MORENO VALLEY, CA -- Over the course of the summer, iQ Power Tools, manufacturer of premium power tools with integrated dust collection technology, traveled 6,000+ miles all across the country for their “War On Dust” campaign to promote against silica dust hazards and other related “health at the jobsite topics.” On the last leg of the road trip, the iQ team travel through the Pacific Northwest to spend some time with key dealers and supporters of the brand.

While in Portland, OR, Paul Guth, iQ’s CEO, and Sarah Williams, marketing director, made a surprise visit to Hawthorne Tile. They showed up with their “War on Dust” trailer, straight from another event. “Dirk is such a strong name within the industry and a person that continually gives back to the industry, that I knew we couldn’t drive through Portland without stopping and meeting him in person,” Williams said.

During their visit they discussed many issues within the industry – everything from supply chain issues, innovation, labor shortages and most importantly, education. During the conversation, Dirk Sullivan, owner of Hawthorne Tile, spoke of his own investment in apprenticeship. About four years prior, he and other tile business owners launched a state-approved apprenticeship program, “The Oregon Columbia Tile Trade Joint Apprenticeship.” Sullivan’s program was jump-started, not surprisingly, due to the omnipresent shortage of skilled journeymen within the tile and stone trade. “Basically, there was never a stronger demand for qualified and professional tile installers,” Sullivan said.

He further touched upon the worker’s growing needs to expand their skills within the trade. That being a talented and registered tile installation pro is a career, not just a job. Top-flight installers are valued by their skills; not by their paycheck. At the time of the meeting, there were eight training agent members onboard, each of whom fully grasped the importance of proper education that has been lacking in our industry. A well thought-out concept, which provided monthly training for apprentices and different levels of involvement for members, was soon founded, according to Sullivan.

Those participants in the training committee – duly named the Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust, each had to be a member of the NTCA. Why? Sullivan stated, “Each of these students worked with the NTCA University modules, all of which were federally approved. Hawthorne Tile has been an advocate of the NTCA since we became a member and immediately recognized the value of doing so. It’s not just about installing tile," Sullivan said. “It’s about running a business efficiently and profitably and ultimately creating jobs for your community. This program would not exist without the generous donations of our manufacturing partners, volunteers and association support.”

Upon hearing of the program, Guth didn’t hesitate to donate iQ’s patented tile saws, blades, PPE, some iQ swag and more. “This is far more than a product donation,” he said. “It’s imperative that our industry continues to celebrate and support the next level of tile setters. Manufacturers need to continue to invest in and promote the need for skilled laborers on a daily basis. Part of our 2022 initiatives include an emphasis on more education. We’ve been quite successful in getting out there and openly discussing the hazards of silica dust and now, we feel obligated to up our game and help the industry even more.”

Dirk agreed. “Proper training is needed in our industry,” he said. “If someone has a bad experience with a ceramic tile installation, word gets out. The trickle-down effect would then be, ‘Nah, I don’t want ceramic tile. The grout always cracks, is hard to clean, tiled showers always leak. There’s always something wrong.’ When in actuality, the problem is not with the tile, it's with the installation and flaws in the assembly.”

Within 24 hours the product was organized and shipped out. Within a week, pallets of the aforementioned products amply arrived at Hawthorne Tile. Sullivan was quite humbled by the generous donation from iQ. “It’s amazing what is achieved when forward-thinking people get together,” Sullivan said. “Previously, we never owned any iQ equipment, but had always prepared to purchase it when needed. The needed time is now.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far with our apprenticeship program,” Sullivan added. “But we still have a long way to go.”