The Ontario flooring industry: Union signatory contractors set high training and installation standards



    The Ontario Construction Report Special Feature

    The price of replacing a poorly installed floor can soar to eight times the original installation tab and lead to lengthy disruptions on the jobsite – two good reasons for making sure the job is done right the first time.

    When an installation fails, “everything else is worthless,” says John McGrath, director of the International Standards and Training Alliance for Floorcovering Professionals (INSTALL), explaining the importance of selecting superior contractors to eliminate the risk of installations going badly.

    These high quality contractors are often signatory to collective bargaining agreements

    either with the Carpenters Union or Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen Union, and relevant employers’ associations and the unions co-operate in extensive apprenticeship training programs for the respective skills.

    McGrath explained at a Toronto seminar the importance of selecting superior contractors to eliminate the risk of installations going badly.

    Through INSTALL, hundreds of contractors and installers throughout Canada and the U.S. are taught floorcovering installations based on the direction of all the  major mills and manufacturers that endorse the program, he told the audience at the seminar.

    Simon Ko, principal of design firm DIALOG, says common flooring problems include

    slippery tiles, grout problems and a perfecting level installation. On one project, the client’s manager replaced the specified tile with another tile. “It turned out to be a very bad choice. The client blamed us for that obviously but in the end, the tile contractor stepped up and replaced all the tiles just to avoid confrontation and to keep the ongoing business with that client.”

    DIALOG’s work includes architectural, city planning, structural and interior design for a broad range of projects including airports, museums, education, library, sport facility, cultural centres and churches.

    Ko, who was in attendance at the INSTALL seminar, says flooring is “very important,”

    particularly in health care, educational and public sector projects. “I appreciate that INSTALL is setting the standards high for the industry and its mandate to teach and standardize the installation industry.”

    McGrath says that the objective of his alliance is to get all architects, designers and their specifiers to establish “very high standards” for selecting contractors. “We’re  not asking them to exclusively specify INSTALL contractors. We’re just confident that if you establish these high standards, our contractors will be able to compete successfully.”

    While training proper installation is the foundation of the INSTALL program, Mc- Grath says the alliance has branched out to also focus on superior contractors.

    He says that the INSTALL website ( outlines superior contractor standards — regardless of  whether they are INSTALL certified or not — so clients will know which the best contractors to select are. Selecting the best contractors  is important because those contractors deal with the decision makers and have control over the installers.

    McGrath says that specifiers who work directly with a flooring dealer are taking a gamble on floor installation because they don’t know who the dealer’s installers are.

    Of the 400 or so flooring installers in Carpenters Loc. 27, Toronto, more than 25 per cent are INSTALL Certified, says Dean Marsh, resilient flooring business representative for Carpenters Local 27.

    That percentage will “grow rapidly” because  it has become a requirement that all graduating floorcovering apprentices now be certified, says Marsh, adding that in a few years “at least half of our companies should be INSTALL certified.”

    Steve Zizek, floor instructor at Carpenters Local 27’s training centre, says the INSTALL curriculum he teaches students exceeds the floor Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

    The Terrazzo, Tile and Marble Guild of  Ontario (TTMGO), representing unionized  contractors, also has a trade school to train apprentices in the skills of the terrazzo, tile and marble trade. The guild has an open admissions policy for its school. Women are  encouraged to apply.

    “First and foremost the trade school does not guarantee employment. That said  the school is funded by the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, the union and the unionized contractors in Ontario so we can help you get on the correct  path,” Robert Roppa, the school’s training co-ordinator and chief instructor said in response to a prospective student’s question about whether the school would provide  entry to the union. “To complete your apprenticeship  in the (trades) you have to complete two in school training courses and 5,600 (hours) of on the job training. A first year unionized apprentice makes (about) $18.00 an hour not including benefits like dental, medical, pension etc.”

    The Resilient Flooring Contractors Association of Ontario (RFCAO) incorporated in 1954, represents members engaged in the business of supplying and installing flooring materials of all types including tiles,  marble, carpet and terrazzo. Association members participate mainly, but not exclusively, in the ICI and high-rise residential sectors. The association acts as the employer bargaining authority with the Carpenters  Union.

    Once the flooring is installed, specialized  contractors represented by the Canadian Flooring Cleaning and Restoration Association (CFCRA) get involved.

    “Our association is more than 50 years old and has transitioned from a small group  of floor cleaners to a national trade association encompassing retail stores, manufacturers,  distributors, installers, professional  cleaners and restoration companies,” said CFCRA president Jason Walker. “We are looking to build on this and to be an important  part of the flooring, cleaning and restoration business in Canada.”

    Walker says there are trends towards luxury vinyl and the ever increasing desire to carry European and North American made products. “There are style trends that include the huge popularity of ‘greige’  tones (the mix between grey and beige). Also wider, longer planks of flooring and increasingly, more and more texture.” He says there are challenges with the installation labour pool and the limited participation in apprenticeship programs. “The opportunities in the industry exist around  training and educating dealers, installers and consumers,” Walker said. “The products and materials we use today are vastly different than what they were 20 years ago.  Our industry continues to evolve and so must the people in it.”



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