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Al’s column: Getting to the heart of the labor shortage

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Paul Stuart Jr.

 

At the risk of sounding and being cliché, unless you live under a rock you have certainly heard about our great nation’s skilled labor shortage. However, I think all is not lost. By working together, we can explore some possible solutions.

I’m going to start with a quick story: In early 2000, I was the lead installer for a middle school project in Kansas. Our crew was installing a complicated pattern with VCT down a long classroom corridor. A small portion of the corridor and attached classrooms were still in use—I assume for a summer course or something of the sort. Anyway, the pattern had waves and circles with several different colors. This installation not only took hand skills but also standard mathematics and geometry, blueprint reading and an understanding of the specifications to get it right.

After the layout was complete, we glued it up and took a break while waiting for the adhesive to dry. I went to use the bathroom and while walking by one of the classrooms I overheard the teacher telling her students, “You better apply yourself and pay attention or else you will end up like those guys out there.” All my guys and I cared about was doing a great job and making a living. We took pride in our work and we simply didn’t deserve to be talked about as if our trade was disgraceful.

So, there you have it, the very basis of what is one of the biggest issues: the degrading of the skilled tradesman. This mindset supports the false idea that there is something wrong with being in a trade and getting a little dirty doing your job. I believe this helped create the culture that college is the only path to happiness or career fulfillment, but unfortunately not every high school graduate wants to (nor should) go to college. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with college so long as it produces knowledge and a degree that will enable one to make an honest living.

Additionally, with high schools nationwide taking shop class and other vocational technology curriculum out of their course offerings, we are in need of training resources. There are great organizations out there like FCICA, NTCA, CFI and others that do a fantastic job, but they are limited to the number of trainings and outreach.

Lastly, there are many flooring installers who have gone into business for themselves as independent installers. The issue again is training. These guys need access to training just as bad as an in-house installer does, and I hope the trade organizations can find a way to reach this demographic of installers because our industry depends on it. If the independent installer does a poor job, it reflects on the entire industry.

While online training is good, we have found that hands-on training is the best. On a monthly basis, we gather our crews (both independent installers and in-house installers) for a training that is performed by our senior installers (typically one of our in-house guys) who are certified and knowledgeable in the particular training. The goal for these trainings is to demonstrate proper installation techniques and provide the hands-on application of these techniques. Each training is focused on a particular technique. For example, we recently had a training on outside corner boots for integral cove resilient sheet goods and how to weld these areas as well as the cove portion—this being the most problem areas on resilient cove projects.

 

Paul Stuart Jr. is the president of Wichita, Kan.-based Stuart & Associates Commercial Flooring, specializing in all applications and products for the commercial flooring industry. He is also the founder of GoCarrera, an app aimed at matching installers and qualifications to the right project.