One of the issues frequently discussed among wood flooring professionals is the difficulty of finding skilled labor. Social media forums are often rife with complaints about people who claim to have the skills necessary to perform the jobs within our industry, only to find that they barely have a working knowledge of how to use the most basic tools of our trade. The problem is pervasive and is not limited to just contractors. It is one that is experienced at all levels of the supply chain and is expected to get worse.
The NWFA is working to address this issue by creating awareness about career opportunities available within the wood flooring industry, particularly with younger people. As part of this effort, the NWFA recently partnered with Burns, Tennessee-based Middle TN Lumber, for its first-ever Manufacturing Day.
Manufacturing Day is a national celebration of modern manufacturing during which manufacturers invite members of their communities into their facilities to educate them about career opportunities and to improve public perceptions about jobs
Nearly 100 students and teachers from four area high schools participated in the event, which included a tour of Middle TN Lumber’s drying yard, kilns, sawmill, grading line, and flooring mill. Students also interacted with four hands-on flooring stations, which included learning to use pneumatic nail guns, sanding machines, stains, and buffing machines.
Charles Bumpus, a Structural Systems/Carpentry Instructor at Montgomery Central High School, who brought 34 students from his construction trades class, emphasized the importance of programs like these. “Our school’s construction trades program has been in place for six years now,” he said. “When it first started, we had just 80 students enrolled. Now, we have 265, and we really only have room for 240. The interest and growth in the program have been phenomenal.”
His students agree. Senior, Corey Moreland, shared that “four years of college is just too much money. I have friends who did that, and they got out in four years and still don’t have a job. That’s not for me.”
With the skills he learned in school and guidance from Mr. Bumpus, Moreland has single-handedly taken on a renovation project in his mother’s home. “I’ve gutted her bathroom,” he said, “taking it all the way down to the studs and foundation. I even busted out the concrete and moved the plumbing myself.”
Mr. Bumpus beams with pride as he describes the work Moreland has done. “Corey has taken what he learned in our program and applied it to an actual working project. The people in our community have been very supportive, and almost everything he has used has been donated or salvaged from local businesses. So far, he has spent only $30 on the entire renovation, which is pretty impressive.”
What Junior Dylan Williams likes most about the program is that he gets to work with his hands. “I’m not much for sitting behind a desk all day,” he says. “What’s nice about Mr. Bumpus’ class is that we have block scheduling, so we’re in his class for three hours at a time. That gives us plenty of time to learn and practice new skills.”
Before enrolling in the Structural Systems/Carpentry class, Moreland and Williams learned most of what they know from family members and YouTube. “The difference with Mr. Bumpus’ class is that we learn how to do things the right way,” says Williams.
In December, 70-plus career and technical educators from 34 counties in the middle Tennessee area will visit Mr. Bumpus and his students to see the program in action in an effort to implement similar programs in their own schools. “These programs offer students hands-on skills that will serve them well in future careers,” says Bumpus. “The more programs we can develop, the more students we can help. It’s also nice for them to see other career options available by participating in tours like this one. It has the potential to open a lot of eyes to careers they might not have known even existed, right in their own backyard.”
For its part, Middle TN Lumber has committed to provide wood flooring training for the program, including installation, sanding, and finishing. “It’s something their program doesn’t currently address and could be a good addition to the skills they’re learning,” says Middle TN Lumber President, Bill Joyce. “We’re already talking about how we can bring our training into their classroom.”
As Mr. Bumpus points out, the reality is that college is not in the cards for many students, and it’s the responsibility of educators and industries like ours to provide opportunities to learn skills that lead to good-paying jobs.
And none too soon. The U.S. Social Security Administration reports that 10,000 Baby Boomers (those born 1946 -1964) are retiring every day, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that Millennials (those born 1982 – 2000) will make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2018. Combine these statistics with a Forbes magazine article stating that 60 percent of new jobs will require skills held by only 20 percent of the working population, and the outlook is pretty grim.
Fortunately, in partnership with its members like Middle TN Lumber, NWFA is expanding its effort to change this trend within our industry. By working with local school districts, at a grass-roots level, significant strides can be made for the future growth of the wood flooring industry, and for life-long careers within it.
Learn more about the education and training opportunities available to NWFA members to implement in their own communities by contacting the NWFA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anita Howard is Chief Operating Officer at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. She can be reached at email@example.com.