An update on training and education opportunities offered by the NTCA

Hi everyone! I hope you are having a successful year. It’s been a while since I have provided an update on NTCA University and other educational opportunities available from NTCA. 

With the introduction of our U.S. Department of Labor National Guidelines for Tile Finishers and Tile Setters, I have been given a hiatus from writing articles to focus on putting together the actual online courses for these programs. For those of you that have not heard about this approval, NTCA created documents for a 2-year tile finisher and 3-year tile setter programs. These documents include information on the apprenticeship program, probationary information, selection procedures, classroom/related learning and on-the-job learning criteria, and competencies. The competencies are evaluations of various tasks within the programs that members can use to gauge how well their employees are learning the information and what they need to continue to focus on. Members are then using this information to explain pay increases to employees. Those that are meeting company goals are getting the pay increases and those that don’t are given a documented explanation of what they need to work on to achieve the pay increase.

These approved national guidelines can be used to develop an in-house training program for NTCA contractors or they can be submitted by member companies to their state Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship for consideration of approval instead of developing their own program from scratch. 

NTCA University update

So how about that update on NTCA University? The online tile finisher courses have been completed and online for a while. Earlier this year, we completed writing the scripts for the tile setter program, and I am currently working on developing the actual courses for the program. As they are completed, they are being posted to NTCA University. And as I continue to create courses, depending on the subject, I am reaching out to different members for photos and video showing the industry-recognized methods that are being discussed in the course. Thank you to everyone who has been helping me with this content!

NTCA Workshops and Regional Training 

In January, NTCA updated everyone on workshops and regional training events. In January, we also introduced a new workshop called “Ins and Outs of Layout.” This program has been well received by attendees since it teaches the basics of layout and different techniques to achieve a successful layout that the end user will like. Once the information is presented, it is then shown in a demo with audience assistance. All of the techniques learned in this workshop can be used on the job or while taking the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test. They can also be used to improve someone’s time management since they are being taught the proper methods to layout tile and won’t have to tear out and start over.

Lastly, NTCA is offering more day-long gauged porcelain tile and substrate prep/large-format tile programs across the country. These programs begin with an hour of classroom time, which is followed by hands-on demonstration that allows participants to learn and use industry installation standards and methods.

For more information on any of the NTCA’s training and education opportunities, please visit then hover over the Education & Certification tab to find the topic you want to learn more about.

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, 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.

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.

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 or 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].

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 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 or 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].

W2 or 1099 worker classification: which will you choose and why?

W2 form

NTCA University helps employees determine the differences of each worker classification

Based on conversations that I am having with members, it sounds like everyone is really busy. This often means that you are competing with other tile contractors to keep your employees. In fact, one of the biggest issues in our industry today is business owners who employ W2 workers competing to keep them, compared with those who employ 1099 workers. To that end, NTCA University developed a course to educate the employee on the differences of being a W2 or 1099 worker. 

I don’t know of a single employee who would quickly say no to a job offer elsewhere for more money and equal work without at least taking time to consider the offer. Unfortunately, in the construction industry, higher pay does not always mean that all things are equal. Hopefully, you have employees that value your opinion and would let you have the opportunity to explain or make a counter offer instead of just sending a text or calling to say “I quit.” Before it gets to this point, you should have your employees take the NTCA University course to learn the differences between W2 and 1099 workers and the benefits and advantages offered by each situation. 

For those who employ W2 workers, I recommend sitting down with them before an offer is made and educating them on these differences. Use NTCA University to reinforce the information that you are explaining. This allows your employee to make educated decisions when more pay is dangled in front of them. This isn’t to say that they won’t decide to leave but if they do they will at least understand how their responsibilities will change.

The course goes through differences of each employment situation. It details the W2 worker benefits and taxes paid by the employer versus the 1099 worker’s responsibility for taxes, insurance, carrying workers compensation and vehicle to get to job sites, etc. 

The course also talks about how your work is structured as a W2 or a 1099 worker. There are those who prefer to have paid vacation time and a steady paycheck versus those who want to pick and choose when they work.

W2 and 1099 workers are apples and oranges – they aren’t comparable or equal. One needs to look at the whole package offered by each company to decide what is best for them in the long run.

To purchase your subscription to NTCA University, you can visit the NTCA store at or If you have any questions or ideas about courses that we should have available, please give me a call or send me an email: 770-366-2566 or [email protected].

Estimating courses are in development

As I have stated in previous articles, we have a lot of new members and they are looking for help with their businesses. If you take a look at our membership, most of our contractor members employ up to five people including themselves. I’m also assuming that most of these owners are tile contractors first and business owners second so the fact that they need help running their businesses should not come as a surprise to anyone.

That being said, one of the Training and Education subcommittees, led by Dirk Sullivan with Hawthorne Tile, has started developing estimating courses. The team realized that there are several different types of estimating needs based on the customer and size of the project, so they started with a course on estimating small residential projects in which you would be working in a home where a homeowner could be present.

The course starts with explaining what you should do during your initial visit including how to make a good impression and the type of information that you should gather while you are at the potential job site. Here is a tip: never give a price to a potential customer off the top of your head! Always take the information from the job such as substrate prep needs, size of project, potential material needs, and any important details with you, then take the time to write up a formal estimate in your office.

The course then progresses into everything that you should include in your estimate. Many contractors forget about overhead or what to do if the homeowner is adamant about buying the tile themselves. Will it meet ANSI A137.1? Will you be required to do extra work because of this tile? The course gets into these concerns and others. It also identifies what you should do to protect yourself.

Remember, you are a business owner and you must protect your business and be profitable. You are no longer only a tile setter. Do you only have a handshake agreement? Or do you detail deposits and payment schedules with a signed contract? Finally, the course reviews contracts and terms. It also discusses liens and the proper way to notify the homeowner in writing of your process to recoup any unpaid contractual services.

As I stated, this is the first in a series of estimating courses. As they become available I will be updating everyone in TileLetter since these courses are in such high demand.

To purchase your subscription, you can visit the NTCA store. Go to and hover over Education & Certification on the home page, then click NTCA University. Or point your browser to to make your purchase. 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 me an email at [email protected].

Tailoring apprenticeship programs to suit your company

If you attended Coverings this year, you may have noticed a common theme was the desire/need for education. So it should come as no surprise that I get a chance to talk with a lot of new members about education and training opportunities available through NTCA.

Obviously, my first discussion item is NTCA University. The follow up question I often get is: “How can I use it in my company?” So, I wanted to take some time to review what other members are already doing so that you can use this information to help develop a program that is best for your company.

DOL-approved programs

The first thing that most contractors need to decide is if they want a Department of Labor (DOL) approved apprenticeship program. Even though NTCA University can be used as related content for an apprenticeship program, currently, the NTCA is not an actual DOL program provider. This means that if your company benefits from an approved apprenticeship program such as prevailing-wage projects, utilizing your state’s workforce commission to assist in finding workers or potentially utilizing a pre-apprenticeship program, or applying for and utilizing grant money to offset training costs, then you will need to work with your state DOL to apply for and register your training program.

Pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs

Currently, we have members who are utilizing pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. Members who have a pre-apprenticeship program work with local technical schools or workforce commissions to educate potential new hires. At the end of the program, contractor members offer apprenticeship programs within their companies to students they want to hire. Other members hire new employees directly into their apprenticeship program. We even have members in one region coming together to build a regional apprenticeship program and sharing the cost and training of the apprentices (See this month’s Training & Education story for details).

If you don’t think your company would benefit from a DOL-approved program, then you can always use NTCA University to supplement on-the-job learning. Let’s face it, once you are on the job for awhile, it’s easy to develop bad habits that shouldn’t be passed on to a new hire. These courses were developed referencing industry standards and best practices and may be taken by individual employees during or outside of the work day. This means that you can view courses in a group setting and discuss what was learned, or you can allow the individual to take courses and then follow up later to discuss what was learned.

Remember there isn’t just one way to train your staff or one program to employ. NTCA University was designed so that you can create a program that best fits your company’s needs.

Do you already have a training program in place? Please email me at [email protected] or call me at 770-366-2566 and let me know what you are doing. Members are always looking for new and/or different ideas they may be able to incorporate into their company. Remember this is an association for the contractor, and developing the next generation of tile setters is important to all of us.

NTCAU – Regional Training Event mid-year wrap up

Members are always asking me about training opportunities. Well, this month I wanted to promote regional training. 

At the start of the year, NTCA announced that it would offer regional day-long events in each of its 12 regions throughout 2018. As we close in on the midway point of the year, NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein has been traveling the country training NTCA members on one of two topics. Depending on location, he could be leading a day-long training in Industry Standards/Substrate Prep/Large-Format Tile or Gauged Porcelain Tile/Panels. 

Industry Standards/Surface Prep Large-Format Tile

The Industry Standards/Surface Prep/Large-Format Tile session starts with classroom lessons on tile industry methods and standards using ANSI resources. From there, class members learn how to use and navigate the TCNA Handbook. The attendees spend the rest of the day in a physical, hands-on working setting. Heinlein works with the class to check substrate flatness on floors and walls, general examination of framing systems, and proper installation of cementitious backer units. He then reviews various surface prep methods before releasing the attendees to work with the prep materials. 

Attendees are teamed into small groups to explore proper materials and tools for patching and rendering a vertical substrate to meet industry tolerance for large-format tile. The small groups then experiment with and pour self-leveling underlayment (SLU). 

When all substrates have been properly prepared and flattened, the class advances to proper mortar selection, mixing, trowel selection, mortar coverage, and installation techniques for large-format tile. When this event was held in Portland, Ore., Dirk Sullivan, owner of Hawthorne Tile, sent 10 installers with various levels of knowledge. Sullivan stated, “Training and education are key to the success of my company, and more importantly, the industry as a whole. The regional training event that was held here in Portland this past March was a fantastic opportunity for our installers as well as community here in Portland to see firsthand the hands-on [demonstrations], standards, techniques and materials used for successful, by-the-book installations. More please!” 

Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels

The Gauged Porcelain Tile/Panels (GPTP) course begins with streamlined overview of industry standards, then delves into ANSI A137.3 and ANSI A108.19, which have recently been approved and are specific to this new product.

After the classroom work, attendees relocate to the work area to learn about the tools that they will use during the day. Every attendee will join a small team to set a full-sized panel on either on a floor or wall substrate. As the teams work through the process, Heinlein offers tips and tricks to lead to a successful installation.

Visalia Ceramic Tile, Inc., was one of the first locations to hold the GPTP course. Sam Bruce, president, stated, “As a company, a handful of our crews have installed GPTP, but this training gave us the opportunity to have every tile setter get a high level of education and instruction of what GPTP is and how different the installation can be. The training put Visalia Ceramic Tile in a position to confidently send any tile setter to a project where GPTPs would be installed.”


Still not convinced that you should consider attending or sending your team? Well, here is some feedback from others who have attended:

Woody Sanders, Owner, D.W. Sanders Tile & Stone Contracting: “The regional event was a tremendous opportunity that we took full advantage of. The efforts and preparation of the NTCA, along with the workshop sponsors could not go without being noticed and applauded. With the popularity of GPTP growing and the recent completed standards being published, this training focused on GPTP from start to finish. Furthermore, the event focused on proper techniques with hands-on training. This is why a few of my apprentice setters and I attended. Looking back, I should have brought my entire staff, but coming out of Coverings’ Tiny House [Installation Design Showcase] last week, we needed to get back to work.”

Rod Owen, Owner, C.C. Owen Tile, stated: “We had the opportunity to send a diverse group of our men for the Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels training. They ranged from master journeymen to first-year students in our Apprentice Training Program here at C.C. Owen Tile Co.

“The training gave the opportunity to discover new, exciting materials and methods of installation while emphasizing the absolute necessity for a strong core foundation of time proven methods,” Owen continued. “While our veterans were realizing the importance of staying in the know of their ever-changing industry, the apprentices were digesting the many aspects of an industry they have just begun a career in. 

“It’s great to see these guys the several days after the training session because there is a synergy that comes from these sessions: the guys learning something new, and the guys realizing the company cares about their professional growth and development as well,” Owen said. “It’s also intriguing when we tell the general contractor we are pulling guys off their jobsite for the day. As a specialty contractor, logic would tell you that the GC will have a fit but to our disbelief most are in support when you tell them it’s a training session.

“More importantly, the NTCA regional event was an opportunity for our tile setters to experience the tile industry in a different way than they are used to,” Owen concluded. “Meeting Mark, Robb and David Gillespie of Crossville and other superstars in the industry who have a passion for tile was a little astonishing. Receiving the high level of training and event type atmosphere was in a way a version of Total Solutions Plus or Coverings. Our tile setters left this event motivated, refreshed and eager to enhance their skills in the trade, the same way that the national events do for me.”

Due to the magnitude of hands-on work and training by Heinlein, class sizes are limited to the first 20 registrants. In many cases, we are also unable to accept attendees without a registration and don’t have room in the training area to allow people to just stay and watch. If you decide to register, no matter which training event you attend, you are going to learn something even if you think you are an expert already. The next regional training event is in Elk Grove, Ill., on July 13th. To learn more about regional events available in your area, visit

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