February 2/9, 2015; Volume 28/Number 16
By Ken Ryan
Las Vegas—The International Standards & Training Alliance (INSTALL) treated 160 contractors and members of the press to a tour of the 1.2 million-square-foot International Training Center (ITC) here, the largest such facility in the world. Held on Surfaces Eve, the INSTALL leadership conference was part show and tell, part call to action for contractors to certify their installers the INSTALL way.
“Even through the worst recession since the Great Depression, INSTALL has been able to grow and expand its brand,” said Andris Silins, co-chair of INSTALL and operations and technology manager at WaterWatch Corp. in Rochester, N.Y. “We have built a training program that is second to none, a program that ensures products are properly installed.”
The INSTALL program requires a minimum of four years of in-depth training. Courses are based on counsel from technical and educational representatives from major mills and manufacturers, as well as makers of flooring installation tools and materials such as adhesives, fillers, levelers and finishes.
Since 1993, INSTALL has partnered with the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) on installation standards for hardwood flooring. It also has the backing of major mills, including Mohawk. Michel Vermette, president of commercial at Mohawk Group, urged contractors attending the conference to complete the certification process.
Vermette began his speech with a quote from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Vermette said INSTALL is responsive to a changing market and its superior contractor standards set it apart from the competition.
“What the end user—property owners, facility managers—cares about most is that the project is completed on time, on budget, with the right quality. Time is money for all these facilities. If they can minimize the down time, it goes a long way. There is definitely a need for [INSTALL]; it brings opportunity. Hopefully the industry will seize it.”
According to the group, about 41% of the qualified journeymen have received some level of INSTALL certification, of which there are three. “[But] 41% is just not good enough,” said John McGrath, INSTALL director. “There is no excuse for any journeyman out there to not have an INSTALL certification. Now is our time; we have to take advantage of it.”
Dave Meberg, president and CEO of Consolidated Carpets in New York, and co-chair of INSTALL, spoke about the vital importance of the trade to attendees. “The client derives no satisfaction until the product is installed properly, and we deliver customer satisfaction by [doing so]. We hear about the installation crisis in the industry. There is no installation crisis in this room. We recruit installers, we train them, we test them, we certify them, and we warranty their work.”
During the downturn an estimated 10% of contractors went out of business each year. This left facility managers asking contractors questions such as, “Are you going to be here in a few years?” and “What is the financial stability of your company?”
INSTALL executives believe a contractor with an INSTALL-certified staff is better positioned to succeed in the long run than a contractor without the group’s level of training. “Pats on the back are nice but driving business to our contractors is what matters,” McGrath said.
The ITC is run by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) and serves several trades, including flooring. The facility features massive gas and steam turbine engines used for power generation, an underwater welding tank where trained divers get their certification and, of course, areas for floor covering installation.
Two recent additions have brought the footprint of the campus to 1.2 million square feet. As many as 700 people can train at the facility in a given week. It includes 300 single-occupancy dorm rooms; an adjacent hotel UBC acquired handles the overflow. There is food available 24/7 and a lounge that serves wine and beer during certain hours. Those training are discouraged from visiting the nearby Strip as they are in Las Vegas to work and attend free of charge. As long as their companies register them, the UBC covers the rest—airfare, room and board, and training. “This shows the commitment of the UBC,” McGrath said. “They are in it to win it.”
There are more than 200 INSTALL affiliated training centers in North America. Almost all have an outreach program with local schools where vocational training is provided for teenagers interested in flooring installation. According to INSTALL, these programs have proven successful in cultivating and recruiting the next generation of installers.
INSTALL primarily serves the commercial contract market, providing flooring installation training for hardwood (in conjunction with the NWFA), carpet and resilient flooring. It does not at this time offer training on ceramic tile.
There are 45 different qualifications/certifications across all crafts offered. Mechanics who complete training receive verification cards that denote their current levels of training. Mechanics are required to show these cards on the job site before a project starts.
At the top of the programs is the INSTALL Certification Warranty program, which has been in place for two years. Twenty-five contractors have fulfilled the required training.
McGrath urged members to get on board with the Warranty program because “flooring installations are becoming more intricate and require a high degree of mastery that only a certification program like INSTALL can provide. Having this certification enhances your chances of getting a big job, particularly in a burgeoning sector such as health care.”
During the conference, Stoner Bunting, which handles PR and advertising for INSTALL, presented two test cases in which INSTALL-backed contractors had to be called in after local contractors without INSTALL certification botched the job. The substandard work not only wasted time, but also ended up costing more to correct.