Training to standard

Enhance your workforce and enhance the bottom line

Jul-Aug 2012 Coverings“It’s better to train someone and have him leave than not train someone and have him stay,” or so says Fred Richardson, director of Cutting Edge Flooring in Spruce Grove, Alta. According to Richardson, many flooring installers may see training as a burden, one way or another, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
According to experts on the topic of floorcovering training, it’s all about standards. And, while official certifications and even licensing may help in achieving set standards, informal methods can work, too. For example, Tom McNall, c.e.o. of Great Northern Stone in Huron Park, Ont., believes the end result is what matters.

According to McNall, “Ultimately I’m a firm believer in certifications, setting and adhering to benchmarks, and all of that, but I have seen crews from smaller companies achieve consistently higher standards for their work than supposedly well-trained unionized crews do. It’s as much about a culture and practice of doing things right as it is about formal training.”
Shawn Galloway is president and c.o.o. of ProAct Safety. Although the firm specializes in safety training, Galloway believes successful training principles apply to areas beyond safety, including such industries as flooring. He says, “It really is about internalizing training procedures and outcomes. If our clients believe that good training procedures were not my idea, but theirs, then we’ve done our job.”
In other words, training and standards really should be part of the culture of the company, and even of the industry. As McNall puts it, “Especially with products like stone and marble, which can last a lifetime — or even much longer — the installation is part of the product. Just look at the pyramids in Egypt. They’re still standing. I’m guessing that installation was done to the highest of standards, and that product still speaks for itself.”
Richardson views the culture of training in flooring in a way that tends to be unique in the industry. According to him, “I believe that part of the challenge is that most people in our industry are self-employed. This makes it very difficult to enforce a standard within a shop let alone an industry.”

Controlling the quality
Richardson employ full-time installers almost exclusively on his crews. He knows he is an exception to the rule in Canadian flooring, but he also believes it’s the best way of controlling the quality of his work. According to Richardson, “the success of my business comes in part from word of mouth; from people that love the final product – that love how it has been installed and how it looks in their homes or businesses.”
Richardson’s approach to training involves a combination of standards and human interaction. On the one hand, Richardson fully believes in certifications, apprenticeships, and would even like to see a flooring installation license if possible. On the other hand, he doesn’t think you can just force-feed just any standards to people and expect them to respond positively.
According to Richardson, “I think one of the biggest mistakes when it comes to training is a lack of understanding. I see it so often. Someone comes on the job on Day One and the boss expects the new hire to know everything right off the bat. Nobody does. The boss didn’t know everything to start with, either. We’re all human. Patience is so important to effective training.”
McNall takes a more direct approach to his training philosophy. For him, it really is about the standards. If they’re set, are part of the company’s culture, and are regularly communicated to the workforce, then the rest takes care of itself. He says, “If the senior people do it right, then the new hires will do it right, too. I even hold regular training seminars so that everyone knows what the standards are and implements them out in the field.”

Available for the taking
For Richardson it really is about the standards, too. He is a firm believer in the various flooring installation apprenticeship programs offered across the country, and has even been involved himself in establishing some of those standards. “People in our industry just don’t realize how good the programs are and how little investment they really require,” he says.
Therein lies the challenge. Richardson believes apprenticeship programs are under-utilized in our industry for two reasons. First, there is a general lack of knowledge. That is why he talks about the topic as much as he can. Second, he also believes there is a failure to look at the long-term economics of apprenticeships from all sides.”
As Richardson describes it, “Here in Alberta, and elsewhere, governments virtually pay you to become an apprentice. From the standpoint of a flooring shop, or a journeyman installer, you’re not paying an arm and a leg to hire that apprentice, either. On top of it all, instead of having someone’s cousin fill in when there’s work, you have a fully-trained apprentice at your disposal that is capable of quality work.”
A common question many installers and shops ask themselves is this: Does a customer really care if her floor is installed by fully trained and certified professionals? Richardson is emphatic with his answer when he says, “The customers see the certifications on the wall. It’s a selling point for me. It’s often the difference between making the sale and having the customers simply go to another store.”

Gaining a competitive edge
For both Richardson and McNall, it serves the entire industry well if workers are trained to a certain level. Says McNall, “People in our business often complain about how tough things are, but, in my opinion, they’re not doing enough to make our industry competitive. Routinely implemented standards will do that.”
Training consultant Galloway, although an expert in training himself, is quick to caution against believing that training is always the answer. For example, sometimes it’s the company’s procedures that are an impediment to productivity. In other words, as Galloway puts it, “Sometimes people are properly trained. It’s what they’re being trained on that’s the problem.”
This is why flooring experts McNall and Richardson both keep emphasizing benchmarks that are readily available in the industry. Even if workers aren’t formally trained or certified, there is nothing stopping anyone from taking advantage of courses available from coast-to-coast in the flooring industry. As McNall describes it, “There is no shortage of flooring associations in North America that provide ongoing learning. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of these excellent training opportunities.”
For those willing to do some of that training in-house, Galloway emphasizes the importance of communication in getting effective training results. He says, “It really has to be about more than telling the workers what to do. Good trainers look for the initial reaction from those they are training. If the reaction isn’t positive, then maybe a change in approach is needed.”

Ensuring results
According to Galloway, “After assessing their reaction, determine if the employees are actually learning anything. In other words, has their knowledge changed as a result of the training? Then comes the behaviour. It has to change, too. Has it? Finally come the results. Of course, without results, then the training will have been meaningless.”
It’s a good bet that licensing in floor installing will not happen anytime soon. Yet that should not prevent people in the industry from using standards to better the profession as well as the bottom line. Better standards mean happier customers, which increases the industry’s standing, which leads to a more competitive landscape. Being able to cite standards is also a huge benefit, should a dispute ever happen regarding your practices. In other words, if you want to do better during tough times, why not have your workers trained to standard?

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