Emily Bratcher is a contributing editor at Associations Now.
The National Wood Flooring Association creates a digital badging program, which aims to both close the skills gap and market the association to new prospects.
Keeping its proverbial ear to the ground, the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) had been hearing for years about an increasingly worrisome skills gap in the workforce. Wood flooring installers, sanders, finishers, inspectors, and other skilled workers in the field had retired, but their ranks weren’t being replenished with new wood flooring pros.
NWFA Education Director Stephanie Owen remembers talking with her colleagues about five years ago and asking, “How can we as the association use education to meet that need?”
With online training, we're able to reach more people and minimally provide accurate industry guidelines.—Stephanie Owen, National Wood Flooring Association
After several years of planning, the association launched NWFA University last July, a learning platform that offers more than 50 online training courses and 30-plus hands-on training opportunities. The latter are supplemented by online modules, 10- to 15-minute courses that can be taken individually or in small bundles.
“With online training, we're able to reach more people and minimally provide accurate industry guidelines,” Owen says.
A hallmark of NWFA University is the series of digital badges that it offers. As members complete the bundled online modules on their way to seeking certification in areas such as Sand and Finish or Sales, they’re awarded digital badges that they can affix to their social media profiles.
The badges, powered by technology firm Credly, are markers of professionalism for members looking to find jobs, attract clients, or advance in their careers. But they also benefit the association: Their visibility on social media provides NWFA with brand recognition and credibility.
“In the first three months, we had over 4,000 courses completed in the online university,” Owen says. “We’ve issued about 3,500 badges. Some of that comes from grandfathering in, but we’ve had a lot of engagement. Those 4,000 courses are roughly 40 per day.”
NWFA priced its university affordably, as an all-access subscription tacked onto the membership fee, but it hopes, in time, it will become a new source of revenue.
“The launch has been so successful that leadership is now anxious to expand the program,” Owen said. “Manufacturer members have asked to have private groups created for their crews and customers, and other manufacturer members have asked to support the platform and its development through sponsorships.”
NWFA hadn’t anticipated ancillary nondues revenue streams like sponsorships, but they’re a welcome surprise.
“Generating nondues revenue will be an added bonus that will allow us to expand the content provided and reach out to other audiences,” Owen says.
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Laying the Groundwork."]