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Currently, a group of ceramic tile, setting material and membrane manufacturers are in the midst of delivering a national tile educational seminar series -- visiting key markets across the U.S. to bring meaningful tile education to local architects and designers. The 2022 seminar series is a joint program of International Masonry Institute (IMI) and the Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA), and this year’s program is co-sponsored by Tile Council of North America (TCNA), Ardex Americas, Crossville, Custom Building Products, Daltile, Laticrete, Mapei, NAC Products and Schluter Systems.

One of IMI’s overarching goals is to promote the use of tile, stone, brick and other masonry materials by trained, skilled contractor and installer members of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC). The cornerstone of IMI’s industry development program is education of architects, interior designers, engineers and other design professionals.

In addition to design professionals, IMI provides education across many disciplines, including general contractors, construction managers, specialty contractors, architecture and design students, college professors, code officials, building owners and public agencies. The training programs of the International Masonry Training and Education Foundation (IMTEF) provide instruction to thousands of apprentice and journey worker craftworkers each year, and IMI has specialty programs like the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT), Sustainable Masonry Certification and Contractor College aimed at BAC signatory contractors. Each of these groups represents an important beneficiary of IMI education and training. Within the context of industry development, however, it is the design professionals who aptly receive the greatest level of attention. IMI tailors its national professional education program to the wants and needs of design professionals, i.e. architects, designers and engineers.

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IMI tile apprentice instructors lead a group of architects through a tour of ACT (Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers) mockups at this seminar.

Why do architects and designers rank so highly on the list of disciplines to educate? Simply, design professionals generally have more influence than anyone else on the design and construction team when it comes to selecting building systems, materials, and particularly, finish materials. Design professionals can also influence the selection of contractors and labor, for example, by including installer qualifications and other quality control language in the architectural specifications. Therefore, if we can equip architects and designers with a good working knowledge of our materials and our labor, they will be confident in specifying them.

IMI is not the only organization advocating continuing education for design professionals. State licensing boards in 47 states require a minimum number of contact hours of qualified education per licensing cycle for architects to maintain their license to practice their discipline. Requirements vary per state, but to cite an example, the state of Illinois requires licensed architects to undergo 24 contact hours of qualified continuing education every two years, and 16 of those hours must be in topics related to maintaining the health, safety and welfare (HSW) of the general public. In addition to state-mandated education, many professional societies like American Institute of Architects (AIA) and International Interior Design Association (IIDA) have their own sets of continuing education requirements.

IMI creates technical content that architects need, and delivers it to them in various formats that dovetail into the way they work. Ideas for topics come from a variety of sources. IMI analyzes the technical questions we receive from architects nationwide via our website, email and technical telephone hotline. When the same questions come up repeatedly, that is a sign that designers are lacking information in a particular topic. Another source of information is IMI’s quality assurance reviews in both design and construction phases. When IMI identifies complex or incorrectly designed details in our reviews of plans and specs, or when we are called out to job sites to troubleshoot work that has been installed and is not performing as expected, it becomes clear that we need to communicate certain information to designers. Another excellent source of content development is our base of BAC tile contractors. As they bid and install work every day, tile contractors are in a unique position to evaluate and assess which technical issues architects have mastered, and on which issues they need guidance, and they communicate those to IMI.

Delivering professional education takes many forms -- from the small in-house lunch-and-learn seminar with an audience of ten to a full-day tile/marble/terrazzo or masonry expo with an audience of 300+ design professionals. IMI offers these varying formats to meet the diverse needs of designers. Often, architects are unable, or unwilling, to make the time commitment required of a long-form program. If this is the case, IMI will make a pre-arranged visit to the architect’s office during lunch hour and treat them to a catered lunch in the comfort and convenience of their own conference room, while delivering a 60-minute seminar on the agreed-upon topic. These short-form programs are convenient for the architects, but the material covered is limited by the time available. In other instances, a firm will have a large project with complex design issues, and the architect will desire a deeper knowledge of the topic. In this case, the architect would attend a long-form program (half-day or full-day) usually held at an IMI training center. These expo-type programs afford the architects the opportunities to view multiple presenters and topics, visit product supplier tabletops and even interact with mock-ups expertly constructed of the same materials and assemblies they are specifying on their project. Another advantage of long-form programs is the ability for architects to collect up to six of their coveted learning units (LUs) at a single IMI-hosted event.

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Sponsors of the national seminar series have tabletop exhibits to display their products to local design professionals.

In order for a seminar or program to qualify for LUs, it must meet minimum quality criteria. For example, proprietary seminars by material suppliers may not qualify for education if they are mainly focused on selling the material. Because it is impractical for state licensing boards to conduct quality reviews of all programs from third-party providers like IMI, they rely on the architect to make quality assessments and self-report only those LUs that are bona fide. To help lend credibility to third-party providers, professional organizations like AIA have a system in place that evaluates and accredits individual programs based on educational goals and stated learning objectives. When a program is registered with AIA, it automatically qualifies for state-mandated LUs. AIA-registered programs are identified as such with the AIA Continuing Education System (CES) logo. This emblem tells the architect that the program has passed AIA’s strict quality standards. All of IMI’s programs are registered with the AIA and therefore count toward state-mandated continuing education requirements.

IMI educational programs not only meet AIA’s quality standards, but they are among the most respected programs in the industry, sought after by design professionals across the U.S. Due to the practical and constructability insights contained in our seminars as a result of BAC and contractor input, IMI has developed a reputation of delivering valuable, relevant, up-to-date information that designers can put to immediate use on their projects. One look at the calendar on IMI’s website reveals educational offerings across many tile and masonry topics offered in all areas of the country. In some markets, IMI even has a loyalty program recognizing architects who attend 10 or more IMI programs per year. IMI has worked hard for decades to set the standard for providing professional education to design professionals.

Providing education is a process. As tile codes and standards change, as materials and technology evolve, as training and certifications are developed and delivered, IMI continues to stay in front of designers updating them with new information. As a result, designers not only have the knowledge to properly design with tile, but they also have the confidence that the tile industry is well organized and that we provide a network of support from which they can draw.

Note: This article is adapted from a previous article by the same author published in 093000 Contractor, the journal of the Tile Contractors’ Association of America.