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Al’s column: Attracting the installers of tomorrow

May 13/20, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 25

By Kaye Whitener

The CFI division of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) recently partnered with Informa, owners of Surfaces, to host the first Build My Future—Flooring Edition. The interactive, hands-on educational event allows local high school juniors and seniors to experience employment opportunities in the floor covering industry.

The idea behind the event came from attending the Build My Future program in Springfield, Mo. This event is created through the local home builder’s association with a focus on the construction industry trades. Its purpose is to introduce trades to local high school students looking for career opportunities.

Their most recent event attracted more than 2,500 students and featured virtually every aspect of construction. Students had the opportunity to operate heavy dirt-moving equipment, hang drywall, nail shingles on dog houses, seam carpet and design tile backsplashes. At the end of the event, the kids voted on the vendor trade they enjoyed the most. The overwhelming majority said the flooring portion was their favorite!

The construction group decided to branch out and let other organizations such as CFI and WFCA hold their own recruitment event. CFI presented more than 40 hands-on installation modules for the teens to work on, including tile designs, seaming carpet, gluing hardwood, LVP and laminate. The excitement was most prevalent at the Magnetic Flooring platform, which introduced students to next-generation floor coverings.

Some of the industry’s major manufacturers also contributed to the cause. Mohawk sent a team of professional instructors to demonstrate carpet seaming, hardwood and laminate installation, etc. They were such a huge support for us. In addition, we also asked some of our local retail members to participate and be available for any summer work opportunities for the students. With such a large number of students in attendance, I don't think we could have asked for a better event.

In their prime
It was interesting to learn many of these kids are planning career paths, whether it’s college or becoming a tradesman. Even the teachers who brought them were amazed. “We never think about flooring as a trade,” one told me. And when we started talking about the income that can be made, they were very excited.

What was even more amazing to me was the presence of all the female students in attendance; I’d say it was probably 50-50 male and female. I was able to speak to both groups, and what I learned was kids who might not be looking to go to college directly after high school aren’t necessarily unambitious. Many of these kids are extremely smart; they just like to work with their hands. It’s our job to let them know there are alternatives available outside of college.

In a perfect world, we would like to develop this platform in different regions of the country. We realize we will not be able to create this type of regional event without the support of the floor covering industry. We would love to expand the modules to include design, estimating, sales and other employment opportunities currently in demand in our industry.

As we look to replicate the success of the program, we are also working on developing a tracking mechanism to evaluate the true success of this program and the impact it might have on our industry. When it comes to attracting the installers of tomorrow, we have decided it’s time to stop talking and start doing something about it today.

Kaye Whitener is the national manager of member relations for the WFCA, a nonprofit trade group supporting independent specialty retailers. Send an email to to learn more about membership or the Build My Future: Flooring Edition program.