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training & education
NTCA Technical Trainer brings education close to home at local school
NTCA Trainers bring workshops and regional training events to locations around the country every year. The goal is to make standards-based education accessible to industry members and individuals who want to learn, increase their skills and raise their chances for success.
But sometimes, education takes place a little closer to home. Such was the case last spring for Matt Welner, one of NTCA’s ace Technical Trainers, who lives in Hickory, N.C.
He received an invitation from his daughters’ school to come and talk 10 minutes about his job as part of a dad’s career day. Welner took the opportunity to do something “cooler” – a 45 minute hands-on presentation for an elementary-aged class and one for middle school/high schoolers.
He kicked off his presentation with a PowerPoint to show the range of jobs available within the tile industry – artists, logistics experts, designers, business people, accountants and more. “We are more than solely construction workers,” he said.
Welner brought tools with him – diamond blades, a small 6" tile cutter, and a mammoth 61" cutter for large tile. The classes mixed some thinset and set some tile, too. Some of the kids wanted to take home pieces of tile they cut to “show their dads.”
The presentations for the two classes were similar, with simpler explanations for the elementary school kids and a foray into the chemistry and science behind setting materials for the middle and high school aged kids.
NTCA Technical Trainer Matt Welner goes back to school bringing tile education to elementary, middle, and high school students.
As part of his professional skills, Welner connects with the audience and assesses who is present – tile setters, designers, floor covering personnel, consumers – and that allows him to tailor his talk to the audience needs. He employed his technique in working with the kids as well.
He also made highly-descriptive word choices when describing tools and techniques. “Mark [Heinlein, NTCA Training Director] is the master of this. He taught me to be very descriptive in my words – to take the trowel and show it and describe it and its use. So, I was already used to using words very descriptively, and being a dad of a child that age helped too.”
Welner teaches about the diamond blade.
Students got to experiment with a range of cutters.
Demonstrating the small 6" cutter.
Kids got hands-on experience with the large-format tile cutter.
To add a little fun, he drew pictures of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants on sponges with a magic marker and tossed them out to the students.
Welner said the presentation was “Everything we talk about at a workshop – but just for kids.” And he observed, “The kids were more receptive to learn the right way to do things than adults. Eighty-five to 90 percent were on the edge of their seats. I even had help cleaning up!”
Welner said the students were willing, open-minded and more polite than adults!
Not only did he get the kids’ attention, but the “coolest part was the teachers,” he said. Three or four teachers came up afterwards, and said ‘I think my bathroom was installed wrong.’ They had never heard someone talk about tile. They didn’t know there was a right way or wrong way to do things.” So Welner had a chance to not just engage the kids, but also impart some education to the adults as well.
NTCA is making a push to expand education to the industry and beyond. There is some effort afoot to create a classroom template for anyone in the industry to share information about entering the trade and the opportunities it offers similar to what Welner offered. There is the Little Hands Little Tiles mosaic kit developed by the NTCA Women In Tile group that gives children a chance to work with pre-cut paper shapes, experiment with design and form their own mosaic patterns. There are now Spanish versions of monthly TileLetter technical articles and Ask the Experts stories in its monthly digital magazine and on TileLetter.com, and the classic Trowel and Error video is available in multiple languages.
Girls and boys got the feel for troweling thin-set mortar.
Learning to set a small tile.
Welner prepares to demonstrate the importance of collapsing the ridges after troweling on thinset.
And there are opportunities like this one that Welner seized upon to raise awareness and demystify the trade for young people who will be choosing a career one day.
He said he was especially impressed by the attention span of the students, particularly since this is a private school devoted to supporting kids with learning challenges like ADHD. “They were willing and open-minded,” he said. “They sat through [the talk] and listened and didn’t interrupt. They were more polite than adults!”
And they remember. Welner said when his wife comes to pick up the kids in his car now, the students exclaim, “It’s the tile dad!”