For June's PDCA Leadership Spotlight we sat down with PDCA Chairman of the Board Of Directors, Rob French.
Rob French is the President of Ed French Painting, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Ed French Painting has been in business for 70 years. In addition to being Chairman of the Board of Directors, Rob is also the President of PDCA's Florida Council. His areas of industry specialization are hospitality, hospitals and commercial offices,
Rob answered our questions on industry direction, problems, and solutions as only a seasoned industry veteran can!
From your perspective, what is one of the top concerns of painting contractors in the 21st Century?
Labor. Specifically, the ability to keep a fresh and qualified staff of painters to fulfill the needs of our company, and the lack of qualified, legal, painters and other craftsmen entering the industry.
What are your personal experiences with this issue?
We are a very old (70 years) company and currently all of our employees have been with us for 20+ years and have grown with the company. Hiring young qualified painters has been a problem in our area for a long time. Painting is not a craft young men and women want to get into. A huge challenge in our area of the country is competition with contractors who exclusively hire undocumented employees and pay their workforce substandard wages (usually under the table). Experienced painters who apply for positions are many times undocumented yet expect to be paid standard wages. Between an undocumented workforce and a lack of young men and women entering the field, hiring is tough.
How have you solved this problem?
I have aligned our company with a certified apprenticeship program at a local technical college. This program focuses on all aspects of the industry and provides workers who are ready to enter the field with skills that we can build on. We partner young painters with our experienced painters and get good results. In order to provide apprenticeship programs to viable students, our local PDCA Chapter (Fort Lauderdale Gulfstream Chapter) has partnered with the Broward County Public Schools to begin a pre-apprentice program which is being developed as a career path and will feed into one of the county’s technical school apprenticeship programs. It was determined that it was not enough to expect young men and women to want to apprentice in the painting industry at the post-secondary level. We needed to attract them at a younger age and show them the value of the industry and the craft as a lucrative career.
How would you advise other painting contractors to solve this problem?
Knowing that all the construction trades face these labor issues (not just painters), I would suggest that you align yourself with an apprenticeship program so you can put young painters on your staff in a program learning basics. If you do not have an apprenticeship program near you, consider creating one within your company or partnering with other contractors and paint stores to start one. Talk to your local school board to promote an industry career path in your high school, give craft talks, and demonstrate how you have made your company a viable business. Offer employee incentives to those who bring on either experienced craftsmen or young people who want to learn the trade, and encourage your employees to talk to young people about the benefits and value of their job.
Finally, join an industry organization such as the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America. PDCA provides on-line training and peer to peer networking opportunities for contractors AND their employees. PDCA is rolling out new plans to prepare for the future of the painting industry. We realize that training and education is a large component of today’s business practices, and we are putting all of our efforts into further establishing PDCA as the recognized leader in the training and education of contractors and their employees. PDCA has on-line training for everything from the basics of the craft to best business practices for contractors at any level. Members and their employees can participate in webinars, listen to podcasts, and view on-demand videos. Additionally, PDCA Accreditation is a proven means to indicate that your company has gone the extra mile to separate yourself from the competition. Soon we will be establishing a more comprehensive certification program that will be available to contractors and to individual painters as well.
In order to attract a fresh and qualified workforce you have to be proactive and think outside the box. Our industry survival depends on it.