Qualified Labor: Edwardo Martinez

ctiCertification provides confidence; shows commitment and excellence

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

Edwardo Martinez and Surfaces 15, the residential remodeling/renovation and commercial company he co-founded two years ago with Greg Twarog in the Chicago area, are committed to standing out in the tile industry. Martinez discovered Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) certification through the online Tile Geeks Facebook group and jumped right into the deep end.

ql-02Martinez, a second-generation installer who’s been a tile setter practically from birth, took the Certified Tile Installer test at Coverings 2016, front and center on the Coverings stage. “I did it backwards,” Martinez said, “No studying, no prep work. I filled a spot last minute. I did it to test my skill and knowledge.” There is a book to study for the certification and while most people take some time to look it over, Martinez jumped at the last minute opportunity. “I was not planning on taking it, but a post on Tile Geeks by (NTCA State Director, Tennessee) Bradford Denny changed the course of history,” he said.

Martinez decided to become certified, “to challenge my personal skill set. I wanted to stand out and be different from any other contractor and show commitment and excellence in my field,” he said. Martinez described certification as “the next best option other than being union, in the non-union world.”

The tile industry lacks a universal, national licensing regulation. Some states don’t have any licensing requirements at all for tile installers. The CTEF certification provides a universal standard, recognized by the tile industry, by which tile companies can prove their merits and consumers can find reliable, skilled installers.

ql-01In addition to these benefits, Martinez points out, “[certification] has made making new networking relationships a lot easier.” Becoming certified has also provided Martinez with more confidence in his skill set and his status  “as a true professional and industry leader.” With certification in hand, Martinez has the justification for charging more for his services, because it sets him apart from the norm. According to Martinez, “By being certified, we are able to impact the labor trade in a way it has not been done before.” Having grown up in the trade, Martinez has been in the industry for more than twenty years, but still finds great value in being a Certified Tile Installer. Certification is “well worth the investment and makes you a part of a whole new network,” Martinez said.

Qualified Labor – August 2016

1_CTI_20x20Jeremy Waldorf: owner/operator Legacy Floors

Certification offers customer extra value, bolstered by education and experience

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

Jeremy Waldorf, owner/operator of Legacy Floors in Howell, Mich., recalled setting wall tile with a slice of pizza in one hand during his Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exam at the end of 2015. “There was absolutely no room for breaks, at least in my case,” Waldorf said. “[The hands-on test] was pretty stressful, and much more challenging than I thought it would be.”

ql-02The context of the CTI hands-on test might be intimidating as described by Waldorf, “In a room with seven other guys, with seven other tool setups, methods, and approaches…I was tempted to peek over and see what kinds of things other guys were doing.” But now that he’s certified, Waldorf has more confidence that he will make the right choices. “With the manuals, resources, and most importantly, the industry connections I now have, I am always able to get answers from more experienced and more skilled tile setters and industry representatives,” Waldorf said.

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In fact, becoming a CTI gave Waldorf an unexpected gift. Since getting certified, Waldorf said, “I am a lot more active in networking with other professionals, and attending clinics and workshops to stay educated about the tile industry. [And] I am plugged into the TileGeeks Facebook group, where I am regularly inspired by absolutely amazing craftsmen, and also get to laugh at the things we all come across in our work days.”

Although Waldorf was certified only six months ago, he was raised in the industry and has been a hard-surface specialist for 18 years. Early on in his career Waldorf committed himself to education. “My company philosophy has been to educate myself in my trade whenever possible, and to deliver the absolute best job I can give them,” Waldorf said.

ql-03According to Waldorf, certification is an opportunity “to really understand how much you have to learn. If you’re willing to take correction and listen to others so that you can brand yourself better, offering your clients advantages that most of your competition won’t, then certification will be an amazing step for you to take.” In addition to humbling you, Waldorf emphasizes that “certification will give you confidence in your abilities and help you make connections with others that can make you a better tile setter.”

Since becoming a CTI, Waldorf completes every tile installation under the assumption that it will be subject to inspection just like when he took the hands-on exam. “I naturally consider what it would be like to have someone take apart my finished work, examining every aspect of it,” Waldorf said. And as a result, Waldorf believes every project he completes is the absolute best he can give. According to Waldorf, certification allows you to “offer your customers more value because you’re not just hands that use tools. You are selling them your education and experience, and that is more important than anything else in this business. That’s how you will build your reputation.”

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.”

John Trent: Certification – fighting the good fight against sub-par installations

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

“Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

june-qual-01When John Trent became a territory manager for Schluter Systems in 2012, the importance of certification in the industry was solidified for him. “As a territory manager, a lot of my time is spent training installers. In these workshops, we train on average 40 attendees, on both Schluter products and industry standards,” Trent said. “While I have encountered many ‘cream of the crop’ installers within the industry, I also see men and women who are just entering the trade and have little to no exposure outside what they have picked up through trial and error, watching others, DIY shows, or spending an hour at a big box store. Almost always, these paths have promoted installation methods that do not reflect what is accepted by the industry.”

Trent has been touting the benefits of certification through the Certified Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) for years, starting when he was the owner/operator of John Trent Tile & Stone. Certification was so important to him as an owner that after becoming a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) in 2009, he helped his competition get certified. Trent helped his competitors, because “it helped us all justify keeping our price on par with each other,” he said. “No one likes to lose business, but it makes it easier to lose it to someone who you are comfortable with, knowing the customer chose someone with the proven credentials to provide a lasting tile job.”

Trent first became interested in certification because of his own rocky start in the tile industry. Trent admitted, “I first got into the industry on my own, through trial and error. I was exactly the type of guy we see entering the trade today – with no experience, no apprenticeship, nothing but the eagerness to create.” After learning about the National Tile Contractor’s Association (NTCA) and the many opportunities it offers, Trent said, “I became a sponge, soaking up everything I could… John Cox and James Woelfel became friends, as well as mentors… Knowing that the two men I’d come to admire as mentors and friends supported certification, it became a must-have achievement for me.”

Now as a 15-year industry veteran, Trent could talk for an hour about the benefits of certification. When asked why he would encourage others to become certified, Trent waxed philosophical. “I believe we all owe it to ourselves and our industry to improve conditions within our control when we are able to do so,” he said. “Certification is one of the paths we can travel to fulfill this obligation.”

Trent pointed out that the tile industry is harmed by sub-par tile installations. “If an end user receives a job that may be beautiful the day it is installed, but only becomes a maintenance headache or fails prematurely, they are less likely to use tile again,” he said. “This, in part, is the reason for an increased number of alternatives to tile, which are perceived to be less of a maintenance headache or have less of a chance of failure.”

As both an individual business owner and a territory manager for Schluter, Trent has been a strong proponent of certification. “I discuss certification at the beginning of every class I host, as well as with everyone I come in contact with, whether they are in the industry – installers, designers, sales, code enforcement, architects – or simply project owners,” Trent said. Certification is an important step to showing customers your value as a tile installer. Being a CTI sets you apart from your competition and shows a willingness to go above and beyond. “At the time of my certification, I was CTI #277; meaning, there were only 277 of us nationwide. This made it difficult for it to mean something to the broader audience,” Trent said. “That has changed and we are now seeing projects that either recommend or require certified [tile] installers…Ultimately, through certification, the industry is providing end users a better product and increasing consumption of tile.” And this can only mean good things for the tile industry.

Bill Baptista: “Don’t be left behind; get certified”

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

may-baptista-01One day, shortly after achieving Certified Tile Installer (CTI) status, Bill Baptista, owner of J&B Tile, in Westport, Mass., walked into a high-end tile shop in Portsmouth. He handed the owner a pamphlet explaining industry-recognized  tile installer certification – and that was it. “I’ve been doing all her work ever since then,” Baptista said. He went on to explain that she works with architects who are building multi-million dollar homes. “Because she has high-end clientele, she wanted a Certified Tile Installer. And that opened up the door for me. [The architects] want someone who knows what they’re doing and doesn’t look like they rolled out of the back of a pick-up truck. You have to kind of look the part.”

Baptista’s father was in the tile industry before he was old enough to lift a trowel. In 1988, Baptista opened J&B Tile and since then it has a few incarnations. He started out small and eventually grew to a 15-person shop. But, Baptista said, “Now, I’m small, but people are very happy with what gets done.” And what gets done? Baptista does tile work of all kinds, but specializes in high-end, custom showers.

Baptista credited certification with his success. “When I go in and see a customer,” he said, “I have a little binder that I bring in and show them all of these certifications that I’ve been to. And then I always ask them at the end, because they’re usually getting more than one price, has anybody else shown you anything like this? And they say no. And I definitely get 90% of anything I go and look at. And I think it has a lot to do with [certification].”

Baptista has been in the tile industry for almost 30 years. About the CTI test, Baptista said, “Being in the business that long, I knew most of my stuff, but it’s kind of nice getting it reinforced. I definitely learned some things. Of course, I do things a certain way. When you go to the class you see things done another way. Not that I was doing anything wrong, but I could’ve been doing things a little bit different; more efficient, like I do now.”

Certification has proved especially lucrative for Baptista, who is one of only two CTEF Certified Tile Installers in his area, “and I make sure the customers know that,” he said. “The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation has a download at www.tilecareer.com, under the Consumer Help tab. It’s actually for customers: ‘Contractor Questionnaire.’ I print that out and I give it to my potential customers. And I explain to them, ‘Tile is expensive. It’s expensive to install. Here’s a pamphlet with what you should be looking for in an installer.’ People thank me for it and I usually always get the call.”

Baptista emphasized that the certification is no joke. “There are a lot of hacks in this business,” he said. “And it’s not like, you know, an electrician or a plumber, they have to be licensed. You don’t necessarily have to be licensed in the tile business.”

Baptista praised CTEF training director, Scott Carothers. “He doesn’t just take your money and give you a certification,” Baptista said. “That guy makes sure you know what you’re doing before he gives you that certification. In fact, when I was there, there were two other guys that had been there before and didn’t pass the certification. They were there doing kind of a make-up before he gave them a certification. It’s not just a money grab; [Carothers] is dead serious.”

Certification is important to the industry as a whole. “I’ll tell you,” Baptista said, “At least once a week, a potential customer calls me to come and look at a job that had been done by somebody else. And I mean horror shows. I don’t think they know what a chalk line is, a straight line. They’re not using the right notch trowels. They’re not using the right mortar. They really have no idea what they’re doing. They’re kind of giving the tile industry a bad name.” To all tile installers, Baptista said, “If you’re serious about this business and want to stay in it for the long haul, then you have to go distance yourself from all those ‘ham and eggers’ out there that have no certifications. You have to do something different. And that’s what I do. I go to [manufacturer] classes and when the National Tile Contractors Association comes around and puts on their demonstrations, [I go]. Anything new on the market, I read up on it, look into it. You have to stay on top of things in this industry or you’re going to be left behind.”

Qualified Labor – March 2016

1_CTI_20x20You’re in good hands with a Certified Tile Installer

Saugerties, N.Y., contractor gets certified for personal pride and customer assurance

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

EJT-logo

EJT-eric

Eric Tetreault, owner, EJT Contracting

Eric Tetreault, owner of EJT Contracting, has been a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) since 2011 and an Advanced Certified Tile (ACT) Installer since 2014. Tetreault explained the importance of certification, saying, “The industry as a whole needs a way to honor, celebrate – as well as isolate and market – certified labor. There is far too much unqualified work going on out there. And for customers, it can be overwhelming to try to figure out who is qualified and not, as well as who is properly trained, knowledgeable, experienced, and skilled.”

For people who don’t see the need for certification, Tetreault said, “Do it for yourself if not for any other reason. If you fail, you’ll know where you need to improve. If you pass, you’ll know you’re among the best and the brightest in the country. It’s an elite status that I personally am proud to be a part of.” If bragging rights aren’t enough to convince other installers they should become certified, Tetreault added, “I’ve found that with the right approach, people are comfortable with paying more for qualified labor than they would otherwise.”

Being certified, “has certainly improved my customers’ trust in me,” Tetreault said. “I work with builders and designers who work with other installers and I seldom get the average, or the easy jobs. As a certified installer,  I’ll always be the one to do the higher-end job; the job with more details, the job with particular challenges, and the jobs that need any sort of special consideration.”

The tile industry has no federal or consistent state-to-state guidelines for tile installers. In some states tile installers require a contractor’s license, but in many states no licensing or certification is required at all. Tetreault said, “Competition is very cutthroat out there. There is no barrier-of-entry into the industry, so you have everyone from the very best to the very worst competing on a level playing field. I decided to get certified to help my customers understand that there are independent testing and certifications out there to validate a person’s skills, expertise, experience, and professionalism. Since I present myself as a certified installer, they can feel assured that they are in good hands, as well as research the program to understand the certification process and the commitment [it shows] to the work I do.”

Tests are a challenge

Tetreault admits he was challenged by the tests. “I like it that way,” Tetreault said. “If it were too easy, it would only be a piece of paper.” Tetreault described the test, “The hands-on test was far more difficult than expected. The layout, design, and details were not as easy as they look[ed]. When finished, the test module was dissected for judging of the parts that are not seen and often overlooked. Every last detail of the install was inspected and judged. It was stressful.”

And if that wasn’t hard enough, Tetreault said, “The written test was even more challenging. The questions were highly specific, and not just common knowledge. There’s no way someone would know the answers to these questions who wasn’t dedicated to the tile industry exclusively.”

The certification process is a chance to really see the standard to which all tile installation needs to rise. During testing, the judges, “really go over [the test module] with a fine-tooth comb looking at craftsmanship, performance, manufacturers’ recommended practices, industry standards, neatness, and cleanliness.” This kind of perfectionism raises the bar for tile installers everywhere.

Tetreault completed the ACT certifications in Membranes, LFT, Mud Floors, and Shower Receptors and plans on taking the Mud Walls certification as soon as he becomes more proficient. Tetreault said, “I plan on taking any new ACT tests as they become available.”

Located in Saugerties, N.Y., EJT Contracting has been specializing in residential and remodeling tile installation since 2007. Tetreault found out all about certification while visiting the Certified Tile Education Foundation and decided that certification, “was well worth the effort.” Now that he is both CTI and ACT certified, Tetreault said, “My customers do seem to trust me more than ever before.”

Qualified Labor – Dave Karp, Tile Fusion LLC

1_CTI_20x20Dave Karp, Tile Fusion LLC

Certification: a standard to validating professionalism, skills and willingness to excel

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

tile-fusion-logoAfter eight years as a tile installer, Dave Karp became a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) at Daltile in Plymouth, Minn., in 2008.

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Dave Karp, owner, Tile Fusion LLC

“I found out on a Sunday night that Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) was coming to town on Tuesday,” Karp said. “I sent emails that night and called first thing Monday morning to make sure I could get in. I felt it was a great way to separate myself from the rest of the guys in town.”

A year later Karp opened Tile Fusion in Shakopee, Minn., specializing in high-end, meticulous, and detailed residential tile installation. Becoming a CTI gave Karp the confidence to pursue his own tile shop. “[Certification] made me feel stronger as an installer, more professional, and better at selling myself.”

The CTI exam consists of two parts – a hands-on portion and a written-portion. “The written test wasn’t too difficult, being open book,” he said. “I read the book a couple of times.” For Karp, the hands-on portion was a different story. “I was in the same room as two of the Twin Cities’ premier installers,” Karp said. “Legends I’d call them: Joe Kerber and Jan Hohn. It meant the world to me to be able to show everyone what I’ve got.”

During the test, students have two days for preparation, tile setting, grouting and taking the written exam. It can be a very stressful experience that requires both quick thinking and quick acting. “The tile supplied to us was 4” X 4” white ceramic and 12” X 12” porcelain, but there were two different dye lots,” he explained. “I used this as a design feature – one color for the border and checkerboard for the center.”

Gerald Sloan, former NTCA trainer, judged Karp’s work and was impressed by his decision to include 1/16” joints. “I still feel good thinking back on that day,” Karp said.

In addition to being a CTI, Karp is wedi, Schluter, and StonePeak-MaxFine thin tile certified. And he became a member of the National Tile Contractor’s Association (NTCA) after hearing Gerald Sloan speak in August 2009. “He spoke of education, technical knowledge and professionalism within the industry and how the NTCA is leading the way. I signed up that night to be a member.” Karp is also a member of the Handmade Tile Association.

Karp is currently preparing for the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) in vertical mortar. NTCA membership and CTEF certification provide incredible value to the tile installer. The NTCA and CTI logos distinguish his estimates and invoices from those of competitors, and give tangible proof of an installer’s expertise. “I promote certification as a standard to validating who you are, your professionalism, skills and willingness to excel.”

Are You Paying Attention? – January 3, 2016

Back in August of last year the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handed down a new standard that “rewrites U.S. Labor law and upends thousands of business relationships”. Their reasoning is that the old standard was “increasingly out of step with changing economic circumstances”. Reaction was swift with several calling it “alarming” and “fundamentally unrealistic”. The new rule stems from the board’s watershed Browning-Ferris decision which dealt with joint-employer relationships. While the rule will have far reaching effects on industries from staffing companies to franchises, it will also have great effect on the construction industry in terms of how our labor is classified. And yes you should at the very least be aware and even concerned.

The focus of this ruling for our industry concerns the classification of labor into the camps of employees and sub-contractors. While the NLRB, the governmental agency that implements the National Labor Relations Act, has found it within their jurisdiction and infinite wisdom to reverse several decades of practice in labor relationships, they are of the opinion that the line between the two to be blurred to the point that action separating them must be taken. The dissenters on the board who voted against this decision said it “reverses several prior decisions that established clear standards…all of which had been approved by powerful federal courts of appeal”. This is specifically addressing the use of 1099-based labor in the construction industry.

I’m sure many are aware of the IRS’s 20 Point Checklist for Determining an Independent Contractor (http://art.mt.gov/artists/IRS_20pt_Checklist_%20Independent_Contractor.pdf) which has been used in the past to make the distinction between an employee and a subcontractor. It now appears that the NLRB wishes to go beyond this already stringent test to make it even more so as the Obama administration chases “perceived worker rights abuses” as a main target as increased funding to both the NLRB and the IRS has increased in the last few years. The rule seems to actively seek to “restrict and tighten the use of independent contractors “ in the construction industry. This matter is especially poignant to the homebuilding industry since the NAHB states that a typical builder “relies on an average of 22 subcontractors to build a typical single family home.” Much of this stems from the toughening stance put forth from the Department of Labor and an administrator’s opinion that stated that the DOL “is putting more weight on a subcontractor’s economic independence when it decides whether that sub really ought to be regarded as an independent enterprise”. No longer is the IRS’s checklist enough. Now subcontractors must show “the managerial and business skills that are part of being and independent contractor, not just providing skilled labor”.

At stake is misclassification of your labor, if you use subcontractors, and the perception that they should have been W-2 based employees. The money it could cost you if they deem you have breached their new rules “can be ruinous”. It has been said that “reclassification attacks are very expensive to defend” and the resulting actions trigger a “domino-like effect” that if you lose your case can have you paying beloved fees such as past due overtime, past due health insurance, past due retirement benefits, past due employee benefits, past due worker’s compensation insurance, past due state and federal withholding taxes plus penalties and interest and enormous legal fees to the other side.

I doubt any installation contractors in our industry want to incur such onerous penalties that could potentially put them out of business, so each must understand the risks and rewards of this issue. This issue is currently being researched and information is being disseminated by the installation industry. There has even been a period of time after this ruling for associations such as ours to comment to the NLRB our opinion of the rule and how it will affect our members.

There has been legislation proposed in Congress to undo the rule by representatives whose constituents have shown an “immense backlash” to it. I urge you to consider the ramifications of the NLRB’s new rule on your business and our industry. Do some research into how the rule will be applied in your state. I also urge you to contact your legislators to support, as one congressman put it, “commonsense proposals that would restore policies in place long before the NLRB’s radical decision, the very same policies that served workers, employers, and consumers well for decades.”

A program on this very subject will be presented at the Surfaces show in Las Vegas and is just one of the educational opportunities available there January 19.

Qualified Labor – January 2016

1_CTI_20x20hawthorne_logo

 

 

 

 

 

CTI exam tests and teaches Hawthorne Tile’s project manager Shon Parker learns from the Certified Tile Installer evaluation

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

shon-parker

Shon Parker

In 2014, when Shon Parker of Hawthorne Tile walked into his local Portland, Ore., Daltile, he glanced at the modules for the hands-on portion of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) Test and thought it would take only a few hours to complete. He was surprised that it took six hours, and that the written part of the test was so thorough. “The hands-on [test] looks deceptively easy, and just like the written test, was broad in what was being tested…given the small space it was in.”

Parker started in the tile industry in 1987 and has been a journeyman for 20 years. He describes the hands-on portion as “not too bad,” but admits the written portion “took a bit of studying.” He explains, “I felt I had a good understanding of specifications in our industry before the test, but going through some of the questions made me realize how much is really out there.”

Parker learned about the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) certifications at a Schluter training event for NTCA contractors. After talking to NTCA assistant executive director Jim Olson about the CTEF, Parker and two other installers from Hawthorne Tile signed up for the certification.

“When I heard about the opportunity,” Parker said, “I thought it would be an asset for our company and something to set us apart from our local competition.” Since becoming certified, Parker said the installers at Hawthorne Tile “educate our clients and builders prior to starting any project. We also spend more time at our vendors and chatting with our reps to make sure we are always moving forward to produce a better product.”

Parker feels like he has a better understanding about his industry than a lot of his competition. “Hawthorne Tile has always been about giving our clients the best-looking project we can. Now we know we can give them a well-functioning and technically correct one as well.”

The benefits of becoming certified are obvious to Parker. “Why wouldn’t you [become certified]?” Parker asked. “As more people understand the value of what [certification] means, it will increase your worth to employers and clients,” Parker said. “It’s really one of the best ways to bring up wages in our industry.” He likens it to someone who goes to college for computer programming and obtains a degree – that person will get “a better salary than a guy playing around on his laptop and reading some books in his spare time,” he said.

Parker pointed out that the trade now relies both on hands-on skills as well as an important base of knowledge. “To be successful, you need to be equally skilled at both,” he said. “There are so many new materials out and designers asking to put tile in new locations, plus all the new things tile is being made out of, from new types and sizes of glass to the relatively new thin porcelain type of material like Laminam. Education is key to keeping your liability as low as possible.”

Going through the certification process winds up being educational even though it’s a testing program. During his CTI testing, Parker learned about thin-set coverage and the differences between thin-set mortars. “I always knew that more coverage was better,” Parker said, “but there are differences between wet vs. dry locations.”

Hawthorne Tile now has a page on its website dedicated to education. Parker himself has been through his local union apprenticeship program and training from Nuheat and wedi. He enjoys attending classes that manufacturers host because they allow him to learn new things and keep up on current trends in the industry. Next, Parker is planning on taking the Ceramic Tile Inspection course also offered by CTEF.

Qualified Labor – September 2015

1_CTI_20x20Cain Curtis, Certified Tile Installer #362

One of the select few in Atlanta

By Lesley Goddin

Cain Curtis, owner of A Tile Experience in Atlanta, has been a tile setter longer than he hasn’t. His dad and uncle were both in the business, so he wound up helping on jobs when he was only 13 or 14. It was natural that he follow in their footsteps.

cain_curtisIn 2011, he joined NTCA. But the year before, in mid-May, he decided to take the Certified Tile Installer exam, administered on site at Traditions in Tile in Buford, Ga., by CTEF’s Scott Carothers.

“At the time, we were in the height of the construction slowdown/recession,” Curtis said. “I was subcontracting for a store; I went through six jobs in a year trying to find work. I started realizing what I didn’t know about my trade. And it came down to someone less qualified than me wanted me to show them how to do it and then pay me peanuts. I wanted to set myself apart.”

Back then, the written exam was administered onsite at the same time as the hands-on portion of the test, and having studied, he breezed through it. “They sent me the book and I read [it],” he said. “There wasn’t a single question that I didn’t know. It was an open book test, with the questions in the exact same order as they appear in the back of the book. It was super easy. I was one of last people done with hands on test, but first one done in the written test.”

The hands-on test was a different story. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” he continued. “And having Scott doing the testing…he’s a scary man to be poking and prodding at your tile installation!”

But he passed, and was credentialed as Certified Tile Installer #362 – now one of only about 35 Certified Tile Installers in the state of Georgia among thousands of tile setters, according to Curtis. He also plans to pursue ACT certification as well, “to see if I can pass it,” he said.

Despite his Certified Tile Installer credentials, which he displays on his business cards, Curtis still bemoans the number of times he gets underbid by unqualified or even unlicensed contractors – though sometimes he gets called back for cleanup. He tells a story about a recent customer who called him to say her drywall guy said he could do the subway tile backsplash for only about half of Curtis’ bid. The company got 18 A+ reviews on a popular website. But not surprisingly, the $350 job failed, so instead of paying $600 or $700 to do the job right the first time, this customer had to shell out $1200, plus whatever she paid to the drywall guy who originally installed the job.

Curtis would love to see more designers, architects and distributors know and understand what certification represents – not a “certificate that says you showed up at a training,” Curtis explains. Because he finds certification is not well understood in his region, he finds “telling people what I am doing is the biggest sell.”

He reinforces his certification and his skills by going “to every educational opportunity I can in my area. I find that sometimes people are looking for someone with experience with a certain product, and since I keep myself educated, I get experience with everything I can.”

Curtis encourages more tile setters to take the exams. “I’ve recommended it to a number of people to learn that they don’t know what they are doing, and to others because they are almost there. If you think you are good enough, go sign up to take it – you’ll know instantly!

“I’d like to see more people take it and be a more level playing field with the competition, so it wasn’t apples and oranges bids,” he concluded.

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