile and natural stone distribution and installation. He oversees the financial operations of the NTCA, TileLetter and the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation.