Emerging Leaders: Learning the Ropes

Ship rope knot on blue wooden texture background
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The NWFA Wood Flooring Expo is not only known for the comprehensive show floor, but also the extensive opportunities for education. At the 2022 Expo in Tampa, Florida, the NWFA’s Emerging Leaders Council (ELC) expanded these opportunities even further. One of the ELC’s primary missions is to help educate prospective students about the many career paths available within the flooring industry. With that in mind (and years in the making), we invited vocational students from local high schools in Tampa to check out what the industry offers. Corey Cathcart of Integrity Floors LLC in Tampa was integral in helping us recruit local schools to attend.

Sprigg Lynn talks with a few students
Sprigg Lynn (far left), talks with a few students at the Emerging Leaders panel discussion during the 2022 Expo in Tampa.

Kayleen McCabe was guest emcee.
Kayleen McCabe (far left) was guest emcee.

Our guest emcee was Kayleen McCabe, a television host, advocate for skilled trades, and licensed contractor. A curated panel of NWFA members was selected to represent various career options within the industry. This included individuals with backgrounds in installation, hardwood manufacturing, finish/sanding equipment, refinishing/cleaning products, continuing education, flooring store owners, and more. Kayleen was set to open the career panel and kick off the exciting day the ELC had planned for these students. Since this was our first in-person student event, we had no idea what to expect.

As the students began arriving, you could feel the excitement in the room. Not everyone may be as familiar with Kayleen; however, if you have ever witnessed anything she is a part of, you know how quickly she can engage and captivate her audience. After sharing her background and introducing the panel of professionals, the students quickly began asking questions such as: “What do you find most challenging? What led you to this career? What is one piece of advice you would give us? What is most rewarding about your job?”

Members of the Emerging Leaders Council gather at the 2022 NWFA Wood Flooring Expo.
Members of the Emerging Leaders Council gather at the 2022 NWFA Wood Flooring Expo. Photos courtesy of NWFA.

We all began chiming in with our own experiences, which included international travel opportunities, tradeshows, continuing education, interior design, and more. You could see the students begin to perk up. It was becoming clearer to each of them about the multitudinous career options that were right in front of them.

After the career panel, the students traveled to the NWFA demo stage and had the opportunity to watch and talk with some of the most experienced regional instructors. As the students watched a straight piece of wood turn into curved wood, you could again see the curiosity and intrigue fill their faces.

Emerging Leaders Council – Young talent that is passionate about the flooring trade and desires to keep the industry thriving.

With more than 40 students in attendance, they now had the opportunity to experience walking the actual show floor. Split into three separate groups, each led by a member of the ELC, they could navigate firsthand booths represented by the career panel. Students were able to see Pallmann’s new road show trailer and explore their sanding equipment. They watched a Roberts’ guillotine cutter precisely slice a piece of wood flooring, and learned about colors and trends at the Harris Flooring Group’s booth.

Needless to say, after the overwhelmingly positive response from each student about learning the ropes, our ELC team is ready to “Make it Happen” in Milwaukee 2023 by hosting a similar student event. For more information about this event or to get involved with the Emerging Leaders Network, you can contact Stephanie Owen at stephanie.owen@nwfa.org.

Renee Tester is chair of the NWFA Emerging Leaders Council and vice president of marketing, eCommerce, and digital for QEP Co. Inc. in Johnson City, Tennessee. She can be reached at rtester@qep.com.

NWFA Wood Studies Scholarship Highlight

Skye Pham
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Skye PhamThe NWFA Education & Research Foundation (NERF) Wood Studies Scholarship promotes the post-secondary study of forestry and forestry-related sciences. Each spring, this nonrenewable scholarship for $1,000 is awarded to one current high school senior who will study forestry to advance and improve forestry practices for generations to come.

This year’s scholarship recipient, Skye Pham, attends North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. She will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Sustainable Materials and Technology in 2023.

“I chose to study sustainable materials and technology because of my interest in understanding the environmental impact of materials and how they relate to products that are an integral part of many people’s lives,” says Pham. “I hope to explore a career within the industry surrounding the topic of sustainable product development.”

NERF was established to provide industry research and educate future generations of wood flooring professionals. Thanks to the generosity of its members, NWFA has conducted such research as the Life Cycle Analysis of Wood Flooring and awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships since its creation.

To learn more about this scholarship opportunity and others offered, visit

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