Qualified Labor – July 2016

ql-01Mike McLawhorn: CTI credentials are confirmation of tile setter knowledge that money can’t buy

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

In 2009, during Mike McLawhorn’s 12 years as a self-employed tile setter, he became a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) in Charleston, SC. “I wanted to do everything I could to set myself apart from the thundering herd of setters,” McLawhorn said. And “I wanted to support our industry’s efforts to legitimize the tile setters that truly care about doing things right. I saw it as an opportunity to market my company as a company that was trustworthy and to possibly increase my profitability.”

1_CTI_20x20McLawhorn was certified as number 188 in the early days of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) CTI program. “In my opinion, [the test] must have been designed to fail the student that didn’t have time in the field and to reward the student that was experienced,” McLawhorn said. “If one didn’t think ahead, the hands-on tasks would lead to a dead end, and then there was no time to finish it, which would lead to failure.” The most valuable part of being a CTI, McLawhorn said, “is that no one can buy into [it]. Money or the absence thereof, simply is not a factor. Certification is a confirmation of a tile setter’s industry knowledge, hands-on expertise, and more importantly, time in the field with a trowel in one’s hand.”

McLawhorn described why certification is so important. “Decades ago, technology changes in the tile trade happened more slowly,” he said. “In today’s tile world, there are multiple tile companies and multiple setting material companies pumping out new technology nearly every quarter! In order to be considered a knowledgeable service provider, we must maintain a familiarity with the new technologies as they become available.”
Every year certification is becoming more valuable, he continued. Twenty years ago project specifications were generic and tile installers used techniques passed down over the years. Now, McLawhorn said, “officials are clearly stating techniques and methods to accommodate the newer tile trends, which call for more sophisticated installation systems. And finally, they are mandating/specifying the use of CTI tile crews to provide a better chance of a successful installation of their project.”

Certification has proved invaluable for McLawhorn. “I’ve been given the opportunity to utilize my CTI certification on multiple fronts,” McLawhorn said. “Obviously, I used the certification to promote my own business in the past. And, I continue to use my CTI certification in the corporate world for HB Fuller as a professional rep of TEC tile setting products. Nearly every day, my discussions with customers and other tile contractors are supported and validated by my certification.”

In addition to these opportunities, McLawhorn was also given the opportunity to help CTEF. “After my certification and due to my prior corporate experience, I was asked by Scott Carothers of CTEF to proctor a few examinations when he was unable to do so. It was an incredible opportunity to proctor an industry-accepted exam. Through the different fronts I’ve utilized my CTI, the certification has been the common denominator and continues to pay dividends for me, both tangible and intangible.”

Now, in his role at HB Fuller, McLawhorn said he still uses his certification. “There is no doubt that my CTI certification is an integral part of my reputation as a source of knowledge to my customer base. There is absolutely no level of corporate savvy that can replace the credibility that the certification gives me in the market place. The certification absolutely trumps any brand or corporate influence regarding my abilities as a rep.”

Certification is paramount to the industry. “We live in a world that allows mediocrity to self-destruct those who accept mediocrity,” McLawhorn said. But beyond the personal benefits of certification, McLawhorn said, “Our industry is changing annually and only the professional, progressive-minded applicators will benefit and grow.”