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Mandatory training for floorlayers?

Will compulsory training for floorlayers ensure that management and registration is done professionally and enable the flooring industry to be seen as a skilled trade? asks Jon Turbutt.

THE flooring industry is heading towards a severe skills shortage unless something changes dramatically with regards training. While there are a number of excellent training schools in the UK, many of which, we at Wolff Tools actively support, there still appears to be a reluctance in training across the industry.

Many excuses are made, location, cost, time etc. but without the commitment from individuals and employers, the skills level will inevitably deteriorate as time goes on.

Sadly, despite much campaigning, the flooring industry is still classed as an unskilled trade and we in the industry need to change these perceptions to encourage the next generation to come into what is a hard industry.

It’s very labour intensive and at times quite messy, when compared to other more appealing trades like IT or even plumbing and electrical work, but can also be very rewarding and there are several different occupations in the industry aside from being an installer.

Government’s last attempt to replace what was the CITB with the NVQ Level 2 training scheme was a step in the right direction, but it was underfunded from the start and despite stating it was a compulsory qualification, there was little take up, except those who wanted to take the assessments for site working or for apprentices.

When compared to other trades, as previously mentioned, to maintain their certification, the individual must undertake continued professional development (CPD) to keep up with current standards, yet, with the most basic of tools a floorlayer, however good they may be, never has to update and can, on occasion, get caught out with new products to market, such as anhydrite screeds. Manufacturers are constantly changing and improving products and unless the installer knows what the parameters of these new products are, can get hit with costly return visits.

Most manufacturers in the UK offer free product training, which, quite rightly is focused on their own products. Great for the manufacturers, but with so many different products on the market, no real in-depth knowledge is passed due to the varying degree of knowledge in the room. It will generally go at the pace of the least experienced, meaning more experienced installers aren’t gaining a deeper understanding.

It’s usually a case of this product does this job, we have just bought out this product and it will do this. Ultimately, manufacturers training is more about sales than in-depth training. Product training is crucial and I don’t disregard it at all, but the industry needs to broaden its horizons when it comes to training.

Training establishments do a great job, but unless you’re an apprentice or put yourself through the NVQ course/assessment, there’s no recognisable industry standard of certification to prove that you as an individual or business are updated on the latest standards British and industry. Most project failures are as a result of fitter error, there are of course a small number where it’s a manufacturer’s fault, but in my experience of 30 plus years in this great industry, poor specification and cost/corner cutting are to blame for the majority.

Excuses such as: ‘I’ve always used XYZ product and never had an issue’ or ‘The gaffer just gave me this and told me to crack on’ or, one of my favourites, ‘It looked dry’.

All come from a lack of training and understanding and more importantly a lack of Industry oversight. To be seen as a professional trade which can appeal to a new generation, attitudes within need to change. I do believe, from my experiences, that the younger generation of floorlayers want to gain more knowledge and want to use the best products for a particular project and invest in the best tools and machines to make their life easier.

But if a young apprentice gains their NVQ2 at 20 years of age for example, what’s enticing them to improve their skills and knowledge over the next 20-40 years? How are they going to drive improvements in the industry? And what benchmark does any customer have that they are getting a professional installation using the best techniques with the best products available?

Most customers will know as much about subfloor preparation and adhesive technology as would about how to install solar panels to their house or upgrade their central heating system.

Yet, it’s taken as read that what they’re being told is the best information, where, realistically, it’s just opinion. Because there has been no evidence-based training, two different floorlayers could come up with wildly differing specifications for the same project. How does the consumer then choose? Price. As the old saying goes, buy cheap, buy twice.

How many businesses have a copy of the latest British Standards? How many floorlayers understand what the difference between BS8203 and 8204 are? How many reference these standards when quoting for work? I’d suggest the answer is very few, mainly because there’s no requirement and as a consequence, these are only really looked into when there are serious problems as a result of a failure.

We can’t change the industry overnight, and unless there’s the will to make positive changes with regards certified training and some form of implementation from government, then we’ll see the skills dwindle to the point where hand stitched carpets or maybe even capping and cove work will become a thing of the past.

If your business has taken training seriously and has been to any of the great courses available, then shout about it, make sure your customers know you are a serious installer and are improving your skills on a regular basis, show your certificates on your websites.

Retail consumers want to know that they’re getting the best (most of the time) and you can play a part in improving the skills and training we as an industry so desperately need, because if my business is struggling to win work to a competitor who I know charges more, you can bet your life my name is on the next training course.
Jon Turbutt is brands manager of Wolff Tools & Uzin

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