Why Wood Flooring Went Digital

The wood flooring industry, like many other trades, is facing a shortage of skilled labor, with 86 percent of construction firms reporting trouble filling available positions last year. Ninety-three percent of employers now cite hiring challenges as a barrier to growth in the coming year. And like other facets of our national skills-gap, the shortage stems from both the demand- and supply-sides of the labor market. On the demand side, an aging workforce means there are more open positions for installers, creating demand for workers. Surveys suggest that 31 million skilled trade positions will be left vacant by 2020 due to retirements. On the supply side, more and more high school graduates are choosing to pursue a college degree, and far fewer are choosing to enter the trades.

The good news is that for millions of adults with some form of non-degree credentials, certifications can offer a powerful ROI and a clear path to employment. There is also a growing recognition of the role that associations can play in providing education and certification to their members. According to a recent study, credentials rank as a top three reason for joining a professional association among both millennials and genXers.

But convincing millennials to enter trades like wood flooring installation requires a level of translation – re-introducing a time-honored, but perhaps less flashy trade to digital natives. While an association that has been certifying hardwood professionals for more than 30 years may not seem like the most likely candidate for innovation, NFWA is lighting the path into high growth, rewarding trades for a generation of screenagers – with technology that provides members with the training they need to earn data-rich, portable and verified digital credentials.

In July 2016, NWFA launched its very own university, designed to help our members earn certifications for specific skills through on-demand, online courses. Yet in the age of YouTube and seemingly ubiquitous free online content, we knew that the university’s value couldn’t hinge on online classes or videos alone. Success would require translating education into real-world benefits. And so we designed association-backed digital badges that allow wood flooring professionals to share their expertise (installation or sanding and finishing, for example) with potential customers or employers in a way that is quick, efficient and reliable. The process is simple and intuitive to members, borrowing on concepts familiar from the consumer web. After successfully completing a course through NWFA University, a student receives a badge via email that can be shared on social media channels like LinkedIn or Facebook. These secure digital badges can be accessed easily, allowing professionals to demonstrate their verified proficiency and skills to potential customers on the fly, right on their mobile device.

Since launching the NWFA University, the association has seen staggering engagement: more than 7,300 courses have been completed, and more than 4,200 badges have been issued in partnership with Credly, a digital credentialing platform that ensures that credentials are valid, reliable and authenticated. Young professionals are able to earn badges, while veterans with existing skills or credentials have new ways to show them and put them to use.

Digital badges are transforming the association into a powerful marketing channel as well. Members can now connect their badges to the NWFA’s search platform, which gives potential customers the ability to check out their credentials before getting in touch, or to search for only those professionals with specific badges or certifications.

Other association executives are recognizing the value of credentialing: more than 80 percent believe that offering credentials earned through rigorous programs is a valuable member benefit. They know that credentialing programs can help their associations build loyalty in their internal community and increase visibility to the general public. But it is no longer enough for associations to provide training and certifications. As NWFA found, associations must also provide opportunities for their members to promote their third-party verified skills and earned certifications in a digital, readily accessible format.

It can take time for innovation to take hold in an established field, but the NWFA is demonstrating how digital certifications provide value for association members and useful information to consumers. Thanks to new technology, the industry has been able to turn this skills gap challenge into an incredible opportunity, supporting the industry as they attract and enable a new generation of talent.

Stephanie Owen is Education Director at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. She can be reached at stephanie.owen@nwfa.org.