Put to the Test: Training a New Generation of Installers to be the Top Guns of Tile

When Derrick Sanchez graduated high school last June and started working for his grandfather’s construction company full time, he thought his days of tests and exams were over. What he didn’t know was that lifelong learning is one of Papa Ralph Severson’s core principles. 

Derrick’s days of studying, it turns out, were far from over. 

Patrick Hutchins had no idea either when he came on board a year ago, that a job with Ralph’s company, Flooring Masters & Professional Remodelers, would blur the line between work and school. But he, along with Derrick, soon found himself in the Flooring Masters’ crash course in renovation.

Derrick Sanchez (left) and Patrick Hutchins practice the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation’s certification test at the home of Steve and Susan Bush, with a portion of materials donated by Louisville Tile.

“We have been training them both in many things related to our industry; framing, plumbing, electrical, wood flooring installations, and tile setting,” says Ralph. “Next year, we plan to send them both to take the national tile certification test.”

That’s no small matter.

Ralph is referring to the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation’s Certified Tile Installer Program, the culmination of which is the CTI Exam—a real-world test of an installer’s skillset on a multi-room mockup small enough to fit in the back of a pickup truck. 

To successfully pass the exam, installers must cut and set several intricate tile patterns while also using all necessary equipment and materials, such as trowels, grout, sealants, backer-boards, and vapor membranes.

An expert tile installer must learn to work in three dimensions, not just two, as Derrick and Patrick learned during their practice CTEF certification test.

Passing requires finesse and attention to detail that would make a normal person yearn for the days of multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank. Derrick and Patrick, however, will be going in prepared.

“In preparation for the CTI Exam,” Ralph says, “we all have gone through the CTEF workbooks and even put on our own ‘unofficial’ CTEF hands-on test.”  Ralph actually recreated the pickup-bed-sized mockup used by CTEF for his apprentices to complete their practice run on.

So how did they do?

They failed. It turns out, the CTI Exam is no pop quiz.

Blazing a Tiled Trail

A few years ago, after multiple attempts to get the CTEF to conduct an official CTI Exam in the Louisville area, Ralph and his foreman Alison Sanchez, said “The hell with it.” and booked flights to Orlando, Florida to take the test at Coverings—The Global Tile & Stone Expo where the CTEF was set up to conduct testing. 

When they arrived, they were two of 19 installers taking the exam, only seven of whom, including Ralph and Alison, passed. “Several that took the test were there taking the test for the second and third time, and still failed again,” says Ralph. “The test is not an easy one.”

There are just over 1,300 Certified Tile Installers. Ralph says; “It’s a distinction worth bragging about—especially for Alison. She was the eleventh woman to pass the test in the exam’s history,”

Expert tile installation involves using different sizes and multiple angles to achieve a truly professional result, as Ralph Severson achieved during his official test several years ago.

In fact, CTI certification is such an exclusive credential, to this day Flooring Masters & Professional Remodelers is among only two companies in the region who can boast of having installers who carry it.

If you’re wondering what’s the big deal, let the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation lay it out for you.

According to CTEF, “The CTI program is the only third-party assessment of a tile installation professional’s skill and knowledge that is recognized by the tile industry.”

“Certification identifies an installer as being a dedicated and knowledgeable professional whose competence in installing tile has been verified to meet specific tile industry standards,” says the Foundation. In other words, installers with the CTI credential are the best of the best, the Top Guns of Tile, if you will. 

The Edge on Local Competition

It may come as a surprise, but flooring contractors are not required to have a contractor’s license in either Indiana or Kentucky. That means practically anyone can advertise themselves as tile installers, regardless of whether they have decades of experience or “learned” the craft by watching a few videos on YouTube.

The CTI program helps weed out the wannabes from the reputable companies. Making sure your contractor holds CTI certification is one of the best ways to protect yourself from getting scammed

Since getting into the construction business in 1990, Flooring Masters & Professional Remodelers has always been committed to attending the most cutting-edge training programs and acquiring industry-leading certifications. Flooring Masters associates and partners hold certificates not just in tile, but also wood flooring installation, electrical, plumbing, drywall hanging and finishing, painting, lead and mold abatement, and Ralph himself is a licensed contractor in both Kentucky and Indiana.

Keeping up with the latest trends and techniques isn’t easy—or cheap. For Derrick and Patrick’s practice test, Louisville Tile donated some materials, and Steve and Susan Bush provided a practice space in their Georgetown, Indiana home while Flooring Masters remodeled their bathrooms and laid hardwood throughout their house.

“I appreciate Louisville Tile for donating the materials, and Steve and Susan Bush for letting us use their home for the practice test,” says Ralph. “Because of their generosity, Derrick and Patrick are one step closer to becoming Certified Tile Installers, and that’s a big deal.”

So, how does Ralph think they’ll do when it’s time to take the real exam?

“We’re going to make sure Derrick and Patrick are prepared to ace the test,” he says. “They’re both bright, talented individuals, and it’s a privilege to have them on our team.”

If you’d like to sit back and relax knowing your installers will be following all the best practices in the industry, Flooring Masters & Professional Remodelers’ certified installers stay on top of the latest trends and standards with continuing education and regular evaluations. If you’re looking to hire the best in the business, at Flooring Masters & Professional Remodelers we’re sure that’s us! Call or email today for a free consultation and let us guide your next project. 

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