Installation: Then=Now: Many of the challenges plaguing installation are the same as 30 years ago - Aug/Sept 2022

By Darius Helm

“I can remember when carpet installation was a respectable trade. In a few cases it’s still recognized as such today. But because of the lack of training, the trade skills and knowledge of today’s installers has diminished. There are few incentives for young people to enter this trade.”

Jim Walker wrote those words in a column for Floor Focus in October 1993, around the time that he and his wife, Jane, were leading the foundation of the International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI), which had already been expanded from a focus on Kansas City, Missouri to a Midwest event. Walker served as CEO of CFI until 2015, and under his leadership, over 50,000 installers completed the training programs, including in overseas chapters.

Nevertheless, three decades after Walker penned that column, the very same issues continue to plague flooring installation. And the Great Recession and the pandemic have both accelerated the decline of the installation community. The veterans have retired, and the younger generations have little incentive to pursue a career in what is perceived as one of the lowest paying trades. And the immigrant community, which has long been a key workforce for installation, has diminished.

On the hard surface side, glueless click systems have made installation simpler than ever and have helped drive the DIY market, but most homeowners are still counting on professional installation to get the job done right.

The pace of residential work over the last two years put more pressure than ever on the installers still in the business. And while the slowdown this year has helped reduce installation timelines, there is little evidence of any long-term improvement of the installer crisis. CFI, INSTALL (the International Standards & Training Alliance), IFCTA (International Floor Covering Training Alliance) and others continue their dogged efforts to recruit and train new tradespeople, and many retailers have come up with their own recruitment strategies.

Robert Varden, who recently stepped down as CFI’s executive director and is currently president and CEO of IFCTA, gave a presentation at the CCA Global convention in Nashville a few weeks ago, where he offered some statistics on installer pay, including Department of Labor stats for the North Texas region, where carpet installer wages start at $13.37 an hour and average salaries are just over $38,000, compared to $53,435 for electricians, $44,574 for concrete finishers and $70,304 for plumbers. Varden contends that carpet is the category most vulnerable. He said, “The pay is lower, it’s harder on your body, and even if you’re buying the supplies, they’ve got to have all the tools,” which he notes run around $2,000.

According to Walker, contributing to the crisis is the attitude of manufacturers, too few of whom require an adequate caliber of installation. And when it comes to retailers, too many just want to get the job done. As Walker puts it, “It appears that this problem is never going away.”

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