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, 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



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.


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 ( 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







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

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.

Qualified Labor – August 2015 “Green Issue”

1_CTI_20x20ACT certification enriches Neuse superintendent’s abilities

Juan Sauceda is the first Neuse Tile Service installer to obtain ACT credentials

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing


Juan Sauceda recently completed his Advanced Certified Tile Installer (ACT) certification in Membranes and Shower Receptors. He is one of many Neuse Tile Service installers to have successfully completed the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exam over the last decade, but the first to achieve ACT certification. “I felt like it was an opportunity,” Sauceda said. “The company didn’t have anybody with that label, and they just wanted to go for it.”

1-QL-neusetilePaige Smith, vice president, said Neuse ( sends installers to National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and Certified Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) education programs because, “It distinguishes us from the many competitors we have in the market. It’s also a great opportunity as [the installers] study for the tests to refresh what they already know, and it gives them pride in what they do.”

As Neuse Tile’s superintendent and installer for over 13 years, Sauceda took the ACT exam in order to “enrich [his] abilities.” Sauceda said, “When you’re in the field, sometimes you learn on your own; there are very few opportunities to see other points of view. [Taking the test] is a good way to see other ways to get things done. Different techniques. You just expand your knowledge.”

Sauceda became a CTI about eight years ago and has continued to learn and improve over the last decade. Becoming a CTI and ACT helped Sauceda learn different tile setting techniques that literally cut the time in half it that it took him to do it before.

Neuse Tile Service is a NTCA Five Star Contractor based in Youngsville, N.C., from where past NTCA president Nyle Wadford hails. The company uses the CTI and ACT credentials everywhere it possibly can. Smith said, “We try to promote any of the programs that are in our area through our social media, anything that we attend and any offerings we want our customers to know are available for continuing education.” Smith pointed out that paying attention to continuing education distinguishes Neuse Tile as a company that cares about its customers and their employees, which hopefully gives them a leg up over the competition.

Qualified Labor – July 2015 – Collins Tile and Stone

Steve Keator, Collins Tile and Stone

CTI supports best practices; boosts client trust, installer confidence and marketability

1_CTI_20x20By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

Steve Keator, director of Field Operations for Collins Tile and Stone in Ashburn, Va., can’t say enough about the value of being a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) affords his customers.

steve_keator“As a CTI, the work that I produce satisfies the greatest expectations and quality of work within the industry,” said Keator. “We establish trust and confidence with our clients when they know that our skilled CTIs are capable of performing all work using industry best practices and techniques resulting in superior quality and lasting installations.”

Having CTIs on staff makes Keator’s job easier. “I am responsible for maintaining a level of quality control over the tile installations by making sure that industry best practices and techniques are performed within each kitchen and bathroom remodeling project,” he said. “This task is easier for me because all of our tile mechanics are CTI certified.”

collins_logoCollins Tile and Stone leverages the CTI credentials of its employees in all its marketing. “We promote CTI credentials and post the CTI logo throughout our marketing materials, including our website, social media outlets (FB, Houzz, Pinterest), Angie’s List, and in the email signature of all employees,” Keator said. The company also designates that it is a company that employs CTIs on each business card.

“We promote the CTI logo on our company vehicles as well,” Keator said. “In addition, we cite CTI certification of our installers on every proposal and contract we provide to our clients to establish the high level of expertise of our tile installers.”

Keator took the CTI evaluation in November 2010 at Daltile in Richmond, Va. He took the written test in person and found finishing the hands-on portion in the allotted six hours to be the hardest part. Keator was grateful for his existing level of technical knowledge and the written test reinforced the necessity of industry methods and standards for producing top-quality installations.

And although the CTI evaluation is not a training course, Keator said, “[I] gained a greater understanding of the necessity of pre-sloping and proper weep hole protection, proper mud pan installation, different types of joist systems, and substrates and their requirements.”

After installing tile for five years, Keator, pursued CTI certification to advance his education and to increase his skills as a tile tradesman. All of this prepared him for a supervisory position.

Why should someone become a CTI? “Being a CTI sets me apart from other tile mechanics in the industry,” Keator said. “As a CTI, my skill level is proven and I know I am capable of building quality tile installations that will last. This has helped me to personally take pride in my work, as well as to build my career from an installer to a supervisor. I am more marketable with these [proven] skills and provide value to every job I complete.”

In addition to increasing the marketability of Keator and his employing company, he said that being a CTI has instilled an increased level of confidence in his installers and himself. “I am using industry best practices and techniques,” he said. “The fact that our company employs CTIs equates to a highly skilled [and] educated workforce.”

Keator has advice for installers thinking about becoming a CTI: be prepared. “Although the [written exam] was open book, I had to be fully prepared and well versed in tile installation technique and knowledge,” he said. Since “the manuals are rather large and comprehensive, it was imperative that I came prepared for the exam and was familiar with the information in order to locate references quickly, as needed, throughout the test.”

Qualified Labor – June 2015

1_CTI_20x20The ACT exam: a life-changing experience for Mark Iosue of Mi Terra Custom Interiors 

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

Mark Iosue of Mi Terra Custom Interiors ( hung up his work boots a few years ago in favor of running his own installation shop, but last year he dusted them off to complete the Advanced Certification for Tile Installers (ACT) at Schluter Systems in Plattsburg, N.Y.

“I’m always trying to step up my game and become the best at what I do,” said Iosue. He has eight full-time and four part-time tile installers working out of two shops, one in Philadelphia and one in South Jersey.

Iosue is getting as many of his installers to take the Certified Tile Installer certification as he can. “I’m the only one who’s ACT certified,” said Iosue, but, “I really truly believe in it. If you’re certified, you walk into a job [and] you’re a lot more confident, you have a lot more experience than the next guy. If you passed that course you basically know what you’re doing.”

Iosue has been a tile installer for 20 years and started Mi Terra Custom Interiors 10 years ago, but Iosue described the ACT test as a life-altering experience. The ACT written and hands-on tests are not a training course, but Iosue still learned a whole lot. “I can’t say enough about the test,” he explained. “It was a life-changing experience for me for the simple fact [that] I learned so much from it. I got to meet a lot of great people, people like myself with the same goal to do the right thing when it comes to tile installations.”

Iosue raved about the test, but that doesn’t mean it was smooth setting. “I’d be lying if I said it was easy,” Iosue said. “Just because you’ve been doing it your whole life doesn’t mean you’ve been doing it right your whole life.”

According to Iosue, the hardest part was getting back into the actual physical work. “I mostly oversee things,” said Iosue. “I actually had to get the tools out. It’s been years since I’ve actually set tile. Plus, things were timed and I don’t have a young back anymore.”

Despite the challenges, Iosue believes it was worth it. “I thought it was very helpful, very beneficial. It made me a better tile setter.” Since becoming CTI- and ACT-certified, Iosue uses the TCNA Handbook more often. He investigates things a lot further, “basically doing my homework,” said Iosue. And all of this, he says, has absolutely, 100% positively affected his bottom line.

Iosue strongly advises tile installers to become CTI- and ACT-certified. “To be the best, you want to always test yourself and learn the most you can with your craft,” he said. “That’s what this test does. Even if you’ve been doing it for many years, there’s always something you can learn,” he said. “I recommend the test for anyone who does this for a living because it covers all bases. And once you take it you become qualified.”

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