Discussing the tools & equipment challenge facing the flooring industry, along with solutions going forward.

There are vast differences in opinion when it comes to the topic of tools and equipment related to the construction industry and, more specifically, the flooring industry as a whole in South Africa. The reasons aren’t clear cut, but the general feeling is that the challenge with regard to the availability of specialised tools and equipment for specialised jobs, and the correct usage of these tools and equipment, is an ongoing problem – a problem that is most certainly on the rise.

The current situation
There are industry experts that haven’t been directly faced with the challenges experienced onsite when it comes to having the correct tools in one’s possession to carry out the task at hand, even though they do mention a challenge here and there, which they by no means consider a serious concern. However, there are those that feel passionate about the tools and equipment challenge that the flooring industry faces to date.

They are of the opinion that there is a limited supply of the right tools in the country. Technologically advanced tools are not readily available and most times standard tools and specialised tools are brought in from abroad through a flooring manufacturer. Some believe that the challenge isn’t likely to be solved very soon. This is because contractors employ subcontractors and the specifiers don’t have their own in-house teams and are therefore reluctant to pay for high-end tools. The industry also has the tendency to expect that the tools be adapted for purpose as that is what is available locally.

However, if contractors get the right tools it will eliminate several of these challenges. The flooring industry is a competitive market and there isn’t a lot of excess money available for tools and equipment. Contractors are also in a difficult position when it comes to spending money on tools as they employ subcontractors. Some contractors do however spend the time and money on updating their tools on a quarterly basis and ensure that they have the best possible tools for the job.

For example, carpet tiles and vinyl planks in the herringbone shape will require specialised equipment such as a laser machine to ensure a successful installation. Once again, as noted by the industry, contractors sell other people’s products, and there aren’t a lot of companies which have their own products. This poses the question: Is it the contractor’s responsibility or the employer’s to install products and ensure they are installed correctly?

One could argue that it is both the contractor’s and the employer’s responsibility. You do get professional contractors who will spend the money and ensure they have the right tools, whereas the subcontractors are often expected to get by and workman issues are therefore not their fault.

One of the key challenges that also needs to be addressed when discussing tools and equipment is that health and safety concerns are onerous. Tools need to be adapted, which is why it’s important for companies to remain updated from a global perspective on the tools that are available and not just look at performance, but health and safety too.

An example
Often contractors need to rip out material but don’t have the correct tools or equipment so it results in problems and challenges. This type of equipment is not always readily available. There will most likely be tool challenges, in the opinion of a few industry experts. Many import their tools from the USA which takes time and costs money. There are fantastic tools available but they’re not always feasible for one specific job only.

In short: 4 key points
1.    The tools and equipment challenge may be ongoing, but there are systems and processes in place that can alleviate some of these challenges and create a better way going forward.
2.    The ‘blame game’ doesn’t serve anyone. There are pros and cons from everyone’s perspective, but what doesn’t change is that these challenges won’t disappear by themselves. Creating awareness is key and finding solutions is paramount.
3.    A lack of specialised tools in the country often requires that they be imported, but this takes time and money – two key attributes that can negatively affect a given project.
4.    The onus is on those involved in a project to take the responsibility of adapting their tools, purchasing the correct tools and using them correctly in order to carry out a successful installation.

The solution
The formation of organisations such as FITA has played a significant role in educating fitters and getting them properly trained, so that the tools and equipment they have to work with can be successfully used for any installation. Too often a product is blamed for a failed installation, when, in fact, it is the installation process that failed – or more bluntly put, those that fitted and installed the products.

However, these fitters still need to be provided with the correct tools to carry out the job, otherwise their education, knowledge and training will unfortunately be misplaced. Regardless of this, the industry has high hopes for FITA. When learners go through the training they learn about the work that needs to be carried out. Companies have to also actively train their staff and if they are registered at FITA, there is some form of acknowledgement that they use the correct tools. Companies should therefore ensure that their teams are compliant, as there is a compliancy onus on them. When specifiers select registered learners who have achieved certification there is an understanding that an outline of the required tools has been met.

FITA is an excellent training platform and, through training, the usage of the right tools is discussed. Good subcontractors will also purchase their own tools, and should become more formalised in their approach and take some of the responsibility, not just leaving it to the contractors. For more information on FITA, contact Patty Vermaak: 011 794 9295 or patty@fitasa.co.za.

Good Idea
They could possibly even get a loan from the contractor, who could agree to have the subcontractor pay off the loan by completing a certain number of jobs for them. Contractors should ideally also invest the time, effort and money to support small businesses, further benefiting them with BEE opportunities at the same time. They should help them to develop and enable them to get loans to grow their businesses, become more formalised and efficient.

The industry should embrace the opportunities afforded them to train their fitters, support smaller businesses and equip the flooring sector with the correct tools and equipment to carry out successful installations each and every time. These challenges can be turned into exciting ventures and opportunities for those who strive to be innovative and provide new prospects for those who want to turn the tools and equipment challenge upside down in favour of everyone involved in a project.

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to Brandon Park from KBAC Flooring and Rick Barrow from Turner Peirson Flooring for their input and suggestions for this article.