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Evaluator boot camp focuses on making CTI exams more accessible

If you read our Training & Education feature by CTEF’s Scott Carothers on page 66 of our February issue, you learned about the efforts afoot by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), supported by The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), to bring more Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exams to contractors across the country. 

Carothers explained the beginning of the program in 2008 has led to the current stable of 1,600 CTIs. CTEF has been churning out about 150 CTIs a year but there’s an outcry from the industry for more opportunities to be tested, and for more contractors to have the opportunity to become CTIs. 

In 2020, there’s a goal of reaching 2,000 CTIs by year’s end. Yet with the current number of evaluators at 11, that has been impossible. Until now.

Starting in the middle of 2019, the CTEF board approved an intense week-long training of evaluators – an Evaluator Training Boot Camp, of sorts. Four intense trainings have been held, each with 14 evaluators-in-training: a mixture of Contractor Evaluators (CEs) and evaluators who hail from manufacturer technical departments; most were once tile installers themselves (Industry Evaluators or IEs). The goal is to have 56 evaluators by spring 2020.

Existing CEs go through an update, to learn the new grading system. They had already taken the CTI exam themselves to become evaluators. But the new recruits go through a rigorous curriculum that includes taking the CTI test themselves. 

Many manufacturers are supporting this program. “CUSTOM decided to participate in this value-add program because it aligns with our commitment to industry support through quality installation by our industries,” said Will White, of Custom Building Products. David LaFleur of wedi, added, “I agreed to become an evaluator as I saw it as a great opportunity to promote qualified labor in the tile industry. I was honored when wedi chose me as their representative to this program. The trade is suffering as a whole right now due to the lack of qualified labor. The CTEF and NTCA are doing a great job at working to improve this situation, and I feel this is a great way for me to help.”

Even though many of the IEs are technical representatives, the Boot Camp was no walk in the park. Ed Cortopassi of MAPEI said he was surprised by the “intricate difficulty of the task” especially time management when taking the CTI exam. CUSTOM’s White added, “With over 240 cuts in the certification test, you better have a plan that factors in the time allotted to complete.” 

For LaFleur, “The toughest part of Boot Camp was actually taking the CTI test,” he said. “I grew a new-found respect for those who completed it and passed. It is easy to assume, given the small quantity of tile installed, that the test may not fully test someone’s abilities. I was hugely mistaken in this thought process. After being away from tile setting for about one year, it was not only difficult to finish, but certainly tested all my abilities fully. I am grateful that I was able to finish and receive a passing grade.”

LaFleur praised the enthusiasm and dedication shown by Mark Heinlein and Scott Carothers in designing and implementing the training, and for making sure IEs were well prepared to administer and evaluate the CTI exam. “I learned how important it was to be accurate and precise when evaluating a test, in order to keep the test fair to all participants,” he said. “This will keep the integrity of the test in place, helping to assure consumers can trust they are hiring someone with the skills required to complete their projects.” Similarly, Daniel Grant of Ardex Americas said he was “happy to learn that the scoring was very clear, and mostly not subjective to the evaluator’s opinion or viewpoint.”

One thing White discovered  during the training was that installation technique and ability are perishable assets. “I have not installed tile on a production scale for 20 years – this camp showed me how an everyday task is not like riding a bike – you must practice this often to remain relevant and capable,” he said.

Ardex’s Grant said that in addition to the extended days in a hot warehouse, one of the tough aspects of the test was “Having to intentionally install several aspects of the module incorrectly for the evaluators to try to catch.” 

After completing the Boot Camp and the CTI exam, IEs had some words of wisdom for those planning to take the CTI exam. 

“My piece of advice is simple,” wedi’s LaFleur said. “Do not get worked up on the task at hand. All the information you need to pass is given to you in the study material. Treat the test like any other day at work. Devise a plan as to how you will complete the test in the time given and then execute it. The world is not perfect, so do not get hung up on any one detail.”

MAPEI’s Cortopassi added, “Make sure to attend the orientation the night before and pay attention to the many little details.”

And CUSTOM’s White said, “This is a certification test for those who earn it – not a guarantee you will pass. Study, plan and learn. May the Tile Force be with you always!”

One of the highlights of the Boot Camp was the “camaraderie from some of the other attendees,” said Ardex’s Grant, an opinion echoed by White. “What a great experience to understand we are in this together and quality can be achieved,” he said.

Editor for TileLetter, TileLetter Coverings, TREND and TECH publications.

Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11, and drawing and sketching since she could hold a pencil. Her penchant for observation led to her becoming a paid professional as a trade journalist, publicist and is editor for TileLetter. She has also written for Guideposts, Walls, Windows and Floors, Floor Covering Weekly, and Low Carb Energy.