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.

# # #

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

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

Oregon installer fine-tunes his skills with certification


Brian Stephens, owner of Brian Stephens Tile, Inc.

Brian Stephens, owner of Brian Stephens Tile, Inc., in Bend, Ore., has been in the trade since 1993. Ten years after starting his own business in 2008, he decided to up his game by testing his skills with the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exam. 

Stephens was intrigued by the exam after seeing so many mentions of it on social media groups, and by personal endorsements by existing CTIs. “When I met Jason McDaniel at the Wounded Warrior build, he personally talked to me about it and he continued to remind me about it!” Stephens said. “I convinced myself then that I should go for it. I wanted to prove to myself I still had what it takes to pass. I have already started talking to my employee about it and when he is ready he will take it.”

Stackstone fireplace

Stephens took the exam at the ARDEX facility in Stockton, Calif., on July 27, 2018. It was offered after a tile class Stephens had signed up to attend. “I loaded my tools including my old trusty Target saw (good luck charm) and drove eight hours south,” he said. 

Stephens didn’t leave his results to chance – he prepared well for it by reading the manual over and over and watching Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) Training Director Scott Carothers’ video. “That video was very informative for me,” he said. “It reassured me that I had the right game plan going into the test. Everyone should watch that video.”

Stephens felt the exam was very fair. “The book part and online test went pretty smoothly; a lot was common sense to me,” he said. The hands-on part was more challenging. “It looks easy, but the pressure can get to you before and during the test. I care so much about what I do that I worried about time, making mistakes and about the overall quality of my install. I had adrenaline and anxiety all at once and in the end, it made me mentally and physically exhausted.” 

European wet room with classic black and white mosaics

All the effort was worth it. He passed, as CTI #1486, and “hopes it will separate my company even more from some of the other tile contractors in my area,” he said. “It will show my dedication and continued passion for the trade.”

Stephens also learned that he still has the passion and the skills to be a competent installer.

“I learned that I’m now part of a bigger picture in this industry,” he added. “It makes you realize that no matter how good you are or where you are in your career, continuing education is important and necessary to stay on top of your game.”

In fact, he is convinced that certification is important for our industry. “Most installers I know have been taught mostly proper ways, but also included are some not so proper methods and installation techniques,” he said. “Certification is a way to fine tune your skills. continuing education in general helps with the constant changes in our industry. Tile work is more specific than it’s ever been, with so many different new tiles and setting materials.”

Wood-look porcelain and pebble scribe create a stunning shower

Stephens would be interested in the Advanced Certification for Tile Installer (ACT) exams as well when they are offered locally to his area. He encourages others to go for certification. 

“Whether you think it can help you in business or not, do it for yourself,” he said. “Do it for your own confidence. There are no negatives to taking the test; we push ourselves physically and mentally all the time, and this test is no different.”

Individually hand-made fish scale tiles

Craftsman lives his passion by training youth

Jonathan Burton got his start in the trowel trades the way many did in the 1970s. Unlike most of his 13 siblings, and despite pressure from parents, he wasn’t interested in college. “I did my 12, I’m done,” he said. “I’m just going to go to work and raise a family” was his plan. But his dad made it clear that getting any old job wasn’t an option. If not going to college, his dad demanded he learn a trade.

Johnathon Burton started down the road to the tile trades at the urging of his father.

So Burton joined a friend who was going into carpentry on a tour of the nearby trade school. Intimidated by the math skills required for carpentry, Burton gravitated to the masonry program. “Little did I know masonry has just as much,” he chuckled. And thus, a future journeyman tile setter and tile contractor started down a career path born out of some magic combination of misperception, lack of direction, and parental interjection.

Fast forward 30 years and Burton can name dozens of people working in the tile trade in southern California whose careers probably would have been something else had their paths not crossed with his. Some probably wouldn’t have a career or even a job at all, he said. Recognizing so much of his younger self in the many young people he’s encountered in decades of church involvement, Burton takes every opportunity to suggest to young men and women a career in tile or masonry. 

“For some reason everywhere I go I end up talking about the trade,” said Burton. But it isn’t just talk. He exposes young people to the trowel trades any way he can. He created and ran a trowel trades workshop at one church he attended, and he has trained through his own company, Exclusive Tile Concepts, for years. Sometimes they’re interested on their own and sometimes they get a push from their parents, says Burton, who knows that feeling well. 

Recently, Burton held a four-hour informational event at his shop, a mix of general information about the trade and hands-on stations for demonstrations and participation.

Recently, Burton held a four-hour informational event at his shop, a mix of general information about the trade and hands-on stations for demonstrations and participation.

Sharing your passion with potential tradespeople

Borrowing from his approach, others can look for similar ways to connect the dots. Burton gets immense fulfillment when he can transfer some of his passion for trowel trades to a young person who hasn’t yet figured out their path, particularly in connection with his youth ministry work.

Jonathan Burton (left) of Exclusive Tile Concepts in Riverside, Calif., exposes young people to the trowel trades any way he can.

Jonathan Burton (left) of Exclusive Tile Concepts in Riverside, Calif., exposes young people to the trowel trades any way he can.

But there are young people everywhere looking for their thing, and not-so-young people looking for their new thing. To connect the dots in your area, step back and look for opportunities to do so. Are there career fairs at your local schools or exhibit halls? Can you develop an age-appropriate activity or presentation for your kids’ social or school groups? Can you post something on social media, welcoming interested people (and their kids) to contact you to talk or even visit some jobsites with you? 

Burton created and ran a trowel trades workshop at one church he attended and he has trained through his own company, Exclusive Tile Concepts, for years.

Burton created and ran a trowel trades workshop at one church he attended and he has trained through his own company, Exclusive Tile Concepts, for years.

Recently, Burton held a four-hour informational event at his shop, a mix of general information about the trade and hands-on stations for demonstrations and participation. He promoted the event with a postcard-sized flyer at high schools and churches. Can you do something like this at your shop?

Next, take inventory of what you love about the trade, the most fulfilling aspects for you, and develop that into talking points. Burton promotes the active aspect of the job, and the reward and fulfillment of seeing the finished work. Even over the phone, his optimism and energy are infectious. He’ll talk to you about tile as long as you want.

And consider this: If someone asked you right now why they should consider going into the tile trade, what would you say, and how would you say it? In other words, what’s your pitch? Please share it with us at [email protected], and it may form the basis for a future Training & Education article in TileLetter! 

NTCA Training Experience 2019: a new approach to educate, train and inform

In 2018, our training department, led by NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein and supported by NTCA Technical Trainers Robb Roderick, Scott Carothers and Luis Bautista, presented more than 20 NTCA Regional Training programs. These events were day-long training sessions, offered to NTCA members and their employees, as a response to years of requests for this type of educational content. As the year progressed, our program improved, so much so that at the end of 2018, our members were not only singing the praises of the content of the education, they were calling for more. More programs, more opportunity to network and share ideas and techniques together, more hands-on experience, etc. 

NTCA Assistant Executive Director Jim Olson is responsible for the scheduling and overall management of the process related to workshops, and regional training. Workshops – as a reminder – are what the NTCA became known for the past 40 or so years. These were evening educational events offered as an overview of installation best practices, product standards awareness, and introduction of new technology to the trade. Last year, NTCA trainers offered both the traditional workshop sessions, and we also introduced the NTCA Regional Training program. In 2019, although we will continue down this path (in fact there will still be more than 100 traditional NTCA Workshops offered in 2019), we will expand and combine these two programs into a one-week long experience in many cities across the nation. 

Titled the “NTCA Training Xperience,” our trainers will work with a local regional host to offer a threefold week-long program. This will include a traditional Workshop that will be open and free to all interested industry professionals. This will be followed by a free regional training event available to NTCA members and their employees, and will close with a free open round table discussion for NTCA members to allow sharing of ideas, challenges, business tips, problem solving tips and more. Did I mention all these offerings are free? (NTCA Regional Training programs require a nominal fee to hold the space, which is refunded upon attendance). Offering education without charge is one more way NTCA is making training and professional excellence available to the industry at large, and to its members. 

Here is a little more information on the content you can expect from The NTCA Training Experience in 2019.  

Regional Training

GPTP Training programs will be based on ANSI A108.19. Programs will be held at Crossville and Daltile locations and will focus on all aspects of standards-based installation and best practices for installing gauged porcelain tile panels (GPTP) on floors and walls in interior applications. These programs will be supported by material and system experts from the GPTP, setting material and specialty tool manufacturers. The training day begins promptly at 8 am with a 90-minute classroom session followed by six hours of hands on training. This training meets the requirements of ANSI A108.19. Participating attendees will receive a certificate of course completion.

Substrate Prep/Large-Format Tile programs are based on installation standards, methods and best practices from ANSI A108, TCNA Handbook and the NTCA Reference Manual. Proper substrate installation, analysis and preparation is absolutely critical to every tile installation. This program focuses on a variety of substrate preparation techniques for floors and walls to meet the industry standard requirements for large-format tiles (LFT). After substrates have been properly prepared, attendees will focus on proper selection and mixing of mortar for LFT and correct trowel selection and usage to achieve industry-required rates of coverage to support tile installations on floors and walls in dry and wet areas. 

These may sound like common day-to-day tasks for any tile setter, and they are. This course is recommended for anyone involved in the tile industry. Seasoned experts may learn new techniques while those new to the trade will receive a solid grounding in best practices to achieve industry standards and long-lasting, beautiful installations. These programs are a benefit to NTCA Members.

NTCA Workshops

In 2019, NTCA Trainers are returning to the highways and byways and heading to the heartland and all corners of the United States. This year, we have broadened the programming in our free workshops to include:

  • Backerboard for Tile Installations
  • Shower Environment/Water Management
  • Membranes
  • Movement Joints
  • We will also be bringing our classic programs “Tile Matters – Best Practices for Pros” and “Failures – Could It Be Me?” to select locations that may not yet be familiar with these exceptional hands-on based presentations.

Many of our programs in 2019 are AIA and IDCEC accredited. Professionals from all walks of the tile industry are welcome and encouraged to attend. Our attendees always have a good time. Many tell us they learn something new every time they attend. It is also a great place to make new professional acquaintances, be exposed to new products from manufacturers, learn how NTCA membership can contribute to one’s professional growth – and maybe even take a door prize home at the end of the evening.

NTCA Round Tables

At select locations, NTCA members are invited to join a round table discussion hosted by their regional director and ambassadors and facilitated by NTCA staff. Topics will vary by location and may include: taking advantage of member benefits; networking with other members and peers; current issues affecting methods, standards, best practices, safety, training, finding and retaining employees; discussion of local and regional issues of concern. Dates and locations for NTCA roundtables will be announced soon.

We are very excited about the NTCA Training Xperience. We feel that there is no replacement to the benefits offered by presenting physical skills training in as many areas of the country as possible. It is our hope that the synergy created in these events will result in a trickle-down positive effect: installers who are present at the training will share this knowledge with their peers who were not able to be there, resulting in improved installation performance and reduction of installation error.  

For a complete schedule for 2019, visit the NTCA website. If you would like even more information about the NTCA Training Xperience, contact Jim Olson or Mark Heinlein. 

NTCA Regional Training programs educate and inspire

In 2018, NTCA rolled out its program of Regional Training events, with special programs designed for its NTCA Five-Star Contractor Members. 

In the late fall, two NTCA Five-Star Regional Training events took place, presented by NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein. The first program was unveiled at Grazzini Brothers & Company, Eagan, Minn., one of the largest union contractors in the country, as well as a NTCA Five-Star Contractor. A couple of weeks later, Mark delivered the program to the expansive commercial contractor David Allen Company in Raleigh, N.C. Both of these programs were met with great enthusiasm, and brought essential information to tile setters, foremen, and office staff of these companies. 

Grazzini Brothers & Company

At Grazzini Brothers & Company, it’s important to note that the program served as key complementary training to the skills union contractors learned as part of their union apprenticeships. “Even quality tile setters trained in formal apprenticeship programs need to participate in educational workshops and training programs, especially because the technology in our industry is vastly different than when they were trained in proper tile installation,” said NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga.

Grazzini Brothers Project Coordinator Steve Olson gave the program high marks. He called the classroom portion of the program “invaluable because it helped me become more familiar with a resource that I use almost every day: the TCNA Handbook. When putting together a bid it is critical to investigate the specified setting methods. In many specs the setting method contains components that aren’t listed or shown elsewhere, making it easy to miss items you will be on the hook for later. 

“For example,” he continued, “F113A is a standard thinset install but F114 is a reinforced mortar bed install with cleavage membrane and epoxy grout. Just missing that one number difference could be a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars on a large job. After going through the training, I know I can also use the TCNA Handbook to learn about different kinds of tile, the characteristics of various grouts and setting materials, substrate tolerances, and of course setting methods. Clearly it can be very worthwhile to learn more about and gain experience with the TCNA Handbook.”

But that’s not all – the hands-on portion of the program also opened Olson’s eyes about correct ways to install tile. 

“Having started out working in the office, I have very little field experience with tile,” Olson said. “This meant that while I knew the business side of a tile job, I only knew the basics of how the tile was installed in the field.

“The hands-on portion of the training was very useful because it showed me the correct way to prepare for and install tile,” he added. “We learned about some of the common mistakes installers can make, and the problems they can lead to down the road. The most useful and interesting part was seeing how different trowels, mortars, tiles sizes, pressure, and back buttering can affect mortar coverage. This also will be useful from a budgeting standpoint, as it was helpful to see how much more mortar a large- format tile uses compared to something like a 4-1/4” x 4-1/4”.”

Kristin Simon, who works in the Grazzini Brothers & Company office, also benefited from the training.

“The classroom portion of the day included several things that directly apply to my daily work,” she said. “Several definitions regarding tile were clarified. I learned where to find more information on tile installation methods as well as tile, substrate, and installation specifications.

“As someone who works from the office, it was good to get a chance to see people working ‘in the field’,” she added. “We got to watch the tile installers actually use several preparation and installation products. One of the most interesting parts was learning how they find and correct problems in the substrate. Overall, it was a very informative experience that will help me as I continue in this career.”

David Allen Company

NTCA’s Mark Heinlein (l) and CTEF’s Scott Carothers, presented a dynamite training at David Allen Company in the fall of 2018.

Martin Howard, David Allen Company (DAC) Executive Vice President-Operations, Tile, Stone & Pre-Construction and immediate Past President of NTCA, was over the moon with the Raleigh training. 

“This event was a smashing success, from the first introduction to the last tool going back on Mark’s truck before heading out of town,” he exclaimed. “The work that Mark and Scott (Carothers, Director of Training and Education at CTEF) and their team did to set up all the work stations, the thought and preparation of materials, tools, scripts – it was all the absolute best event I have ever seen or heard of or could have imagined. We started day one with about 43 attendees including 24 participants and finished day three with 32 attendees and 24 participants. This program never lost any momentum, but just keep getting better with each segment.

“These guys worked so hard and long to make this the BEST!” he added. “I can’t thank them enough for investing in this type of training and education. We had 30-year veterans to first-year newbies and they all could not stop talking about how much they learned and how grateful they were for the opportunity to be a part of the event. Another of our experienced lead installers just came by my office to tell me how much they learned. They wanted me to know how grateful they were that DAC values them enough to bring such an outstanding educational experience to them. He also wanted to know how soon we would be doing it again. I told him it would probably be a couple of years before we could get Mark and Scott back, but if he would give me the topics he wanted to learn more about, we would do our own version of this event more frequently.

“Creating this kind of hunger for knowledge and training is difficult to achieve, so hat’s off to you guys for making it happen!” he concluded. 

NTCA Training Director: future programs

NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein reflected on the slate of programs for the last year that culminated in these two NTCA Five-Star Contractor Regional Trainings. 

“Whether remodeling a bathroom or producing the next training program, I feel it is always very important to build the current project or program with an eye toward making the next one even better,” Heinlein said. “Much was tried and learned in all of our 2018 programs and the Raleigh program benefitted from those that came before. The new things we tried in Raleigh will be used again and perfected for future programs.

“Our standards-based training programs are unlike anything else being done,” he continued. “While we introduce and use a wide variety of tile, installation materials and tools, these are not product demos. These are as real-to-life as possible classroom sessions and hands-on experiences. As I like to say – ‘How cool is that!?’

“This year with our regional programs especially, I have been fortunate to work with many respected and knowledgeable industry experts across the country,” Heinlein added. “Much has been and tried and improved on and replicated. In my opinion, NTCA is truly forging a valuable new traveling educational experience for our association members and industry in general.”

Bettiga added that the NTCA Regional Training programs are not simply about training attendees but also inspiring contracting companies to incorporate key concepts into their own in-house training efforts. “Perhaps part of our future efforts can be to provide mentorship, concepts of training, and ways that they can mix online education with these regional training programs,” he said. “We will never become obsolete if we continue to reach out to the thousands of members and potential members in this way, and we will continue of course to update all of our members on new developments, new technology, etc. 

“One of the most important components of the type of value we can bring to our members is this: If Grazzini Brothers and David Allen Company found value here, (two of the largest and most successful union and open shop contractors in the country), there is no reason to think others will not find the same value.”

Stay tuned for information about the 2019 schedule of Workshops and Regional Training Events, beginning in February.

Estimating Small Residential Projects: available online at NTCA University

New residential and light commercial estimating course on the horizon for 2019

As we are getting closer to the holidays and people are taking time off from work to spend time with family and friends, there seems to be a common theme among all tile contractors that I have been talking to: everyone is busy and being asked to bid more work. With so many people asking you to complete work before the holidays, are you putting together a bid that will protect you and make sure you get paid for your hard work?

This year we added a new NTCA University course on estimating called “Estimating Small Residential Projects.” While this course is geared toward someone bidding a remodel project, the basics apply to any type of project that you’re bidding. 

For example, are you with the customer when they select their tile or did they purchase it and expect you to install it? Either way, have you accounted for the possibility of additional work based on the tile chosen? Have you taken into consideration the time needed to complete the project versus other work that you have going on? Do you have enough manpower to complete the work? 

These are just some questions that should be addressed when putting together your bid. After all, would you rather be a little higher in your bid and make money, or be the low bid and not make any money on a project?

Next year we will introduce a new estimating course that will look at bigger projects, including new residential and light commercial. This course will go through the entire process to properly prepare a bid, and it will look at several obstacles to consider when putting your bid together. Since this new course discusses using plans to create your bid, there will also be a new course on using plans for estimating. Both courses are designed to teach the contractor how to create a bid that encompasses all costs, including added time spent estimating complicated projects to ensure contractors aren’t left with debt after the project is complete. 

To purchase your subscription to NTCA University, visit the NTCA store at https://tile-assn.site-ym.com/store/ListProducts.aspx?catid=490398 or http://bit.ly/2taYmOO to make your selection.  If you have any questions or ideas for courses that we should have available, please give me a call at 770-366-2566 or send an email to [email protected].

Visalia Ceramic Tile honored for apprenticeship training

In October, NTCA Five-Star Contractor Visalia Ceramic Tile (VCT) was awarded the UpSkill Tulare County Award from the Tulare County Workforce Investment Board on behalf of the City of Visalia. In his congratulations letter to VCT, Vice Mayor Bob Link praised VCT for “being a quality employer in our

VCT was exemplary in implementing an apprenticeship program for its company and sharing its process with Thad Russell, Academic Dean, Technical Education and Workforce Development at the junior college, College of the Sequoias. 

The list of UpSkill Honorees

The list of UpSkill Honorees.

Debbi Barton, Marketing Director and Payroll Manager for Visalia Ceramic Tile, said Russell had been concerned about the lack of apprenticeship programs in construction. VCT’s Sam Bruce shared with Russell the tile finisher program VCT would be implementing – the online program from NTCA University. Once implemented, Russell was struck by how VCT was enriching the skilled and trained workforce in the community. He explored with Bruce VCT’s experience of getting an apprenticeship program approved. 

This effort is even more critical since the passage of California AB566 – a new California law that requires 30% of labor on certain projects to have graduated from an apprenticeship program. This prompted many California construction trades to reach out to different organizations and schools to implement apprenticeship programs, Barton said. In fact, it spurred Russell to explore VCT’s program, with guidance from Sam Bruce, who met with other contractors and college personnel to share VCT’s process. As a result, Russell nominated VCT for the UpSkill Tulare Country Award, which was presented in recognition of the essential effort and information shared by VCT. The award is given by the Tulare County Workforce Investment Board (TCWIB). TCWIB’s goal is to grow skills and talent for the workforce of Tulare County.

The UpSkill Tulare County Award presented to VCT

The UpSkill Tulare County Award was presented to (L to R) John Martinho, Debbi Barton and Sam Bruce of Visalia Ceramic Tile to recognize the company for being a quality employer in the community.

Vice Mayor Link wrote in his letter, “Forming a registered apprenticeship program through the U.S. Department of Labor that connects instruction with relevant, hands-on experience for your employees is demonstrating a clear commitment to investing in your workforce and growing the skills and knowledge base of our citizens, and the community and economy is better for it. The City appreciates your efforts in growing a skilled workforce and formal recognition from College of the Sequoias and the Workforce Investment Board is well deserved.” 

Debbi Barton explained that “Currently we have graduated four tile finishers in the apprenticeship program and have started our next group of four trainees.” Leading this program is Ryan Barton, Training and Development Coordinator/Quality Control.

“Although all eight employees have been with VCT as tile finishers for two years or more, the knowledge they gained/are gaining from the program has been recognized by their foremen and coworkers,” she added. “Between bookwork, online training, hands-on training and field training, our tile finishers are skilled and trained with the knowledge and success of moving up in their career. We are proud of our employees and their drive to want to learn more! Thank you NTCA for your guidance and help setting up the program. We look forward to the Tile Setter program.”

VCT training program

NTCA to sponsor DOL-approved Apprenticeship Programs

Wow, I can’t believe that Total Solutions Plus was October and we will soon be into the holidays! In case you weren’t able to make it to our Training and Education Committee or Board meetings, I wanted to update you on some things that I have been working on.

As you have been reading in these articles, the online Tile Finisher courses are complete, and I am still developing the Tile Setter courses. Over the summer, NTCA staff met with the Department of Labor to discuss apprenticeship programs. Based on this discussion, we have decided to pursue Tile Finisher and Tile Setter Apprenticeship Programs where we will be the sponsor. This means that our members can be under the NTCA umbrella and use our Apprenticeship Program. It is a long process to get everything submitted and approved. As we get further along in the process, I will continue to update members. And as we get closer to approval, I will be able to provide more details about how members can use our program and what they would be responsible to document.

While we get the apprenticeship programs set up, we also need to take a look at ways to recruit people into the industry. This could include going to high schools, career fairs, or even promoting the industry online. Many members have started reaching out to their local high schools and offering to teach some basics on tile installations to high school students so that they understand there are career opportunities in our industry and that this art can’t be taught in a couple of hours. Based on outreach efforts of our members, we are working on a curriculum that could be used to teach a four-week or one-semester course. Once we have finalized the curriculum, we will be making an announcement to our members. 

Earlier this year we introduced a new recruitment video (See it at https://bit.ly/2xpx9wE) that can be used by members or posted to member sites to promote careers in the tile industry. We will be following this up with additional recruitment material including literature that members can use when they are in front of potential candidates, as well as a recruitment video dedicated to women that set tile.

As you have read, there is a lot going on. And most of my work cannot be done without the help of our great members. So, if you are able to assist with writing scripts for online courses, providing videos for online courses, or know of female tile setters, please email [email protected] or call me at 770-366-2566. 

Utilizing tile industry standards

There have been a few recent online discussions about the need to educate tile setters on industry standards, and in some cases, educate those who know about the standards but don’t know how to use them. In every training session, NTCA spends time talking about and referencing ANSI standards and the TCNA Handbook, so it would only make sense that we also have courses in NTCA University on these subjects too. While most of the courses touch on this information, we have five courses devoted to our industry standards. Here they are:

Introduction to Tile Industry Standards

NTCA trainers Mark Heinlein and Robb Roderick presented an Introduction to Tile Standards at Coverings17. It was an in-depth look at all of the ANSI standards associated with the tile industry. They also discussed TCNA, including the handbook, NTCA, including the NTCA Reference Manual, and they reviewed other standards and building codes that affect a tile installation.

ANSI Standards courses

There are currently two courses covering the ANSI book: Introduction to ANSI A108.01 and Introduction to ANSI A108.02. Neither course reviews word for word all of the information found in each standard, but both courses highlight the type of information that can be found there. The idea is that these courses will get learners to open the ANSI book to understand the type of information that these standards contain and to comprehend the basic requirements for tile installations.

TCNA Handbook courses

There are also two courses available on the TCNA Handbook. The first course is TCNA Handbook Specifications Section. This course focuses on the information found in the section titled Using the TCNA Handbook for Specification Writing. This course uses actual methods in the Handbook to show where tile setters can find and use information from components of an installation method. While the course is mainly focused on this area, it does review all items found in this section of the actual book. 

The second course is How to Find/Use TCNA Handbook Methods. Many Handbook users state that it is difficult to find the method they want to use. This course reviews information available in a method number, why methods don’t always appear numerically, and different ways that you can search for methods within the Handbook.

Even though all of these courses are recommended for the start of a tile setter’s career, anyone that has been in the industry will benefit from taking these courses, especially if they feel intimidated by the books and never open them. Also, these courses could be taken by someone who is planning to take the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test. These courses are a good way to get someone to open each publication and explore the type of information that is available.

To purchase your subscription to NTCA University, visit the NTCA store at https://tile-assn.site-ym.com/store/ListProducts.aspx?catid=490398 or http://bit.ly/2taYmOO to make your selection. If you have any questions or ideas for courses that we should offer, please give me a call at 770-366-2566 or send an email to [email protected].

Dragonfly Tile and Stone Works: Investing in the next generation of craftspeople and artisans

“We don’t want to train tile setters. We want to train the next generation of true craftspeople and artisans. We want to provide them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to take the craft to the highest levels”. 

– Lee Callewaert, Dragonfly Tile

This statement is at the heart of the apprenticeship program that has been implemented at NTCA member Dragonfly Tile and Stone Works, Inc., for nearly its entire 15-year existence. 

This unique residential contractor in Grafton, Wis., evolved from the reputation Lee Callewaert had built previously in 20 years of high-end, technical and distinctive work in the area. Fifteen years ago, almost overnight, Lee and his wife Jane decided to start their own business to capitalize on a year-long project and also have the flexibility to support and nurture the couple’s four boys. 

Dragonfly Tile and Stone Works evolved from the reputation Lee Callewaert had built for high-end, technical and distinctive work in the area. Fifteen years ago, Lee and his wife Jane decided to start their own business.

Where Lee brought tile trade know-how, a loyal customer base, and a legacy of artistry and craftsmanship handed down through the generations, Jane brought a background and passion derived from corporate training in the medical industry where she blasted into traditionally male-dominated roles in the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

The company began training their own apprentices 14 years ago when they realized it was impossible to hire someone with the particular combination of enthusiasm, interest, motivation, math skills, reliability and trust, detail, artistry, creativity, familiarity with tools, craftsmanship and excellence that high-end customers had come to expect from Lee. 

“Gaining the respect of the customers, the other trades, the architects, GCs, designers, etc. takes time and has to be earned,” Jane explained. “But the result lands you in a place where you can become an integral part of the team from the design phase and onward. Receiving a place at the table at the earliest stages, as a trusted partner, consultant and advisor is where you want to be. This requires depth of skill and knowledge but it also requires breadth.

Dragonfly has attracted its apprentices from various sources: word of mouth, a Craigslist ad, a package of information Jane developed for high schools explaining what the tile trade is and what is means to be an apprentice at Dragonfly, referrals, and career days.

Developing a program

In recent years, Dragonfly has incorporated NTCA University and its slew of courses into its program. Apprentices are enrolled in the university and use NTCA materials, including TileLetter magazine for independent study. 

“Even small employers like us can have an apprenticeship program,” said Jane Callewaert. “Thanks to the many other organizations, like the NTCA and its online university, and the various state-sponsored apprenticeship programs, there are resources available to assist us. We have outlined a process that includes online learning, independent study, industry-sponsored workshops, and on-the-job learning that includes instruction and practice in the various proficiency areas. Progress is measured by observed behavior on the job and participation in the other programs.”

Jane reveals that the apprenticeships aren’t “Tile 101. On the job, our apprentices get a lot of ‘trial by fire,’” she said. “We believe in the ‘tell them, show then, let them, and show them again’ methodology. Our setters aren’t just asking our apprentices to make a standard cut. They are asking them to take three moldings or trims and to miter a frame molding, a quarter-round and a liner, all in line with each other for the same corner. If it comes back not quite right, then the setter says, ‘OK, come with me.’ Back to the ‘let them and then show them again’ method.”

There’s a price tag with training this way – to allow failure to happen and absorb the cost of it as part of the training process. “We have days when we tag a few hours as ‘non-billable’ (but still payable to the apprentice), because it was just one of those days. But it’s worth the cost to us to allow them to fail, to practice, and then ultimately to succeed.”

Progress in the program is monitored simply by observations, feedback and nudges to complete the online studies. “They know that their 6-, 9- and 12-month reviews – as well as their compensation – will be dependent on their progress,” Jane said.

Maria Meyer – from UWM to tile apprentice

Maria Meyer, 23, made the leap from college studies to tile apprentice with Dragonfly.

One of the apprentices currently in the program is Maria Meyer, 23, who hails from Mankato, Minn. She started out studying conservation sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (UWM), and in short order learned it really wasn’t her passion.

She applied at a wood-finishing shop, but it still didn’t hit all the marks for her. A friend directed her to the Dragonfly website, and it “blew me out of the water,” she said. She met the owners and applied. “They took me on with little-to-no experience, except for painting and finishing. I was drawn to the people they were, and the art background of the company.”

Meyer has been in the program for seven months so far, and spends a lot of time in the shop, including weekends learning online through NTCA University. “Learning online is so helpful in preparing for the next week; the following week you are doing the things I just learned. So your mind is always on it,” she said. “I really like the format, with the videos and the tests afterwards.”

The training at Dragonfly has laid the groundwork for Maria to be excited about her future, interested in following in the example and level of craftsmanship Lee has set. 

“It seems like a very good life to have,” she said. “I love the attention to detail [being able to use] my creativity, and being a spokesperson as a woman in the trades, as well as working with people who are masters in the craft. I’ve been a little bit of a spokesperson for my friends, especially the art students. They have a fear of not knowing what to do with their degree; they don’t want to go into gallery art. So learning about trades is beneficial.”

Maria and Jane with the NTCA University curriculum, which is an essential component of Dragonfly’s apprenticeship program.

Meyer loves the variety of the work: “The tile work is all very unique, and different every day, whereas wood finishing was kind of repetitive. Everything is done very artistically and you are a designer as well as a craftsperson.” 

Being “pressure tested” as an apprentice has its hurdles as well, with daily challenges and new things that have never been attempted before. “It can be frustrating, but it’s challenging in a good way, to work with high-end materials in the home,” Meyer said. “It’s a lot of pressure but very fun.”

Jane noted that Dragonfly manages the program with “high expectations. Many young people are not accustomed to that level of personal challenge – being pushed beyond the comfort zone, and at an accelerated pace,” she said. “It can be hard and frustrating for them but has proven to be a great way to help them gain self-confidence. And Lee is pledged to modeling a lifelong commitment to learning, recently taking the Certified Tile Installer exam himself. 

Meyer enjoys the attention to detail, being creative, and being a spokesperson as a woman in the industry and for peers who are studying art and looking for a creative outlet after graduation.

“It takes character and commitment to rise to the challenges they are faced with from day one,” she added. “We are so proud of them and they know we are always there for them at the end of the day.
They will be the ‘best of the best’ in the future. They are already talking about that ‘some day’ when they can take the CTI test. We hope we live long enough to see them become ambassadors in the industry.”

1 2 3 6