Leadership 101: Best Practices in Engaging the Next Generation of Floorcovering Installers

Written by INSTALL / December 8, 2023

*This article by INSTALL executive director David Gross was originally featured in the latest edition of ProInstaller Magazine.

As an older generation of floorcovering installers looks toward retirement, contractors and business owners are focusing more than ever on how to attract new apprentices. Whether they are students just out of school or professionals looking to discover new careers, these new recruits are highly sought-after as the construction labor shortage continues.

However, younger generations are looking to be engaged and invested in their work. And they are looking for team leaders and business owners who connect with them and value their fresh outlook on the trades. In fact, the top reasons most individuals leave their jobs are because they feel disrespected or dislike the company culture, according to the US Chamber of Commerce. It is vital to the growth of the floorcovering installation trade for foremen, project managers, superintendents, business owners, and anyone in a leadership position to meet new and potential employees on their terms and engage them. By being open to different types of leadership styles and discovering new ways to guide individuals, team leaders can strengthen their relationships and motivate their crews to perform at higher levels.

Let’s look at the evolution of two different styles of leadership, why good leadership leads to higher employee retention, and examine why effective leadership, an often-overlooked soft skill, is so vital to the trade’s success.

Embracing New Leadership Styles

When learning about different leadership styles and discovering what works best for you, it is important to consider your own skills and experiences, as well as what you value in other effective leaders.

Historically, older generations—Baby Boomers and Gen X—have gravitated toward a transactional leadership style. This type of leadership emphasizes a company’s structure and clearly ranks team members, elevating supervisors and managers above other employees. Transactional leaders typically set measurable goals and rely on incentives, such as raises, awards, and special privileges to motivate team members. Leaders often choose this style because expectations are clear and team members are encouraged to follow routines.

While it is a long-standing form of leadership that has been effective for decades, Randy Eppard, executive director of education and training at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) International Training Center (ITC) in Las Vegas, has found that transactional leadership is not well received by younger generations. And as the largest, most comprehensive training facility of its kind in the world, the UBC’s ITC invests $1.5 million each week in the training and development of trade professionals.

Eppard and the UBC believe the most effective way to motivate and guide upcoming Millennial and Gen Z professionals is through transformational leadership.

A style that emphasizes transformative change, this type of leadership taps into each individual’s potential to inspire them to reach above and beyond their goals. Transformational leadership values people, rather than institutions, and focuses on developing trust within the team.

Individuals who embrace this form of leadership must be comfortable with change, adapt to new situations, and understand that it is necessary to always be evolving and growing. In addition, transformational leaders inspire their team to focus on the future and follow the best path to achieve goals. By focusing on each team member’s strengths and encouraging them to reach their full potential, Eppard says transformational leaders are able to drive constructive culture and yield the highest productivity on the jobsite. Productivity is also increased when teams are more diverse, something transformational leaders also embrace. The ITC has found that diverse teams are more intuitive and innovative in on-the-job problem solving.

“If productivity increases by 10%, that could be 100% more profit for the contractor on the bottom line,” said Eppard.

Transformational leadership is also well received by floorcovering installers because the industry is comprised of hands-on learners who want to be valued for their skill sets. They are receptive to learning how to become better leaders and are more likely to attend valuable leadership training sessions to further develop this soft skill, creating teams that are motivated to work together.

Zachary Tippie, a journeyman and floorcovering installer for Local 251, recently attended one of the ITC’s leadership courses with the goal of gaining a greater understanding of what it takes to be a successful leader. “I was able to put myself back in the apprentice’s shoes,” said Tippie. “The course changed my mindset as a leader. It’s given me greater patience, and I’ve become more compassionate.”

Finding the Right Motivators

Eppard believes that transformational leadership training is key to the future of the floorcovering installation industry. As labor shortages continue to plague businesses, he believes that contractors will see an increase in recruitment if they create a desirable culture through strong, effective leadership.

For instance, Millennials are known to quickly move on to another company if their values don’t align with their employer or they feel they aren’t appreciated. It’s imperative for leaders to attend training seminars that instruct them on how to keep their team engaged, treat them with respect, and build trust. “Each generation is different,” said Eppard. “We can’t control generations, but we need to recognize how they control the environment and identify the best ways to build a team that works well together.”

Today’s leaders are encouraged to steer clear of the old adage, “you’re not paid to think.”

ITC refers to young apprentices as the “why” generation. This up-and-coming generation focuses on the mindset that they can always do better. Eppard pushes the leaders of this new line of thinking—many of who come from the “how” generation— to let go of the “how” and embrace the “why”. “This generation is changing the world, and we need to capitalize on it,” says Eppard. Effective leaders are able to understand the differences between generations and guide their team in ways that play upon everyone’s strengths. They value individual skill levels and personalities and how they interconnect within the team. This ensures happy, fulfilled team members and boosts retention.

“Discovering the best way to lead a team has helped me focus on positive interactions and increased my awareness of how I directly impact others’ self-esteem. I’ve found that this awareness creates a happier environment which increases my team’s productivity,” said Tippie.

Knowing When to Change

The importance of learning effective leadership as a soft skill cannot be overlooked. And just like many other soft skills, leadership techniques need to evolve as values change. As values change, so does company culture, and it can be challenging to change a culture. However, it’s far more challenging to replace employees who move on due to poor leadership.

When looking for a training program that will grow and develop your leadership style, choose a program that helps you lead from a place of purpose and passion, while also helping you achieve your fullest potential as a leader. Remember that it’s important to accept feedback from your instructors, during your course, and your team, when you return to work. Always be willing to adjust your leadership style as needed. Tippie agrees that leadership training is vital to ending the “old school” mentality that many floorcovering installers have fallen into. “Some installers think leadership training is a waste of time and would rather work by themselves, but that line of thinking is unsustainable,” says Tippie.

The best leadership training programs are set up to provide participants with a sense of empowerment and confidence in their abilities to better lead their teams. Eppard says this empowerment ultimately leads to fewer safety incidents on the job and less absences.

Leading into the Future

Leadership that focuses on individuals, their skill sets, and builds trust within a team—such as transformational leadership—proves to employees that they are valued and not disposable. It also builds a company that floorcovering installers want to work for and see themselves as part of long-term.

Training programs that are focused on changing the culture and perception of the work environment, like those offered at the ITC, tend to produce the most successful leaders. What makes the floorcovering installation industry unique, and at the forefront of leadership training, is that it teaches leadership skills at every level, not just at an ownership or management level.

These programs also focus on treating people with respect and decency and that everyone’s skills matter. As Eppard says, “Let the team be the team. It’s about being a good coach.”

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