Building a better tile setter training process with Dan Welch

By Dan Welch, president, Welch Tile & Marble

Improving tile setter training

In June 2017, Welch Tile & Marble hosted the NTCA Five Star Contractor summit, updated the group on its training journey, and revealed future for hands-on tile training. Welch Training & Development manager Dave Rogers and I – through trial and error – jointly brainstormed about building a better tile setter training process using a shipping container. The plan escalated when we started developing the Five Star Contractor meeting agenda, which forced us to think through our process successes and failures over the past 12 years. We started with our related instruction outline for Apprenticeship and the milestones to build the NTCA online Apprenticeship modules.

Our first challenge with training was engaging the apprentices after working a full day in the field. Much of the classroom training required extensive pre-planning and preparation in the warehouse with tools and products in unused spaces. This situation led us to make small mockups that only one or two individuals could work hands-on at a time, leading to disengagement with class members who weren’t participating in hands-on module work – you knew you lost them when they pulled out their cell phones and their eyes glazed over.

Dan Welch and Dave Rogers worked together to develop a training container concept for house hands-on training modules for apprentices that would not tie up warehouse space.

Training factors to consider

We identified these different factors and aspects of training that needed to be addressed in order to craft an engaging, effective training process.

  • Safety tool box talks at the beginning of each class
  • Short classroom pre-hands-on explanation and theory
  • Encompassing real job challenges into our process by building scale mockups of upcoming projects’ conditions
  • Eliminating time-consuming setup and clean up
  • Addressing lack of usable space in a warehouse
  • Cost of training
  • Damage to training modules from week to week
  • Waste

    The excitement and buy-in was inspirational when all the apprentices had a mock up to work with.

  • Apprentice schedule flexibility and accommodating out of town commitments with make-up classes

Building a better training process

With these challenges in mind, we looked back at the 2016 Coverings Installation Design Showcase (IDS) container that we built our IDS vignette in, and contemplated how we could pair our hands-on training concept with a self-contained, movable area that would not plug up our warehouse every week. The concept was further validated by a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) pre-test activity, where our apprentice setters came in for many weeks and took the test two hours at a time and at their own pace. The excitement and buy-in was inspirational when they all had a mock up to work with.

Dave Rogers went a step further by adding proper lighting, and mock construction defects in the build out such as missing studs, multiple curb details, or out-of-level conditions

Our answer was right under our noses! We removed one wall of the 20-ft. shipping container and built various site conditions inside the container, starting with underlayment installation. We continued hands-on training each week, building on the previous week’s activity until it was complete.

Dave Rogers went a step further by adding proper lighting, and mock construction defects in the build out such as missing studs, multiple curb details, or out-of-level conditions.

We are currently working on an awning system that will enable us to leave the containers outside, which would let us move the classroom location and venue. These containers cost very little to purchase and fit out, allowing us to replicate anything we can dream up.

Welch Tile is currently working on an awning system that will enable it to leave the containers outside, which would make the classroom location and venue mobile.

Welch Tile has invested in people, training and education and safe work practices for a long time and this concept will allow us to be more efficient, better prepared, highly productive, and create a strong culture for the future of our business. I can only pray that many of you can invest in your team.

Dan Welch,
president Welch Tile & Marble,
“People Creating Change”