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Are you really being trained?

Are you really being trained?
Martin Cummins

Published by Martin Cummins - UK Technical Support Manager, Bostik

Martin has been involved in the industry for over 20 years. He’s passionate about flooring in all its guises, with his particular expertise being in subfloor preparation products and adhesives. Martin is an active member of the CFA manufacturers committee and he sits on the CFA council. He aims to keep abreast of all the changes in the industry and feeds this knowledge back to installers to make sure when floors are laid they perform to their maximum potential.

Ask anybody who knows me what I should have been if I hadn’t been bitten by the flooring bug and I can bet most would say a teacher, a trainer or something along those lines.

In fact, at university I was definitely leaning towards teaching but the salaries in those days weren’t great – who’s the fool now then?! The reason I believe people would respond in this manner is that my drive and ethos in life, including work, is very much to improve other people. This can be in the form of knowledge, understanding, or even as a coach in sports such as football and basketball.

Age has taken its toll so there’s not so much of the coaching in sport these days, but it got me thinking when meeting a now 20-something guy in the pub who told me how he loved my training sessions back in the day.

He explained that I allowed the players to try things, made them have a go and let them question what was being done. Nobody was left in the background to ‘get away with it’ as he put it. I didn’t realise this wasn’t usual as it was just my way, but I really appreciated his words.

Training as I see it has to give the opportunity for the trainees to learn, to understand and most importantly to use the products which he/she is being trained on. Evaluation of his/her performance should also be a key component as it’s only by evaluating that we see improvement. It’s the improvement that has to be the focus, not the performance level per se.

“It’s the improvement that has to be the focus, not the performance level.”

When I think nowadays of how the term ‘training’ is described in the industry, I feel perhaps there’s a bit of a liberty taken. How many of you have been to a manufacturer for ‘product training’, only for a ‘trainer’ to demonstrate what their products do and how they can solve all your problems? It’s usually done in a very slick manner it must be said, and I’m not for one moment suggesting this isn’t valuable in itself, but is it really training? A product showcase or demo day for sure, but training? Not in my eyes. Imagine if the kids being trained at football were shown how to take a penalty and never given the chance of taking a kick themselves: that would be madness.

Don’t get me wrong, a great deal of manufacturers’ training courses involve the contractor and ensure they all have a go at whatever it is they’re there to be trained on, but this requires much more commitment from the manufacturer and the contractor.

Learning about moisture in subfloors and, for example, how to use a hygrometer may be something quite basic to a technical person. However, without actually handling one, knowing how to assess a subfloor for the right place to put it, how long to leave it and finally how to interpret the results won’t sink in until there’s a task to be done and an evaluation of success.

I’ve mentioned hygrometers as this is something I’m familiar with and adept at using, but when it comes to installing a cap ‘n’ cove or an LVT design floor then I’m out of my comfort zone. To enable a contractor to be confident on such a task needs them to ‘have a go’. Fail in the classroom, not on a client’s job!

“Fail in the classroom, not on a client’s job!”

Smoothing compound and even DPM application can all be seen in a video or in a presentation, but until the products have been mixed up, carried to an area, applied correctly and the realisation of how long it takes until the next process can be carried out is experienced, the contractor is no better trained than Joe Bloggs.

Manufacturers are the designers of products and systems and they play a key role in moving the industry forward, so don’t turn down any opportunity to go to a manufacturer’s day course (or indeed three- and four-day course) to learn and be trained in correct use of their products as there is no end to learning. A recent visit to a vinyl manufacturer’s training centre opened my eyes as to what can be achieved with an LVT design floor, even when done by a novice being trained!

Feedback to the ‘trainers’ is something I’d always encourage. We too are continually learning and as contractors it’s you who are at the coalface and see more of the reality than perhaps we do.

As we’re all aware there are specific training schools and, sadly less than in the past, colleges where real training can be carried out. By real I mean the full aspect of theory, practical and evaluation. The whole gamut from subfloor moisture to sealing of timber floors is possible with all steps enabling product use and hopefully evaluation of understanding.

It can lead to skill-based certification, which can be important especially to newcomers into the industry. Again, this is time and investment from both parties, so choose the right course for you to achieve what you need.

As I see it there are three distinct offerings in today’s industry which may or may not be called training, and you should choose what fits your needs and your budget:

  • Full-blown courses that can lead to, where required, certification. These should be non-company specific so as to enable you to learn about all and sundry
  • Manufacturers’ training programmes ranging from 4-day vinyl fitting courses to half- day moisture testing, which include learning and crucially the opportunity to apply and use the products, as well as to ask questions and challenge the trainers
  • Product awareness and demo days where you get the opportunity to observe products being used