NTCA Training Program – year-end wrap up

At NTCA Workshops, attendees have the opportunity to test tools and techniques. Shown: training workshops in Lombard, Ill. and West Allis, Wis.

The NTCA Training Team has wrapped up another year of cross-country training. This year, the team taught 16 regional training programs and over 100 workshops across 35 states.

Jim Olson, NTCA Assistant Executive Director, dubbed 2019 as a year of growth for NTCA training programs. “This year, we increased the number of regional training programs – our all-day training sessions – that we offer to NTCA members. Also, to keep up with training demands, we increased our presenter staff, adding Randy Fleming.”

Fleming, a tile contractor from California, joined the team at the start of the year and said his first year with NTCA has been a good one. He feels the association has experienced a positive response to its workshop program this year and he is enjoying having the opportunity to share his knowledge with other installers. “The best thing about being part of the NTCA team is having the pleasure to address so many talented and experienced installers and introducing them to tile industry standards,” he said. “I’ve met highly-experienced tile professionals that are not aware industry standards exist and don’t understand how the standards can help them professionally.”

Olson said there has been a high demand for the regional training programs this year. “Attendance at our regional programs continues to increase with most programs attracting 20-24 or more hands-on attendees and many additional attendees in an observation capacity,” he said.

For those who haven’t been to a NTCA training program, past attendees like Kris Nardone of K Nardone Custom Tilework, LLC, highly recommend you catch one, noting the sessions offer more than just training. “It’s a great experience if you attend one of these NTCA workshops,” Nardone said. “There is a ton of information that’s talked about in the couple hours varying from shower receptors, expansion joints, proper installation methods, and a lot more.”

Learning to work as a unit is emphasized during the gauged porcelain panels and slabs training sessions. Regional training sessions in Columbia, S.C. and Salt Lake City, Utah.

“All the information is great but getting to meet other local tile installers and making new relationships is priceless,” he added. “I try to attend at least one of the workshops each year. I always leave feeling pumped about our industry and am motivated to go out to set some tile correctly per industry standards. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t attended a NTCA workshop ever before. Any member or non-member can attend at no cost to you,” Nardone said.

In addition to the regular training assignments, the NTCA Training staff is preparing to conduct the regional events. This will allow NTCA to increase the number of regional training programs offered to NTCA members by 30% in 2020.

Fleming said he is looking forward to next year’s training programs. “The information we present at these events has the power to enrich people’s work and, in turn, their lives,” he said. “I’m excited about the future and what is to come in 2020.”

Olson reminds anyone interested in a NTCA Workshop or Regional Training Program to check the schedule regularly since it is often being updated. To see a list of all currently scheduled sessions, visit the NTCA website under the “Education & Certification” tab. 

Tile apprentice program starts its second year of success

It’s been a little over a year since the Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust program kicked off. In its first year, this tile apprenticeship program has faced challenges, successes, and changes, but it looks forward to continuing to grow the program and recruit more tile setters into the industry.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust, it’s a unique co-op concept that provides monthly training for apprentices and different levels of involvement for co-op members. Current members include Hawthorne Tile, Davis Solutions, Campbell’s Custom Tile, Prestige Tile & Stone, Inc., Level Plane Tile & Stone, Columbia River Tile, Provenzano Enterprises, and Mid-Valley Tile & Design. The program is completely free to apprentices and is funded by a monthly per-student fee paid by co-op members. 

Apprentices learning how to create a proper pitch to the drain.

Apprentices learning how to create a proper pitch to the drain.

Currently, the program includes curriculum for a one-year finishers program and a three-year tile setters program and has apprentices enrolled in each. William White, tile and stone team leader for ARDEX Americas and NTCA State Ambassador, said the apprentices are progressing through the program. “The co-op turned out two finishers last year,” he said. “Currently, they have three enrolled in the finisher program, four enrolled in the first year of the setter program, and those that were in year one and still in the trade have moved to year two, which is eight or nine people.” This year will mark the first year for apprentices moving to the second level of the setters program.

Over this past year, the program has experienced challenges. “As with all programs, there was some attrition,” White said. The program has lost two apprentices and has had trouble finding other companies that understand the value of properly training their employees.

Jeff Occhipinti’s company, Columbia River Tile & Stone, Inc., had invested in one of the apprentices that left the program. “Unfortunately, we did have one person in the year-one program, and they left our company after having invested the time and money into them to enter the apprenticeship program,” Occhipinti said. “This is just one of the unfortunate things that happen when you make an investment in someone.”

Mastering application of SLU.

Mastering application of SLU.

Columbia River Tile & Stone does have a vetting process for potential apprentices. It hires them on a probationary basis to see if they will be a good fit for the company prior to investing in their education in the apprenticeship program.

White said, luckily, the co-op has seen more potential apprentices interested in and interviewing for the program. He says sponsor Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Pacific Northwest is to thank for some of the interest, noting the organization has been instrumental in recruiting people into the program. “ABC is super active,” he explained. “They are at every trade show, high school career day, and women-in-trades career fairs. And since ABC sponsors more than just tile, they are able to feel out the prospects and see which trade would be a good fit for the person.”

The co-op members are still evolving the program. White explained that last year, the co-op had a cooperative effort amongst several CTIs to teach the program. This year, they are adding an instructor with an extensive mud background to teach the year-two apprentices proper mud techniques. He also said there will be changes in the days classes are offered. “All classes last year were on Friday,” he said. “This year, first-year tile setters will have class on Fridays. Then year-two tile setters and tile finishers will have class on Saturdays. Since tile finishers work with tile setters and part of their learning is applying topping mud, the co-op thought that it would make sense for the tile finishers to not only learn the finishing tasks in a separate space but to also spend time with tile setters learning their tasks in the mud process.”

Apprentices constructing shower pans.

Apprentices constructing shower pans.

The first year has been successful for the co-op. This is due to the co-op members that have committed their time to the program’s success. 

Nancy Bebek, owner of Prestige Tile & Stone, Inc. and co-chair of the co-op, and her son Nick Bebek, the co-op chair, have dedicated lots of time to the program. “With Nick and me now as the chairs, we have to stay on top of everything. If someone commits to something, we have to make sure that they follow through so I actually have my admin spending time getting the right information and following up with everyone. I don’t think that Nick and I could have taken on this role if we didn’t have the office support from my admin Brianna.”

Bebek originally became involved with the co-op after her company had a contract that required the use of an apprentice. After reaching out to Northwest College of Construction, which was in the process of dissolving its program, Dirk Sullivan of Hawthorne Tile, and interviewing too many setters that had not been properly trained, she decided she wanted to help train the next generation of setters. “My passion quickly turned from ‘I have to have an apprentice’ to ‘I have to start training people and if they have been trained, breaking them of the bad habits that they picked up from YouTube videos or others in the trade’,” she said. “People may have the attitude that you can get away with a lot of bad work in commercial but here in Portland, the owners require top-notch quality so that means I have to employ top notch setters.”

According to Occhipinti, while his company has experienced positive change since becoming part of the co-op, he too is benefitting from its involvement. ”Working with the other companies, it is a rewarding feeling that we are trying to better the trade,” he said. “While there is an investment into the apprentices that we put through the program, we feel that it is the right decision. In fact, an employee and I will be teaching the first four classes of year-one tile setters this coming year.”

Defining apprenticeships

Several members have mentioned to me their apprentices, which led me to believe that they had a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)-registered apprenticeship program. In some cases, they do have a registered program, and in other cases they have a detailed in-house training program. No matter which they use within their company, both types of programs are utilizing NTCA University. So this made me wonder what the definition of an apprentice is and when a company should decide to register their training program with the DOL.

According to Lexico.com, the definition of an apprentice is “a person who is learning a trade from a skilled employer, having agreed to work for a fixed period at low wages.” A DOL-registered program requires that the employer pay a specific wage or percentage of current journeyman wages with stated pay increases until the apprentice graduates the program and makes the full journeyman wages. An employer with an in-house training program will offer a wage when hiring the person and discuss when/how pay increases occur. They will also discuss how long it will take to get through their program. Assuming that once the new hire completes either of these programs and they are making competitive industry wages for the particular market, then both types of employees could be considered an apprentice per the definition above.

If your company does not have either of these programs but you want to hire new employees and train them per industry standards and methods, you need to take the time to determine which program is best for your company. To help you make this determination, here are few questions to think about:

  • What type of work do you perform? Is it all residential or all commercial or a mix?
  • Are you always looking for new hires to keep your company growing or are you looking for one or two people to hire over the next couple of years?
  • Do you bid government projects?
  • Do you work on projects that require prevailing wages?
  • Do you bid for work against companies that have registered DOL programs?

Based on these questions, if your company does all residential work or is only planning to hire one or two employees over the next year, then an in-house program is probably the best choice for you. But if you do a lot of commercial work, bid project’s with prevailing wages per the Davis-Bacon Act, or are hiring several apprentices a year to grow your business, then you should consider a DOL-registered apprenticeship program.

Either way, NTCA University can be used as part of your training program. If you decide to develop a DOL-registered apprenticeship program, NTCA has National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards that could be used by your company to register your program. While each state is different, we are able to assist you to get the necessary paperwork completed. Once your company is approved as a sponsor, you will work directly with your state to register your apprentices and recruit new hires.

Visit the NTCA website for more information on apprenticeships.

UofCTS announces new course

The University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS) just released the new “The Complete Guide on Developing Tile & Stone Specifications with Architects” course.

This course provides the student with thorough and detailed information on how architectural sales representatives can get their tile and stone products specified with “Bullet Proof Specifications” meaning resistant to “Value Engineering and Substitutions.”

The course covers:

  • Selection Process and Considerations
  • Types of Architectural Specifications
  • Architectural Specification Structure – Master Format – Part 1, 2 & 3
  • Getting Your Products Specified
  • Tracking and Protecting the Specification
  • Communication Skills and Strategies

Students completing this course will have learned how to determine product suitability for the intended use, learned the different types of Architectural Specifications, learned how to prepare a “Bullet Proof” MasterFormat Specification Part 1, 2 & 3 sections, learn techniques and strategies for getting your products specified, learned how to track and protect your specifications from substitutions and value engineering, and learned key communication skills and strategies to help them develop meaningful relationships with the specifiers and construction team.

Students will be provided with a tile and stone MasterFormat Specification template that they can use to assist architects in specifying their products.

The content of this course is based on the many years of successful architectural sales by sales representatives who have sold many high-profile projects around the country.
This course is rated at an average of 7 hours to complete. UofCTS online courses are available 24/7 for 14 days from start date at the UofCTS Online Campus.  The cost of this course is $300.00 per student (or two member discounted tuitions from CTDA, NTCA, TTMAC, or Fuse Alliance).

The list price for taking this course is $300.00 per person or two association member tuitions.  Once registered, students have 14 days to complete the course which is accessible online, 24/7. Students can print a personalized certificate when they have passed all lesson assessments with a score of 80% or better.  Upon passing the course the student is provided a link to download a student reference guide that contains all of the key information from that respective course. Volume discounts are available.

The UofCTS is the training division of Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC) and is committed to developing training programs for the ceramic tile and stone industry utilizing the latest and most effective technology and learning methodologies. Launched in 2003, UofCTS has enjoyed many years of success with trade and design professionals and is the leading online training University for the Tile and Stone Industry.

Chanel Carrizosa CTI #1380: promote qualified labor first

Icon Tile & Design to sponsor a female tile setter’s CTI exam

Chanel Carrizosa

In October 2017, Chanel Carrizosa of Icon Tile & Design (icontileanddesign.com) in Kirkland, Wash., was profiled as one of TileLetter’s Women in Tile. She’s been in the business since 1996, but started Icon with her husband in 2000.

In the story, she declared she was planning to test for the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) credential that year, after reading about it on the Facebook groups Tile Geeks and Global Tile Posse.

Flash forward to CTI #1380, and the history is clear – Carrizosa took the exam in Kent, Wash., at Bedrosians in 2017 and passed. Now both she and husband Jamen (CTI #1381) hold the CTI credentials.

“We heavily advertise about CTI and the NTCA on our website, and have incorporated [these] on business cards,” she said. “We hope that having this credential will keep our price at a premium, and we try to educate consumers, distributors/suppliers about the importance of using CTIs to level the playing field, since many referrals are relationship-based as opposed to promoting qualified labor first.”

Carrizosa got started in tile in 1996.

Carrizosa prepared for the test by making sure her tools were ready and in good working order. “I wanted to make sure I was comfortable, and had a good playlist to listen to keep me going throughout the day,” she said. “Prior to the test, I had great encouragement and support from Shon Parker, Kevin Insalato and Jason McDaniel.”

Carrizosa found the written exam to be relatively easy, with its open-book format. “I did find it to be very informative though and learned how and what to search for, and why the information is so important,” she said.

Going into the hands-on portion of the test, she wondered how something so small could be so challenging as others had mentioned on social media. That was until it was her turn. “It was the hardest 3’x3’ space I’ve had to tile,” she said. “I think a lot of it was the pressure of it all, and the time – it just seemed to fly by. It was down to the wire but I got it done.

Today, she is CTI #1380, and owner of Icon Tile & Design in Kirkland, Wash.

“I think managing your time is a big factor on taking the test,” she said. “I learned how to manage my time better, and really how to install correctly with approved methods.” Carrizosa said that at the end of the test, some good shortcuts were pointed out for use on everyday jobs. She continues to seek training and certifications (like large panel tile installation training) .

“Certification is important to our industry because there are a lot of people out there that think they know how to tile, but really don’t know how to tile correctly and make it last,” she said. “As an unregulated trade, I’m hoping this is a start to get qualified labor noticed by consumers, as it seems to be so important and prevalent in many European countries. Many other trades and jobs require certification, so why shouldn’t ours – especially when dealing with water-evacuation systems?”

“Installers can say how good they are or how busy they are – but are they willing to put their skills to the test?” asked Carrizosa.

Carrizosa is cheering other tilers on towards certification. “I’d encourage other professional tile installers to take the test and join our professional community,” she said. “Besides the fact that you can always learn something, it helps identify professionals in our industry. Join us and be part of our movement. Installers can say how good they are or how busy they are – but are they willing to put their skills to the test?”

Icon to sponsor CTI exam for female tile setter

Icon Tile & Design is putting its money where its mouth is. It plans to sponsor a female tile installer from the Pacific Northwest who is ready and wants to take the CTI exam, within the next year. Requirements are two years working as a tile setter. The candidate is a woman who sees this opportunity as a chance to establish credentials and grow her expertise and business for the future. If this sounds like you, and you would like to take advantage of this CTI scholarship, contact Icon Tile and Design at [email protected]. 

Carrizosa admitted that managing her time was key to completing the CTI exam.

Let’s do this! #BecomeaCTI

There has been a lot of buzz lately surrounding the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation’s (CTEF) Certified Tile Installer (CTI) testing program. As a newcomer into the organization, I see room for the program to grow, and its potential to change the industry. 

The foundation of the program has been established: the CTEF developed a test that incorporates industry standards and challenges. It stretches the common beliefs of an installer, and requires a great deal of time management. Those who are passionate, yearn for education, and like a good challenge are showing interest, and are registering to become a Certified Tile Installer. 

Those who have taken the test know its demands and challenges. What becoming a CTI does is show the consumer/customer you follow industry standards, take pride in staying educated, and strive to do things correctly. Whether you are residential or commercial, becoming a CTI can make a huge difference in the fight for qualified labor. 

It is time for the trade to change the consumer mindset on labor. Budgets on projects should include allowances for quality installation, and not be about the lowest bid. Becoming a CTI increases the leverage needed to engage change. With that leverage, we will be able to build upon the progress that the NTCA Five-Star Contractor program has accomplished in getting qualified labor specified. Getting the architectural, design, builder, and retail community to specify and require CTIs creates a channel for the installer to make the compensation that is deserved.

Joining NTCA is a conduit to becoming a CTI. The CTEF and NTCA are working closely together to educate the industry on tile industry standards, methods, and best practices found in ANSI A108/A118, the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, and manufacturer instructions, giving them the tools needed to become a certified installer. We are in the process of increasing CTI testing opportunities across the country, paying attention to the demographic areas where qualified labor is lacking. In 2020 we will be increasing efforts to secure sites for CTI testing and NTCA Workshops with our industry partners. 

Social media has played a huge role in CTEF’s recruitment of future CTIs, mainly from current CTIs mentoring, encouraging, and sponsoring future CTIs. This outpouring of support is how change gets initiated. The CTEF is grateful for our CTI graduates, and their participation in making the program a success. We are dedicated in 2020 to secure regional locations to expand the Advanced Certification (ACT) program, and have regular
scheduled opportunities available as well. 

I am excited to see what the future brings. 2020 will be a busy year. The opportunity to make a difference is at the industry’s fingertips. The CTEF and NTCA are dedicated to assuring qualified labor is required on jobsites. Become a CTI today. Please visit www.ceramictileeducationfoundation.org for more information. 

CTI testing stretches the common beliefs of an installer, and requires a great deal of time management. It shows your clients that you follow industry standards, take pride in staying educated, and strive to do things correctly.

NTCA National Apprenticeship Guidelines provide career road map in the tile trade

NTCA simplifies DOL-approved “earn as you learn” opportunity 

If you’ve been in the tile industry for any length of time, you know one of the most common themes is the shortage of qualified labor to do the tile work that is ripe for the picking. Another theme is that fewer young people are choosing a trade over college, so the trade is starting to “age out.” And still one more is carving out a clear career path for those who enter the tile trade.

NTCA staff and board outlining courses for the setter program.

(Clockwise from left) Dirk Sullivan, Hawthorne Tile; Woody Sanders, DW Sanders Tile & Stone Contracting, Inc.; and Dave Rogers and Dan Welch of Welch Tile and Marble outlining courses for the setter program. CTEF’s Scott
Carothers and early
on Gerald Sloan – when he was a trainer with NTCA – are also among those who helped develop the program. Not pictured: NTCA’s Becky Serbin.

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), a.k.a. “The Voice of the Contractor,” has been working on a range of ways to approach these problems. And now, with the help of a team of staff members, NTCA Five-Star Contractors and government officials, the NTCA is pleased to announce that the “National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards for the National Tile Contractors Association” have been approved by the Department of Labor (DOL). 

What it is

National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards for the National Tile Contractors Association provides a structure that a NTCA member in any state can use to develop a DOL-approved apprenticeship program, tailored to the needs and goals of their individual company. The program combines classroom time and on-the-job learning (OJL) components in a two-year finisher program and a three-year setter program. It incorporates coursework from NTCA University and OJL into a hybrid program. That means apprentices are not locked into the 144 hours of classroom time and 2,000 hours of OJL and experience. Instead, focus on core competencies means individual apprentices who excel can satisfy a reduced time investment in the OJL component, while still logging the 144 classroom hours. 

“We’ve taken the difficulty of trying to navigate the system,” said Becky Serbin, NTCA Education and Curriculum Director, who has been spearheading this program. 

Apprenticeship training with The Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust.

Apprenticeship training with The Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust.

Why it’s important

Welch apprentices doing hands-on training.

Welch apprentices doing hands-on training.

With the National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards for the National Tile Contractors Association, member companies can offer interested young men and women, veterans, those who have grown disenchanted with college, and others seeking work in the tile trade a chance to learn in a way that best suits the company sponsor. And apprentices are paid as they learn and progress through the program. 

“We need to cultivate and bring qualified people into the work force regardless of job climate and construction economy,” said Bart Bettiga, NTCA Executive Director. “We are an aging work force. Young people aren’t coming into the trade to replace older people in the work force. We have a worker shortage even if the economy dips.”

This program also offers a career path in the trade. “Until we could get these guidelines approved, we couldn’t show a clear path for those who came into the trade,” Bettiga said. “Going through apprenticeship, they are getting training and education as well as jobsite experience. We’re confident we will attract more capable, qualified people into the industry by showing them a career. When you have apprenticeship – and they master each task, take their online courses, get trained in classroom and get field experience – they can earn more income as they go. It’s an incentive to master the trade. 

“The beauty is we have a better story than a four-year undergrad degree,” he added. “Apprentices start earning immediately; often there is money available to offset costs of tools and student expenses or even scholarships for at-risk students who can’t afford it.”

How it started 

The idea for this program started years ago with NTCA member Jim Isaminger of DMI Tile & Marble, Inc., in Birmingham, Ala., who developed a DOL-approved apprenticeship program in 1996. Through a passionate commitment by Dan Welch of Welch Tile and Marble in Kent City, Mich., and staff member Dave Rogers, along with NTCA’s Becky Serbin, the program evolved to including recorded learning modules that facilitated offsite learning on phones and devices. Other industry members and volunteers worked to revise the outlines for the setter program and write curriculum. Serbin, Welch, Bettiga and Dave Jackson, the DOL contact for the state of Michigan, advanced the project, and Serbin’s work of synthesizing all the information into a cogent program was highly praised by the DOL. 

How to put this to use in your business

NTCA members interested in putting an apprenticeship program in place can visit www.tile-assn.com/apprenticeship. Serbin will reach out to interested contractors to discuss the program and contact the office of apprenticeship in the state. She’ll then begin working with their office to determine what additional paperwork may be needed. After all the paperwork is assembled, the company submits it for approval. Once the DOL gives it the green light, they will have their own DOL-approved apprenticeship program. At that point the company – or coalition of companies – can begin recruiting apprentices. 

“NTCA members need to reach out to us and let us know their interest,” Bettiga said. “This program needs a state or local administrator, which can be a contractor, technical school, vocational school, construction school or chapter. They don’t have to be a large company to be an administrator or have their own program.” In Portland, for instance, the Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust is a co-op of NTCA member contractors united in apprenticeship, with a program administrated by the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (see TileLetter, July 2018 for the story). 

“In addition to helping NTCA members navigate through the paperwork, NTCA can help them navigate through the process no matter what state you are in,” Bettiga said.

Next steps

Welch apprentices taking a warehouse tour.

Welch apprentices taking a warehouse tour.

The program is in a state of ongoing development. A team of NTCA members is helping Serbin finish the content on NTCA University, and Serbin is finalizing paperwork and documents that will be used by members. 

“We think the tile industry has a unique story to tell and a unique allure compared to other construction trades,” Bettiga said. “We want to tap into people who have that artistic flair, across gender lines. If you are trained as a tile installer, your work is visibly seen and admired; our craft is visually observed by consumers. 

“With the National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards for the National Tile Contractors Association, NTCA member companies now have an effective tool that can attract quality people, and train them in the way that best suits their company,” Bettiga added. “They can support apprentices, and as apprentices are trained the right way to grow their company, they in turn support the trade. This goes beyond the opportunity to make money setting tile. Installers have gone onto positions in estimating, project management, outside sales and technical sales. But they all started as knowledgeable tile installers. That makes you marketable in many sectors of the industry.” 

Welch added, “There’s no easy button. This takes a lot of investment. If you are going to develop people, it’s a journey, not a race. This is one step that rewards more competent people who possess core competencies that now can be measured on the road to advancing through pay grades from apprentice, journeyman, master. It’s a road map for you to do with what you will.”

Community involvement pays off in ace new hire

C.C. Owen Tile Company works with area schools to promote the trade, and scores promising new talent

Rod Owen, C.C. Owen Tile Company

Rod Owen of C.C. Owen Tile Company in Jonesboro, Ga., is both a dedicated NTCA Five-Star Contractor and proactive tile trade spokesman, bringing the news of the benefits of a tile career to area teens. Involvement with local high schools and the annual Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) Career Expo and SkillsUSA competition means he’s got a lot to give to teens who are considering their career options. And it pays off for Owen too, in the form of prize new hires that build a strong work force and strengthen his company against turnover. 

Since 2008, Owen has been instrumental in getting tile installation included in the CEFGA Expo, held each spring. The CEFGA Expo is just one portion of the entire CEFGA Skills USA Event, which is an opportunity for trades to

Rod Owen’s tireless dedication resulted in tile being included not only in the CEFGA Expo portion of the event, but also in a SkillsUSA competition, starting in 2017.

engage with, and educate students in the state of Georgia about the opportunities within the trades. The Skills USA competition tests allows area students to compete in the trade of their choice. Up until a few years ago, tile wasn’t part of the curriculum, but Owen, working with the SkillsUSA state and national reps – and garnering industry support – finally got the green light to have a tile competition in the 2017 Georgia SkillsUSA event. Owen then reached out to fellow Georgia-based NTCA Five-Star contractor Woody Sanders of DW Sanders Tile & Stone Contracting, Inc., CTEF’s Scott Carothers, and NTCA’s Becky Serbin, knowing those individuals would be critical in bringing this goal to fruition. 

After initially competing in 2017, Martin Sanchez of Griffin High School went on to win the top tile prize in the 2018 SkillsUSA competition. And it turned out that he won something much more – a new job at C.C. Owen and an opportunity to participate in the company’s five-year apprenticeship program, which utilizes the NTCA University online curriculum, and is approved by the Georgia Department of Labor. Sanchez now has an opportunity to learn a trade – while he earns a living.

Martin Sanchez (l.) works on his module during the SkillsUSA competition with fellow students.

Owen’s company sponsors Griffin High School, providing tools and materials to give students the opportunity to do some hands-on tile work. Owen had his eye on Sanchez before he even graduated. That’s because he sits on the advisory boards of several area high schools and has developed relationships with construction teachers – relationships that help give him first dibs on promising grads. “We meet once a quarter to let teachers know new trends and what they need to be focusing on, and what do we see their graduating students lacking in,” Owen said. “They are now using an aptitude program that helps direct students to what they are good at and applicable fields and careers.”

Through Griffin’s construction teacher, Walter Preston, Owen met Sanchez when he was a junior. His conversations with Preston about Sanchez’s skills and aptitude – plus the dedication and focus Sanchez showed in his SkillsUSA competitions – convinced Owen he would be a viable new hire for his company. Preston also guided Owen to another Griffin graduate – Terry Collier – and both were hired at the same time, last June. 

Both Sanchez and Collier began their apprenticeships in January 2019. “To enroll in our apprenticeship program, one must be an employee for six months,” Owen said. “We don’t want to begin investing in them if they decide they don’t want to do this.”

2018 SkillsUSA competition winners (l. to r.): Nathaniel Selby, Shaw High School, 3rd place; Martin Sanchez, Griffin High School, 1st place; Christian Mendoza, Kennesaw Mountain High School, 2nd place. Sanchez is now in the apprenticeship program at C.C. Owen Tile Company.

Sanchez and Collier – as well as new hire Oscar Macias, a recent graduate from another area high school – are ambassadors of a sort, going to high school Discovery Days to share their experiences in the tile trade with peers. And Sanchez was on-hand this year at SkillsUSA, sharing his knowledge and experiences with those who are just starting to consider tile as a career. He explained proper tile-setting techniques and discussed what happens day-to-day on the job. “He got to talk to some of the kids – and knew some of them who came out from his high school,” Owen said. 

C.C. Owen strictly does commercial work, and employs 30 field personnel. Owens is always on the lookout for high-quality hires, to counter turnover that seems endemic to the trade, and grow his company from within. In addition to good pay and a comprehensive package of benefits, Owen has instituted twice-yearly company outings to foster camaraderie among employees and families. His volunteerism at the high schools and for CEFGA means he keeps giving back to the community, even as the community fuels his crew with fresh new talent. 

Regional training events – one of NTCA’s best member benefits

Often tile contractors ask me about training opportunities. I tell them about NTCA University, webinars, workshops, and regional events. While all of our educational opportunities are great, many are geared to a specific learner. For example, NTCA University has apprenticeship courses, and the workshops have a lot of overview information good for foremen. 

But in my opinion, one of the best training opportunities available from NTCA is the day-long regional training events because they are designed for the tile setter. It doesn’t matter if you have been on the job for a one year or 15 years. In 2019, we are conducting 20 regional training events, focusing on either gauged porcelain tile or substrate prep and large-format tile. What makes these training events so different is that the attendees start the day in a classroom, but after 90 minutes they move to the work area to actually use the proper techniques that were taught in the classroom.

What fascinates me the most is the amount of set-up that is needed for each of the trainings. Typically two days prior to the event, NTCA trainers and manufacturer reps descend on to the location to start constructing modules, getting materials ready for training day, and doing a run-through so everyone is on the same page when all of the attendees arrive. And all of this work is done for 20 attendees! The reason that there’s a cap to the number of participants is because the trainers spend a lot of one-on-one time with each of the attendees to ensure that proper standards and installation methods are used.

The substrate prep and large-format tile courses are open to NTCA members only. The gauged porcelain tile courses are open to anyone. Since both have a limited number of attendees, we require a $50 registration fee for each class. However, you get this fee refunded to your credit card once you show up to the event. This is to ensure that if someone can’t make it, they cancel and allow someone else to attend instead of having a bunch of no-shows.

I have had several company owners register some of their setters and later cancel, stating that they are too busy with work to attend. I get it – work pays the bills – but as an owner you also have to take a look at the benefits your employees gain by attending one of these training events. 

Take it from past NTCA president and NTCA Technical Committee Chairman James Woelfel, of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Artcraft Granite, Marble, and Tile Co., of Mesa, Ariz. Woelfel attended the Tempe, Ariz., substrate prep course and had this to say: “The hands-on regional training is hands down the best member benefit the NTCA offers. At no charge, 10 of my people were educated on substrate prep, both hands-on and using TCNA and ANSI standards. Every one of my employees was excited by the learning opportunity and surprised by the amount of information that was reviewed. All of these employees are CTEF or ACT certified.” 

“As Chairman of the NTCA Technical Committee, I always considered the NTCA Reference Manual was the NTCA’s best member benefit,” he added. “My mind has been changed. As an NTCA member, if you do not take advantage of this educational opportunity, you are wasting your membership and you are costing your own company profit opportunity.”

For more information on the regional training program including dates and locations,
visit the NTCA website.

Heidi Cronin Hired as CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director

The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) is pleased to announce that Heidi Cronin, previously President of The Cronin Company, has joined CTEF as the Industry Liaison and Promotions Director, a newly created role to support the next stage of evolution for the organization.


Heidi Cronin Hired as CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director

Heidi Cronin


“We are pleased to welcome Heidi to CTEF in this newly created position”, says Bart Bettiga Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and member of the CTEF Board of Directors. “Given her professional experience and passion for Qualified Labor, we are confident that she will be instrumental in supporting the growth of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program alongside Scott Carothers, Director of Certification and Training for CTEF, and shaping the tile and stone industry in the United States.”

As CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director, Ms. Cronin will be responsible for speaking on a national level to promote CTEF certification and training programs.  Key segment groups include independent distributors, tile and allied product manufacturers, designers, architects, specifiers, remodelers, builders and general contractors. She will work closely with the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and Tile Council of North America (TCNA), including promoting NTCA qualified labor efforts and the TCNA Why Tile campaign.

A native of Portland, Oregon, Ms. Cronin grew up in the floor covering distributor industry. She graduated from Southern Oregon State College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology. She began her career at The Cronin Company as a branch manager. From there, she spent time in purchasing, becoming Vice President of Operations and then President.

“My ultimate goal as CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director is to encourage all tile installers to become Certified Tile Installers and then to further challenge themselves with Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT),” says Ms. Cronin. “That starts with engaging manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers to host, support and promote more hands-on testing events, filling those events with installers and then convincing architects and designers to specify CTIs into their projects.”

“Please join me and CTEF in welcoming Heidi Cronin to her new role,” adds Bettiga. “The need for Qualified Labor in the tile industry is real and the value for all involved, including consumer and commercial end users, is significant. Heidi’s enthusiasm and expertise are critical to successfully evolving CTEF’s mission.”

Founded in 1996, the CTEF organization focuses solely on tile installation training and education along with promoting quality tile installation in the American marketplace. In 2008, CTEF launched the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program. The CTI program is the only third-party assessment of installer skill and knowledge which is recognized by the tile industry. It offers owners, whether residential or commercial, peace-of-mind that their tile installer has the right skills to complete a successful tile installation.

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For more information, visit https://www.ceramictilefoundation.org.

Follow CTEF on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ctilef, and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CeramicTileEducationFoundation/

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