President’s Letter – May 2018

The summer construction season is fully upon us. Let’s take hold of our schedules and not fall into the trap of allowing the
tyranny of the urgent to keep us from properly planning all our jobs for execution in the field. Best in Class contractors make it a habit of pre-job planning every project because they know that without this critical tool, they will underperform in one or more aspects. Often the final quality suffers as well as the final profit when this step is overlooked.

Pre-job planning is a simple process with many steps that need attention prior to starting every project. The purpose is to ensure that the entire team is fully informed of the project specifications, site limitations, owner expectations, labor budgets, and material delivery dates. This is the time to uncover and work to resolve any issues.

Here is a good start on what to include in planning to make this meeting with your project team a success.

  • Specific scope review should include everything about the installation your field supervisor and crew need to know, including the specific expectations of the end user and all the installation methods, materials, patterns and details. Make sure the superintendent, foreman and crew leader understand all specific details and have a copy of drawings, details, product data, and SDS. This can be on paper or digital; whatever works best for your team.
  • List of equipment, along with a schedule for getting it to the job site.
  • List of materials including quantity ordered, identifying any delayed or backordered items.
  • Contact information for all the people involved on the project, including cell phone numbers and email addresses.
  • Job labor budgets and production goals for each unique area. This usually creates some good conversation about feasibility and practicality and helps create buy-in from the team.
  • The overall project schedule with all trade-specific tasks broken out and identified with start and finish dates, and any float days. Doing this will provide the best chance to stage and staff the project in the most efficient manner possible. It will also identify any potential manpower issues.
  • Identify any expected obstacles and concerns, mapping out a plan to mitigate them as much as possible.

This meeting can usually be completed in an hour or less, but it can save you many hours of frustration and most if not all of your profit margin. When the phone never stops ringing – and it seems like the team on the job needs information before they can make the next move – you’re operating in what I like to call “Fire Drill mode.” When this happens, no one is efficient, and profit is being wasted.

That’s why Best in Class Contractors avoid this scenario by properly pre-planning every project and executing a turn-over meeting with their field team.

I’d like to hear how you handle this aspect of your projects, so send me ideas and help me discover what I’m missing out on.

Keep on tiling!
Martin Howard
NTCA President
Committee member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – April 2018

Best Practices – Evaluating bid opportunities

Last month we talked about best practices for estimating. This month, let’s look at procedures that can help us reduce estimating costs, making us more focused and profitable. 

As we all know, our trade is often price-driven when that’s all the homeowner or a general contractor wants to consider. Rather than joining the rush to the bottom by competing on price alone, look at your company and evaluate its strengths in your marketplace. 

Now let’s take a closer look at one of the common practices of companies that are high-performing “Best in Class” contractors and take the challenge of joining them: evaluating bid
opportunities.

Keep in mind the 80/20 rule: most of your profit is probably coming from a smaller segment of all your projects. Begin looking at projects and evaluating their compatibility with your strengths. Let’s face it, some types of projects are a breeze and some are a struggle from day one. All that’s needed is to begin to move away from those that seem to always be a challenge. The three largest components of this filtering process are easy to follow.

  • Determine what market segments hit your sweet spot. Is it new residential or remodel? Is it custom homes or tract homes? If you’re in the commercial area, is retail up-fit and restaurant your best fit or office and institutional? 
  • Determine your best geographic range and project size. If your team is not designed for a continuous flow of out-of-town work, then you should keep them close to home most of the time or suffer the consequences of high turnover and low margins. I’ve seen the advertising pitch, “No Job Too Small or Too Big” many times. If you can make the same profit margin on a $2,000 and a $1,000,000 job, you are a unique company. Yet you should still ask yourself the question, “Where in this range do I most often make the most margin?” That’s the range where you should focus
    your efforts.
  • Determine your best customers. Simply identify which customers you almost always make profit working with and which ones you frequently lose money working for. This is simple and easy to figure out, and you can probably name the good customers off the top of your head. All you need to do now is stop working for those that cost you money on every job.

Analyze your approach to business and see if you are scattering your resources or homing in with laser-like focus. If you scatter your resources aiming at everything that moves, you will sell less and efficiency in your organization will only be a dream. The more focused you can be in directing your job procurement efforts, the more efficient and effective the results, with a higher return on investment.

The goal is to know your strengths as much as possible and put yourself in position to capitalize on them more frequently. This requires some analysis and study of where you have been in the last year or two so that you can chart a course toward higher profitability, team morale and success. This is a trait of “Best in Class” contractors. My goal is to help every NTCA member raise the bar in professionalism, craftsmanship and integrity to become more successful.

Keep on tiling!

Martin Howard,
NTCA President
Committee member,
ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – March 2018

Best Practices – Contract Negotiations

We’ve invested time and money in estimating a project, reviewing all the specifications, drawings and contract documents, communicated with our suppliers and vendors, priced out all the materials and labor, calculated the risks of the job and submitted our bid. Great news!! We have been awarded the project. It is critical that we not relax and assume the hard part is over. If we do, we put our entire investment at greater risk.
One of the biggest mistakes any of us can make is not negotiating a fair contract for our services. Unfortunately, this happens more frequently than you might think. One of the first things we all need to understand and accept as fact is that almost all general contractors write contracts that are slanted in their favor. In many cases, they are seriously slanted against the trade contractor and put us at a disadvantage before we ever start.
It sounds elementary and it shouldn’t have to be said, but rule number one is, we should never sign a contract we haven’t read and understood. We should never think that because we have a relationship with the customer that they will take care of us and not enforce the contract.
Another common belief is that trade contractors are never successful negotiating any of the conditions in their contracts. Well, that’s exactly what the general contractors want you to believe. When we read the contracts, the first thing we must determine is, “Am I willing to take the risks assigned to me and sign this contract? If not, then I must identify the objectionable clauses and either strike them or draft acceptable language I can agree to.” At the end of the day, if we aren’t able to negotiate acceptable language, we must make the business decision to either sign what we have or graciously walk away.
Some of the key clauses that need our attention are:

Payment terms, including any clauses about “pay when paid” or “pay if paid” as a conditional precedent. Some states have laws regulating this language. This means that the contractor only has to pay you “if” he gets paid or at some time “after” he is paid.

Set off provisions, which allow contractors to hold money on additional projects under contract with them other than the project in question.

No damage for delays, which puts all the risk of the construction schedule on the trade contractors and does not allow any reimbursement of costs for delays even if we are not at fault.

Work force supplementation, which allows the contractor to charge you if they supplement your crews, with or without notice or default.

Back charge clauses, which allow the contractor to backcharge the trade contractor without notice or with limited notice for an unlimited list of things.

Since I’m not an attorney and can’t give legal advice, the most important thing I can say is that you should consult with an attorney prior to signing contracts. Once you understand some of these clauses you can begin to negotiate with greater success. It’s always a good idea to work toward having your proposal with all your inclusions, exclusions and clarifying notes included as part of the contract.
Companies that regularly practice these principles are usually Best in Class contractors. That’s something we all aspire to achieve.
Keep on tiling!

Martin Howard, President NTCA
Committee member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – February 2018

Estimating + Best Practices

Martin Howard, NTCA president

A year ago, we talked about the goal of increasing the professionalism of our membership. We want our NTCA brand and logo to carry a respected and positive meaning in the marketplace. One of the many ways we can contribute to this goal is to seek out and incorporate industry best practices into daily use in our businesses.

This month let’s look at best practices in estimating every job we bid, and identify some ways we can improve outcomes. In other words, sell more jobs and increase bottom line profits.

If your experience is anything like mine, there seems to be any number of competitors out there willing to work for wages rather than a profit. I often scratch my head and try and figure out how another bidder could have arrived at a price for a defined scope of work that’s 15%, 20% or even 30% less than mine. Once I get beyond the emotional response of, “They must have missed something” or “They are wrong and will lose money on this job,” I begin the process of checking my take-off quantities and pricing in hopes that I will find the mistake. Sometimes the error becomes obvious, but often it remains a mystery. There are many reasons that can account for these types of pricing differences and most often it’s a combination of several factors.

Let’s look at some of the basic elements of estimating best practices:

Have a written guide – It is essential that you have a written guide outlining every step in the process. This will help to eliminate many of the most common mistakes in compiling an accurate cost estimate.

Understand the scope of work – It’s critical to understand the scope of work to be priced. This may mean collecting and reading all the contract documents including the specifications, drawings, contracts, general conditions, special conditions, RFIs and addenda. Or, it might mean visiting the site and inspecting, measuring and identifying every aspect of work required to meet the customers’ expectations.

Begin estimating the cost of the work – Once this is completed we know what will be required and can begin the process of estimating the cost of the work. This is an area where significant costs can be overlooked if we aren’t careful. If a contract requires that we include items such as composite clean-up, safety orientation, daily stretch and flex, maintained protection of completed work, full-time supervision, 30-hour OSHA classification, delivery during non-standard hours only, and many more, we can lose significant amounts of money. The way we perform our take-offs should be very consistent from job to job. Whether you use a scale and pencil or a digital system, use it the same way on every job. Work your way through each room, area and level of the building the same way each job. Look at every page, read every note. Repetition and consistency are your friends because they help to reduce omission errors.

Begin the pricing process – Once the quantity take-off is complete, we can begin the pricing process. Again, this needs to be standardized so that you approach every bid the same way. I recommend using a system where all the items normally found in a job are pre-listed. After pricing all the direct costs including materials, freight, sales tax, delivery charges, labor, payroll taxes, insurance and labor burden, equipment, trucks, and a factor for miscellaneous small tools, remember to add all the indirect costs. These costs could be a factor of annual costs spread across all your projects such as safety training, supervision, craft training or apprenticeship. Overhead should include all your infrastructure costs such as office, warehouse rent, and all the costs associated with it. Remember to include management, estimating, human resources, regulation compliance, licensing, accounting, etc. This should be the total of all your fixed cost of doing business that is not actually installing tile work.

Break out the questionable costs – WFG, crack-isolation membrane, epoxy grout etc. – in fact, anything in question. GCs have said they prefer this type of break-out vs. leaving these items out of the bid. Being the expert to the architect and GC makes the knowledgeable tile companies an asset that every good client needs. When they have a question, who do they call? You?  Are you building loyal partnerships or just trying to get another job? Build to last.

Calculate your profit margin – Now comes the fun part! Calculating your profit margin. Please see this video for a detailed explanation of Mark-up vs. Margin calculations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCo5i1mMO3E&t=527s or http://bit.ly/2r7wFL5.

Here is the formula:

Sales Price minus Costs of Goods Sold divided by Sales Price.

Example: $125 sales price – $100 costs/$125 sales price =
20% gross margin.

At this point, there are two main things every business owner needs to determine: how much do I spend on overhead each year and how much profit do I want to make each year? If you spend $100,000 each year on overhead, what must your sales be at a 15% gross margin to break even? The answer is $666,666 or 100,000/.15.

Now how much net profit margin above overhead do you want to make each year? Let’s say it’s 10%. If your cost of goods sold is $566,666 the sales price must be $755,555 to produce a 25% gross margin that will pay your $100,000 overhead and give you a net profit margin of $88,888 for the year.

Here’s one more thing to think about. Let’s say you forget to install expansion joints in two jobs and they fail and you’re required to replace them at a cost to you of $50,000. How much more work must you sell and perform at a 25% gross margin to breakeven on that loss? $50,000/.25 = $200,000 more or an additional 26% more work than your normal annual volume – and you don’t even make anything for it; you just replaced the $50,000 loss. It pays to do it right the first time.

Let’s work smart and seek to be more profitable in 2018 by setting up a system of consistent estimating procedures – even if you’re doing them on the kitchen table – and make sure we price them with the correct margins to make a reasonable profit. NTCA University has several estimating courses in development – look for them in 2018!

Keep on tiling!

Martin Howard, NTCA President
Committee member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – January 2018

Respirable crystalline silica – get ready for the new OSHA regulations

I hope that you have heard this term before and have begun the process of understanding what it means and how it is affecting your business. Believe me when I say that it IS going to affect your business going forward and none of us knows exactly to what extent.

The NTCA has held seminars at Coverings, forums at TSP and published articles in TileLetter on this topic in the past year. Yet, it seems like we are just beginning to peel back the outer layers of the proverbial onion when it comes to understanding the regulation (29 CFR 1926.1153 Respirable Crystalline Silica), including “Table 1” – and what is NOT included in Table 1. Then we begin to see DOL issue “Standard Interpretations” and “Interim Enforcement Guidance” and it all gets very confusing.

From the NTCA perspective and as a business owner, I urge you to take this law very seriously. There are many reasons, but none more important than you and your employee’s safety and wellbeing. Secondly, this law is going to have a significant financial impact on your business either in compliance costs or if you ignore it, in non-compliance costs. As an employer, you should educate yourself so that you can make the appropriate business decisions for your company and make sure your bids include costs to work in compliance. If you are an employee or craft worker you should do the same so that you are aware of the risks that you are taking with you long term health. Visit this site for more information: https://www.osha.gov/dsg/topics/silica
crystalline/ or http://bit.ly/2fI23os.

On the non-compliance side, a non-serious OSHA penalty was increased in 2016 to $12,600. If that doesn’t get your attention, a repeat violation penalty could be as high as $126,000.

At this point, based on the testing that we and others have done, I believe most tile installations can be done safely and in compliance with the newly imposed regulations with proper engineered controls and tools. The one area that remains a concern is performing circular cuts larger than 4” in diameter. If you have a proven solution for this, please email me.

As if this wasn’t enough to think about and absorb, California’s law called Prop 65 – which among many other things – is going to require manufacturers and/or re-sellers to put a warning label on every box of tile and bag of mortar and grout – basically anything that contains silica. This warning label will likely be different from manufacturer to manufacturer. We will not know the full impact of this until we see what the warning labels say, but you can bet it will not make our job any easier. It is also likely that these labels will appear on all products made for our industry regardless if they are made or shipped to California simply because the chance can’t be taken that an unlabeled product shows up in California.

It’s important that you know the NTCA staff and volunteers are working hard to minimize the negative impacts of these issues on all tile contractors. I urge all to take a very proactive approach to these issues and educate yourself as quickly as possible. At the end of the day, we want tile consumption to rise across America so we must be prepared to deal appropriately with these new requirements.

Keep on tiling!

Martin Howard, NTCA President
Committee member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – December 2017

Is it time to refresh the culture of your company?

Rebuilding a company culture can lead to new levels of engagement and satisfaction for all

Martin Howard, NTCA president

Have you ever thought about the culture (a.k.a.personality) of your company? If you haven’t, I’d like to invite you to give it a try.

There are many cultures that companies seem to gravitate to, and we’ll look at a few for comparison.

  • The Traditional or Hierarchy Culture is common and tends to be found in “Top Down” structured companies. This culture can be demanding with little employee empowerment, expecting employees to just follow directions.
  • The Market Culture is most often characterized as having “market share and profitability” as their top priority. One issue with this culture is that the top goals of market share and profitability can often compete with each other.
  • The Family Business Culture is very common in the construction industry, especially among trade contractors. Multi-generational owners usually hold the leadership or management positions. This can be good if a high level of training and career development exist to ensure competent and smooth transitions of leadership. Employees can feel that if they hold different ideas or opinions than the family, they will not be heard. They can also see that they will never grow to attain a high-level position and this makes it difficult to retain good talent. Additionally, this can cause good people to leave or do enough to get by rather than give their best effort.

At our company – David Allen Company – we had a mixture of cultures that had developed over a 90-year period. In 2010, we hit the restart button to rebuild our culture, led by our Chairman, Robert Roberson. This process required a 100% commitment from the ownership/leadership to establish trust and transparency. Our goal was simple: we wanted to become a great company with high value to our customers and team members while creating a great place to work and build a career.

We utilized several tools to assist us in this process, including 360 Evaluations, Skip Level meetings, and One to One listening sessions. These tools created dialog between departments and group discussions around a set of topics designed to foster honest dialog.

Early on in this process, we utilized a little book with a big impact: FISH! by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul and John Christensen. Here we learned that, “There is always a choice about the way you do your work, even if there is not a choice about the work itself.” Said another way, we can choose to have a positive attitude while doing work we may not enjoy. To help encourage a positive attitude our leadership began to work harder to regularly communicate clear expectations, create transparency and demonstrate respect on a corporate level.

In our next step, we gleaned lessons from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. One of the major take-aways was the concept of getting the right people on the bus, and then making sure those people were in the right seats. This brought a renewed commitment to hire only the “best fit” candidates and be willing to wait to hire if necessary. Everyone in the company took the “DISC” personality profile (a measure of Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness), which helped us better understand which seats were the best fit for our employees. DISC also helped us learn how to understand and communicate with personalities very different from our own.

On a structural level, we began dismantling some of the vertical silos that created division and started to build team levels of responsibility and accountability. This only works if all levels believe their voices are heard and can bring about meaningful change. To demonstrate this commitment, we assembled a cross-section of team members to review and modify the company policy manual.

Next, we developed clear career paths and the training and education necessary for success to improve team member fulfillment and job satisfaction. A key principle I learned many years ago is, “There is no success without a successor.” So, as we seek to develop ourselves, we must seek to develop those we mentor. The goal is that as one person takes the next step in their career development, they will have trained and mentored their replacement.

We then took on the task of developing a Standard Operating Procedure so that we could begin to work as a team. This offered the opportunity to scale our productivity by being able to support divisions that needed additional resources without having to hire and train for the short term. Through this process, duplications of effort have been eliminated and efficiency has lifted the level of work satisfaction. Encouraging team members to take ownership of their responsibilities requires empowerment and respect. Compensation and incentives have been reshaped and made available at more levels than ever before.

We then started a two-year company-wide process of studying Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust. This took us through the “4 Cores of Credibility:” Integrity, Intent, Capability and Results. Woven through these core concepts are 13 behaviors that build trust. Each month we created intentional opportunities to apply what we were learning by creating SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals and team goals.

The study walked us through a progression of building trust within ourselves, in relationships, and within the company. Up until this point our focus had been building trust internally, but now we began to build and extend trust in our markets and with our customers.

We also began to build and extend trust in our community by addressing different areas of need there. Our team was excited to participate in various charity events where the company would provide matching funds, including Stop Hunger Now, Red Cross blood drives, holiday food drives, and Walk for Autism. At our traditional July cook-out and game day we reached new levels of fun as we teamed up with our co-workers to crown one team winner for the year. This spread to our annual Chili Cook-Off, which now attracts 30-40 entries. Our team-building event winners are recognized with trophies, plaques, and gift cards. We have offered Financial Peace University to the team and their families twice at no cost to them and have seen amazing results of personal debt reduction and wealth building.

With our centennial celebration a couple of years away and our desire to build a strong, stable, and enduring company for our team, we became an employee-owned company three years ago. Today the employees are the largest stockholders and we’re enjoying a high level of engagement to maximize the steps taken to improve our company. Throughout this process, the underlying theme has been to think about building others up and treating people like we want to be treated. The people that make up our team are – without doubt – our most important and valuable asset.

We still have much to accomplish, but the goal is closer than before and we are working toward hitting the mark. This journey has been enlightening, challenging and very rewarding. Ways of thinking about each other and work have changed and opened positive new channels of collaboration. I hope you are encouraged to think about your company and how you can make a positive difference for the future.

––––

Martin Howard, president NTCA
Committee member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – November 2017

It’s that time of year when we are pushing hard to reach the career goals we set back in January, and now there are only weeks left to the finish line. We all lead very busy lives, and even more so as we approach the holiday season.

In the midst of our hectic lives do you ever wish you could hit the pause button for a moment? Years ago, I heard a wise man say, “Keep the main thing, the main thing.”

Here’s a question for us to consider: how can we prioritize those other “main things” like we prioritize our careers? “Main things,” like family, faith, and caring for others in our community. It’s hard to hit pause when most of us are never far from our smart phones, televisions, computers, social media, or the 24-hour news channel. How do we minimize the distractions that rob us from growing and moving forward to achieve our goals?

We know planning and prioritizing our time is always the fundamental first step in the right direction. I’ve learned that if I take a little time to regularly reflect on the blessings in my life, I have that extra boost of motivation to stay the course, whether that applies to business, family, my faith or serving in the community. When we reflect, and realize the many ways our lives are blessed, we walk in a fresh perspective that makes some of the stressful stuff in life take its rightful place in the back seat.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a third-world country with a team that reaches out to the two billion people in the world who have no access to basic financial service and serves them through micro loans for small business enterprises. While there, I was privileged to observe how these people who had limited electricity, no water or sewer services, and limited public or private transportation live contented, even joyful lives, in the midst of severe poverty. How do they live with joy amid poverty? They had the love and support of their families and community and a sturdy faith in God. They had an unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit that propelled them to work hard to better their lives. This experience caused me to embrace the value of every life, the dignity of work regardless the pay scale, and see that we all have purpose. It also reminded me we were all born into a set of circumstances for which and over which we had no choice or control. Those of us fortunate enough to have been born in the United States of America, have not only received blessings beyond compare, we have been given the opportunity – no, I would say the responsibility – to lift others up in every way possible.

So, this Thanksgiving I’d encourage all of us to reflect on how blessed we are and how we can make a difference in the lives of others without compromising their dignity.

Martin Howard, NTCA president
Committee member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – October 2017

NTCA participates in international outreach during Cersaie in Bologna, Italy

Leaders of the National Tile Contractors Association were recently honored guests at the Cersaie Ceramic Tile Trade Fair, held annually in Bologna, Italy. Cersaie took place September 25th-29th, and is the world’s largest exhibition of ceramic tile and installation
materials. NTCA executive director Bart Bettiga, chairman of the board James Woelfel and

I attended the exhibition and collaborated with leaders of several international associations dedicated to the professional installation of ceramic tile. In addition to attending the fair and technical seminars, with an emphasis on large-format and gauged porcelain tile panels, NTCA leaders participated in an exclusive meeting with representatives of Assopossa, the Italian association dedicated to ceramic tile installation.
The emphasis on the meeting was on training and education, and promoting best business practices of tiling contractors. In addition to the board of Assopossa, leaders of the EUF, the European Federation of National Tilers Associations, also participated in the summit discussions. Topics on the agenda included different systems of certifi cations, for both installers and contracting companies’ education and training initiatives, including apprenticeship programs, keeping pace with changing and innovative technology, and safety in the workplace, especially as it relates to the creation of dust during work place operations.

An official tour of four technical partners of Assopossa was also part of the program, with official visits at Cersaie scheduled with Fila Care and Maintenance Systems, MAPEI Coporation, Raimondi Tools, and Schluter Systems.
The NTCA Board of Directors has identified international outreach as one of its main strategic objectives. The goal of this outreach is to establish dialogue and collaboration with other associations with shared interest in promoting and advancing the proper professional installation of tile and stone in the market place. We seek opportunities to learn and collaborate with these associations to continue to build consensus within the industry where advantageous. The desire is to engage the manufacturers with a broad base of support for training and education that enhances the use of tile and stone with technically sound and beautiful installations around the world. NTCA has previously developed programs and relationships with tile and installation associations in Australia, Canada and Spain. Discussions with other associations are ongoing.

Keep on tiling!
Martin Howard, president NTCA
Committee member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – July 2017

Developing an attractive career path in the tile trade

This month, we follow up on last month’s President Letter discussing how we become “Best in Class” contractors, and how one of the centerpieces is being skilled and trained craftspeople. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room; there is a serious shortage of young, talented workers entering the construction field as a career choice.

In last month’s Editor’s Letter, we learned that in the 2016 U.S. market, the public consumed approximately 2.8 billion sq. ft. of ceramic tile. Based on some quick number crunching and lots of assumptions, between 70,000 and 80,000 full-time tile mechanics would be required to install that volume of tile. This does not include installing any stone finishes. Even though the NTCA has approximately 1,400 members and CTEF has certified approximately 1,300 Certified Tile Installers nationwide, added together, it’s all a proverbial “drop in the bucket!”

This doesn’t mean that most – or many – installers not belonging to one of these groups are unqualified; it does mean that we need to work hard to draw them in to a program of continuing education and training along with potential certification. Based on the number and scope of failures that exist in our trade, it’s safe to say that a sizable number of those installing tile have neither been properly trained nor are seeking further professional development.

I was talking with a general contractor recently about this issue, and we began to think about all the impediments that keep non-college aspiring young people from taking a serious look at the construction field as a career choice. We came up with several that might be worth our attention. On average, there are few organized training programs regionally or nationally on the high school/vocational school level that allow students to learn and earn a diploma or work at the same time. The only exceptions we could identify quickly were the electrical and mechanical trades, which also require certifications – and in some cases, licensing – to climb the career ladder. Add to that, the often-poor working conditions on project sites such as limited elevators or buck hoists, non-air-conditioned work areas, and disorganized work spaces with numerous other trades often working in the same rooms. I’m sure there are many more you can think of, but probably one of the most important is the low earning potential of many workers during the training process and potentially even beyond.

We need to start the dialog about how we as an industry can develop an attractive career path, including training that will show entrants what they must achieve to earn their desired income. At the same time, we need to attempt to minimize some of the other negatives of the modern construction environment. As a finish trade with highly artistic components, I believe we have an advantage over some other trades because our work is always on display.

Dan Welch and Becky Serbin – along with the Education and Training Committee – are working hard to put together the complete apprenticeship program, which will include a career path and earning scale. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I invite you to do so. This is only one piece of a comprehensive plan we must develop or eventually we will all suffer the consequences.

I welcome your comments and ideas about how to move forward and I ask for your involvement and participation in the solution.

Keep on tiling!

Martin Howard, NTCA president

Committee member, ANSI A108

[email protected]

President’s Letter – June 2017

Defining a “Best in Class Tile Contractor”

You have heard me use the term “Best in Class Tile Contractor” in past letters. So, what does that term mean? How do we bring our companies to that level of achievement? These are very good questions, and I’m glad you asked.

In a nutshell, the working definition of a “Best in Class Tile Contractor” is a professional contractor committed to excellence in every phase of their business, utilizing industry best practices, and has been recognized by its customers as a preferred contractor.

Other aspects of a “Best in Class Tile Contractor” are to use the right materials for the application and intended use, and carrying themselves in a professional manner, interacting respectfully with the client and other trades. And “Best in Class Tile Contractors” draft proposals and contracts that are well written and clearly identify the specific scope of work, while quoting a fair price — not a cheap price.

One of Stephen Covey’s principles of highly effective people is to “Begin with the end in mind.”  If we want to be successful, profitable, trusted, respected and preferred tile contractors, we must build our businesses on each of these principles. To become a “Best in Class Tile Contractor” we must be willing to invest in every aspect of our business. This means providing the best trained and skilled craftspeople, installing the best materials for the given application, while utilizing the current best practices of the trade.  Each of these elements requires consistent education and updating. Have you heard the statement, “I’ve been doing it this way for 20 years and never had a problem?” I’d say chances are high this individual is not part of a “Best in Class” organization.

Foundational to this is striving to hire and train the best people, and giving them the opportunity to stay on top of the latest industry standards and best practices. If we aren’t aggressively seeking to keep up with these improvements, we will quickly be left behind. Our level of professionalism will gradually decline until we become reactionary in nature rather than proactive.

When I visit job sites and talk with crews of installers and finishers, it becomes clear very quickly that they have received minimal training. They may have had a mentor for a short time, but most have just figured it out in the field, picking up a little here and there. Most of these crews are eager to learn “best practices” because they want to walk away from every completed job with pride in their finished work.

The NTCA has many options for you to take advantage of when considering training and education curricula for your craftspeople. The Finisher Apprenticeship on-line training program is an excellent place to start. Participation and involvement at Total Solutions Plus, Coverings or TISE West (Surfaces) can supplement your regular educational activities. Getting copies of the TCNA Handbook and ANSI A108, and beginning the process of learning how to use these industry recommendations and standards is another great step forward.

We all need to evaluate our businesses and find the areas where we aren’t using best practices and implement procedures to move us toward the goal. The health of our companies is at risk and so is the health of our industry. We all know that skilled craftspeople are in short supply and the only way to improve this is to train and educate those we have and those entering the trade.

Let’s all make a commitment to see the NTCA logo carry recognition and respect from the customers that employ us. Keep on tiling!

Martin Howard, president, NTCA Committee member, ANSI A108

[email protected]

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