Installation: There are Solutions, by Romanoff CEO Aaron Ribner

In the August 26th issue of Floor Covering Weekly Santiago Montero highlights some of the challenges the flooring industry has had with installation for the past several years. He rightfully mentions that we have seen the aging out of an “entire generation of installers”, the challenges with an education system that seems preoccupied on college, and the fact that installing can still be a good living for young people. He ends by asking “why aren’t more young people flocking to us?”.

That is a question that we have spent the last two years tearing apart everything we know as a company to truly understand. Our answer to that question and how we are solving it comes down to a few key points.

First, the industry has structured itself in a way that is inhospitable to young people. Most young people graduating high school today are not equipped to run a small business. They are prepped for a college path and teaching them life skills like how to balance a checkbook, or deal with the ACA, or get a business license are beyond their grasp. In addition, 30 years ago it was just simpler to get a van, grab some tools, and learn.

Second, the compensation structures are foreign to people. There are only 100,000 carpet installers in the U.S. and most are paid on a piece rate basis by the yard. Compare this to the 100,000,000 trade, factory, or blue collar workers who are mostly paid by the hour. If we want to tap into that pool of 99,900,000 people who are not installing carpet then we need to speak their language.

Finally, I constantly hear about a “labor shortage”. There may be markets where there is a genuine shortage, however; most markets do not have a labor shortage they have a skills shortage. What you do to solve a skills shortage is very different than what you do to solve a labor shortage. In Atlanta if I were to put up a sign offering 100 jobs paying $45k – $55k with NO mention of what was required I can assure you I would have a line of applicants out the door. Now if I put on that sign that they need to know how to install carpet…well let’s say the line will be much shorter. That is a skill shortage, not a labor shortage and can be improved with investment in training and development of people.

That ultimately is where we ended up two years ago. There are people out there that want to work, they want the opportunity that Mr. Montero mentions, but we are going to have to help them get there. We spent that time developing programs to address the compensation issue, to address the training issue, to address the transportation issue, and to address how to get to the young people we need to grow our business. This year alone we have trained and / or certified through our Vision program over 800,000 sq. yds. of additional installation capacity. These efforts have helped train dozens of young people to become flooring installers including several who had never even considered a career in the trades.

We strongly believe in the future of this industry and believe it is possible to enhance it in ways that are different from the past, but we also believe we cannot wait for the young people to flock to us. We have to bring it to them, show them, speak with them, teach them, and most importantly value them in order to improve the installation environment.

Romanoff University