Training Programs Offer
For Learning New Lucrative Skills
of what line of work you're in and how experienced you are, there
are always new skills and techniques to learn that can help you
improve your reputation and profitability. Just as doctors, musicians
and other professionals can broaden their opportunities and increase
their earnings potential by mastering specialized instruments and
procedures, concrete contractors can greatly enhance their chances
for bright and prosperous careers by taking advantage of the many
learning opportunities offered within the industry.
days, one of the hottest trends in the world of concrete is the
proliferation of decorative concrete - concrete that is enhanced
through the use of integral colors, saw cuts, stains, polymer overlayments,
stamping, texturing, and antiquing, to name just a few of the available
options. Of course, concrete has been around for centuries and has
a proven track record as a durable, reliable, and functional material
for all kinds of buildings, roads, bridges, floors, driveways and
so forth. But until recently- roughly 25 years ago - concrete wasn't
very aesthetically pleasing because of its bland, gray hue. Since
then, dozens of manufacturers in the concrete industry have introduced
products and systems designed to transform boring monotonal slabs
into unique, eye-catching, distinctive surfaces, both interior and
exterior, in a broad range of applications.
this segment of the market has been promoted to architects, landscape
designers, interior de signers and consumers to such an extent that
decorative concrete is experiencing a virtual explosion in growth
and popularity. From commercial uses in theme parks, resorts, hotels,
restaurants, malls and office buildings to residential applications
for patios, pool decks, driveways and sidewalks, decorative concrete
is clearly on a roll.
to Learn the Techniques
the lifelong veteran of concrete installation as well as for the
novice looking to enter the profession, the demand for decorative
concrete presents a challenge: How do you best learn the necessary
skills and techniques required for high-quality results? On-the-job
training is simply not practical, due to the very nature of concrete
and the prohibitive cost of having to rip out and re-do unsuccessful
good news is that, as demand for quality decorative concrete has
soared, so have the opportunities for learning the applicable skills.
A broad range of seminars, workshops, training sessions and similar
educational opportunities is now available on a regular basis in
virtually every region of the nation, and other parts of the world
as well. Dozens of manufacturers of decorative concrete products
and systems now offer classes as often as several times monthly.
Other opportunities, such as World of Concrete and other annual
shows, also sponsor demonstrations in the latest techniques.
for the concrete contractor interested in acquiring decorative finishing
skills, the range of choices of educational offerings can be vexing.
How do you know what to look for? How do you separate the quality
program from the so-so? How do you know if your time and/or money
are being spent wisely? In other words, how do you find the training
program that will bring the results you're looking for?
Decor recently spoke with representatives from a number of companies
who provide seminars in decorative concrete techniques, asking them
to share their views on this market niche, how it has evolved, where
it's headed, and how these instructional opportunities can help
raise the standard of quality demanded by customers and delivered
Emerging Niche Market
generally agreed that, although there may have been earlier applications,
the first major mainstream use of decorative concrete occurred in
the theme parks of the Sun Belt - Disneyland, Disney World and Sea
World, among others. Robert Harris, a third- generation concrete
finisher, was an integral player in the installation of much of
the decorative concrete at Disney World in the late 1970s. "I've
been in the concrete industry virtually all my life, working with
my dad, who worked with his dad, and I was very fortunate to serve
a sort of apprenticeship in the theme park environment," he
recalls. "I worked with the Disney architects, who are so creative.
They would come up with a concept and design it, and then turn it
over to craftsmen like me to implement the design into concrete
pavement. They have virtually every color, texture and design you
can think of."
of the coloring systems used there, Harris said, were products of
L.M. Scofield Co., a leader in architectural concrete for more than
85 years. He eventually joined the firm's sales force and now serves
as Director of Product Training for The Scofield Institute outside
Atlanta, GA, where he runs "hands on" training seminars
once or twice a month to groups of 20-25. "I'm very proud of
my profession, and my main objective is to train people properly.
We're committed to helping the contractor be more effective; more
successful in his own business. Decorative concrete is a very specialized
market, and that's why it's absolutely critical to provide quality,
decorative concrete market is actually comprised of two separate
but related disciplines. Contractors can apply products and techniques
to ready-mix concrete as it's being poured and cured, and they can
modify existing concrete slabs by adding polymer overlayments and
then using various products and techniques on the overlayments to
achieve the desired textures, colors and designs.
of polymer overlayments and related products typically limit their
training programs to techniques that are meant to be applied to
the overlayments rather than to new concrete. Dean Owen of Arizona
Polymer Flooring Inc. says the two-day seminars his company offers
focus on stamping techniques, acid stains and special coloring processes
that are applied to the quarter-inch-thick polymer cements on top
of existing concrete. "The stamping of polymer cement overlays
on top of conventional slabs is getting to be a big part of the
aftermarket treatment," he observes. "It's been on a roll
for quite a while, and I don't think it has peaked yet:"
training programs range from one-day classes to special weeklong
offerings. Typically, seminars last two or three days - usually
Thursday through Saturday to take advantage of weekend travel options
and to decrease time away from the job. As Harris explains, "In
our industry we have limited working time because of the outside
elements and other factors, so we have found we need to keep it
to three days and give them as much information as possible in that
Training is Critical
instructors concur that the best way for seminar participants to
really learn the required techniques is by doing, not watching.
"We keep our class sizes small, no more than 25 or 30 people,"
says Bob Williams, who schedules weekly seminars throughout the
U.S. for StampCrete International Ltd., based outside Syracuse,
NY. "We want them to leave here having learned the right way.
It's very important to get the hands-on experience, not just watch
someone else do it. You've got to put the boots on and actually
work with the products:"
Leland, General Manager of SureCrete Design Products north of Tampa,
FL, says, "Some people prefer to learn by watching, but we
strongly encourage our people to roll up their sleeves and learn
by doing. We put the tools in their hands because, ultimately, we
want them to be successful." Adds Harris, "It's critical
that each student get hands-on experience. Not just three or four
out of 25. Everybody"
programs include at least some classroom time up front and perhaps
again at the end, where information can be provided to help attendees
with marketing and business concerns. However, the bulk of the typical
seminar agenda is weighted heavily toward pouring overlayments,
selecting or conceiving a design, sawcutting, staining, placing
and finishing fresh concrete, and working with color hardeners,
release powders and stamping tools.
the concept of decorative concrete training seminars is relatively
new, virtually all the available pro grams are also new--less than
10 years old, and some barely six months old. Consequently, it's
difficult to judge the quality of a program by how long it's been
in existence. Instead, prospective attendees should learn something
about the depth of experience of the instructor. As in any school,
your best teachers are the ones who really know their subject matter.
The person conducting the seminars should be an experienced concrete
finisher who is still active in the business.
The Stamp Store in Oklahoma City, OK, the three-day seminars are
taught monthly by Doug Bannister, another lifelong concrete guy
who has been installing decorative concrete "since the early
1980s, before it was heard of much," according to his colleague
Linda Nicholas. "He has a lot of experience and he explains
the techniques well. People who attend our seminars say they're
amazed at how much he knows and how easy it is to learn from him:"
all the seminars offered are sponsored by manufacturers of specific
decorative concrete products and systems, and consequently, they
don't hide the fact that they hope their seminar participants will
buy their products upon completion of the program. Some require
a minimum purchase, although most do not. As Harris puts it, "At
a Scofield seminar, I'm going to promote the use of Scofield products.
Others will promote the use of their products, and that's only reasonable
to expect. But I get angry when I hear of people who attended other
seminars where a guy in a suit and tie was teaching them how to
stamp concrete. That sounds more like a glorified sales pitch than
real education in techniques. He's not doing the industry any favors.
Quality education leads to quality installations, which in crease
awareness and demand, which helps the industry as a whole:"
programs, like Scofield's, require attendees to travel to the manufacturer's
facilities. While this may cost the attendees more in travel time
and expenses, it ensures an established, controlled environment,
all necessary tools on site, and excellent preparation. Other programs,
like The Stamp Store's, split their time between the manufacturer's
facilities and actual job sites run by its installation company
in the nearby area, which is intended to give participants a feel
for on-site conditions and circumstances. Still others take their
seminars on the road, traveling to distributors' facilities in convenient
regional locations and inviting participants from that area. QC
Construction Products, based in Madera, CA, conducts 15 seminars
annually - five in each of three regions (west, central, east),
according to Western Regional Manager Kurt Johnson. Some manufacturers
sponsor a combination of both "home" and "away"
few manufacturers offer their seminars at no charge, saying they
look at these programs as a customer ser vice. Conversely, a few
charge significant fees, sometimes requiring a commitment to purchase
a minimum amount of product. Most, though, charge modest fees (anywhere
from $75-$600 per person) not to make money but to cover costs.
"We used to offer it for free, but sometimes people would back
out at the last minute or fail to show up," notes Leland of
SureCrete. "People sometimes perceive there's no value to it
if it doesn't cost anything:" Harris adds, "We don't make
any money on these courses. The fee covers meals, hotels, printed
materials and all transportation except airfare."
Typically Attends the Seminars?
the largest audience from which these programs draw their participants
is the concrete contractors and the distributors who serve them.
"Our biggest clientele base is existing concrete contractors,
from 30-year veterans to new apprentice-type employees," says
Harris. "They may want to learn new skills to take advantage
of the additional revenue opportunities. Others may have been involved
in decorative concrete for years but want to stay abreast of the
that obvious market, program sponsors are also finding keen interest
among architects and landscape designers who are excited about the
potential of decorative concrete and eager to know more about the
particulars of its installation. Additionally, according to Williams
at StampCrete, swimming pool contractors have been attending. "They're
sick of subcontracting out the part of the job that calls for decorative
concrete on the pool decks," he observes. "In fact, we
know pool guys who are now making more money doing a stamped concrete
deck than installing the pool itself." Even a few ambitious
do-it-yourselfers who want to decorate their concrete patios and
sidewalks themselves are signing up.
in most growing markets, the future of decorative concrete appears
very bright indeed. As awareness grows among architects, designers
and consumers, and they specify decorative concrete in more and
more applications, the demand for quality installers will increase
commensurately, and, in turn, the need for quality instruction in
stamping, texturing, staining and other techniques.
in cold-weather months, there are plenty of potential assignments
in the field. "Decorative concrete countertops or interior
floors are hot at the moment," says Nicholas of the Stamp Store.
"There's good money in those kinds of projects."
the field is really booming," notes Williams. "Even residentially,
it's growing at a steady pace. There are some in this business who
discourage the seminars because they feel it creates more competition
for the available jobs. But most of us feel that the more people
we have out there doing quality decorative concrete, the more people
will learn about it, and the higher the demand will be."
general and company-specific websites offer listings and other information
that, while not comprehensive, are a fine starting point for researching
the available learning opportunities. Trade magazines are also great
resources; indeed, this and future issues of Concrete Decor feature
a number of advertisements from firms touting their training programs.
if you're a contractor thinking of attending a seminar, consider
this: Once you've completed your training, you may get job leads
from the manufacturer. "The people who attend our courses will
likely end up with business leads from us," says Harris. "We
don't endorse any one person, but we provide customers with a list
of people we've trained and that they're qualified candidates to