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The CTI Test at THASIE 2024

The CTI Test at THASIE 2024

A Certified Tile Installer hands-on test took place in conjunction with THASIE 2024 in Fresno, California. This article recaps the testing event and introduces you to those who participated. Thanks to Alice Dean, Top Floor Writer, you'll have a better feel for what motivated those who organized and subjected themselves to the toughest 25 square feet of tile you'll ever install.

The Hybrid and Advanced Systems Installation Event (THASIE)

An apprentice well on his way to becoming an accomplished journeyman, Collin McKean stood with his arms folded across his chest and intently watched as ten tile installers took their Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test at The Hybrid and Advanced Systems Installation Event (THASIE), a tile and stone industry event for installers. THASIE 2024 was hosted by DeSoto Sales in Fresno, California. Trask Bergerson, McKean's employer and a Partner at Bergerson Tile & Stone in Astoria, Oregon, brought McKean to the event.

Bergerson explained that investing in educational events is worthwhile, especially for "hyper-focused" employees like McKean, saying,

"I know the return on investment for my own business, and it's invaluable... I can actually now physically metric it and give real-life examples."

Collin McKean taking CTI hands-on test at THASIE 2024.
Collin McKean 

For the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), bringing the CTI test to installers has been financially and logistically challenging. For many installers, opportunities to attend industry events are few and far between for the same reasons. Bergerson suggested that regional events like THASIE with sponsored CTI tests can help resolve these issues and help CTEF accomplish its mission to provide education and installer certification for professionals in the ceramic tile and stone industry. 

The CTI tests at THASIE 2024 were sponsored by:
  • Davis Solutions
  • High Sierra Construction and Remodeling
  • J&R Tile
  • National Tile Contractor's Association
  • Schluter Systems North America
  • Stephen Tiler, LLC
  • Taylor Tile
  • THASIE Group, Inc.

Learn More About Becoming a Certified Tile Installer Click Here to Download the CTI Kit. 

The CTI Test at THASIE 2024

The CTI test at THASIE 2024 took place on a chilly Thursday, February 29, 2024, a leap day.

Lance Latham, who manages the DeSoto Sales store and handles outside sales, drove a forklift in and out of the warehouse. Nearby, various attendees built modules for mud walls and vendor demonstrations. Kyle Hedin, Floor Academy Podcast host, kept the tunes going and made other event preparations while his buddy, Zach Storer, photographer, and videographer, documented all the pre-event activities. Bergerson ordered pizza, but some of the test takers were so focused on the timed test that they did not eat.

Seven of the ten tile professionals who took the test that day later provided feedback about their experience. Mentioned in this article are:

  • Justin Bartra, Owner of Custom Tile Creations in Hollister, California

  • Jorge Gracia, Installer at South Bay Tile, San Jose, California

  • Josh Leavitt, Owner of Leavitt Remodeling in Nampa, Idaho

  • Angel Lopez, Owner of Pro Quality Tile in Madera, California

  • Alex Ochoa, Lead Tile Installer at Del Tile in Fresno, California

  • Sergio Ortiz, Installer at Stephen Tiler, LLC in Reno, Nevada

  • Jason Woods, Tile Setter at Taylor Tile in Clovis, California

Justin Bartra sees the CTI test as a way to champion industry standards.

Justin Bartra, who has been in the tile industry since responding to an ad in the paper when he was 24 years old, sees the CTI as a way for contractors to set themselves apart, to bring peace of mind to home and property owners, and to support industry standards. He pointed out,

"In California, you don't need the CTI. You're a licensed contractor."

Since not every state has a contractor license for tile, Bartra jumped at the chance to take the CTI test in case he ever decides to move to a state that doesn't have a tile license.

"It's nice to have more credentials in the tile industry, another notch in the belt," Bartra said. "It's a good thing. It's mentally challenging."

During the CTI test, Bartra consulted a few times with Brad Denny, Executive Director of CTEF. "He answered what he could," Bartra said, noting that test takers were expected to read and understand instructions. "He doesn't want the test to be a mystery. He wants to see you succeed and understand the standards."

Bartra also borrowed tools from his CTI neighbor, Josh Leavitt, but for the most part, Bartra was in his own world. "Once I started working," he said, "I was super focused. Everyone around me, they were not there... Nerves went out the window and second nature took over."

Bartra passed the test.

Justin Bartra sees the CTI test as a way to champion industry standards.

Justin Bartra 

Regarding his experience at THASIE, Bartra said,

"I'm a mud guy. That's what I swear by" but "watching Matt Taylor [Owner of Taylor Tile] prep the unit that was covered in Schluter was pretty impressive. I like how they integrated the two systems together. I was very intrigued by it. I think I would use a foam application in a bench. If I need to install foam, I know who to call. Learning about all these products was a growing experience."

Matt Taylor prepping a Schluter model.
Matt Taylor 
Bartra enjoyed the handshakes, hugs, and face-to-face conversations with people he interacts with online. He also compared himself to a "girl in a purse shop" when perusing the tools. He said,

"I think I would take everything that was there at THASIE, grinders, slab panel stuff... I walked away with a shopping bag of trowels from QEP with cork handles. I love them."

Bartra may go to MUD7 and bring his family, and he is looking forward to taking some ACT tests.

Jorge Gracia saw the CTI test as an opportunity to assess and adapt. 

With a father who is a tile installer, Jorge Gracia grew up in the tiling industry and learned all the basics. After high school, he attended community college for a while and then joined a tile union for about a year, but he did not enjoy commercial work. 

Gracia decided to shift gears with the goal of becoming a licensed contractor. He said,

"I was an apprentice to a licensed contractor and gained experience doing jobs on my own for him for four years. After a year of studying for the contractor's test, I was able to pass on my first try and got my license in 2020. I love the work that I do. It is very laborious, but I enjoy the process and the finished product. I now employ my Dad. He works with me."

Through social media tile groups, Gracia learned about the CTI test. He asked another contractor in his area who had taken the CTI test to talk about his experience. The contractor said that he saw the test as an opportunity to assess his skills and adapt, as needed. Gracia adopted that same mindset when he signed up to take the CTI test at THASIE.

The test did not go the way Gracia had hoped it would. He said,

"I wasn't even able to finish it, so that was tough. For me, I am a really closed-off person, so one of my downfalls was not asking for advice. I wasn't fully prepared to work with the materials. I'm used to larger tiles. I was happy that I took the CTI test, so I know what to work on for the next time I attempt it."

One thing Gracia will be practicing is better preparation with layout. He already took the first step, by joining the NTCA, a nonprofit trade association known for its unparalleled educational experiences. In Gracia's case, attending the NTCA workshop, The Ins and Outs of Layout, will help him brush up on his layout skills.

Regarding his decision to join the NTCA, Gracia said,

"I've always wanted to join, but I wasn't super sold on the idea. The thing that drew me in this time was the vouchers."

He said he plans to use vouchers for Built by Foam wall shims. 

Gracia's first industry event was THASIE. He said it was great to learn about products in person and pointed out that it is not the same as doing research online. 

Shaking hands with Kris Blanchard, Veteran Owner and Tile Setter at Bravo6 Tile & Stone, LLC and President of THASIE Group, Inc., Mario Garcia, Founder of the MUD event, Salvatore Azzolini, President of Argo Tile and Stone, and others was also a highlight for Gracia.

Josh Leavitt's CTI test strategy was to stay focused and make his moves count.

In this 4:47-minute video, Leavitt unpacks essential information about THASIE 2024 as well as his experience with the CTI test.

Angel Lopez aims to build trust with clients with his CTI Certification.

Starting as a tile helper in Oaxaca, Mexico, Angel Lopez went on to pass the C-54 Ceramic and Mosaic Tile Contractor exam and now owns his own business, Pro Quality Tile, in Madera, California. He has come a long way by embracing challenges like the CTI test.

Lopez heard about the test through one of Blanchard's THASIE social media posts. He contacted Blanchard right away when he realized that the test would be sponsored. Lopez said,

"I got so excited because I was going to take the last spot. I think it was meant to be. I had never thought about it. I told my wife I had this opportunity."

Angel Lopez aims to build trust with clients with his CTI Certification.

Angel Lopez 

The CTI test made Lopez feel very nervous, especially because he was unable to attend the orientation.

There were also language barriers to overcome with English being his second language. He was grateful that John McIntyre, National Technical Manager for Sika, spent some time reassuring him and making sure he understood expectations. Although the written portion of the CTI test was available in Spanish, Lopez took it in English.

McIntyre and Brett Mauney, National Account Manager & Technical Sales Trainer for Sika, were the CTI test evaluators.

McIntyre and Brett Mauney, National Account Manager & Technical Sales Trainer for Sika, were the CTI test evaluators.
John McIntyre and Brett Mauney 

As the cutoff time for the test loomed, Lopez was not sure whether he would finish in time. "It was a challenge for me," he said, "but I did it. I passed it."

He walked away from the test with a better understanding of time management, which can make a big difference in the profitability of a business. "The back of the tile has to be completely covered," he said, "and always mind the lippage. I needed to take my time but at the same time do it constantly, and do it once to make it right."

As an artist who draws and plays music, Lopez recognizes that tile installation is a functional art form. With his CTI certification, Lopez aims to build trust with clients as he and his team exemplify the value of industry standards with beautiful, lasting installations.

The Sika thinset used during the Schluter demonstration was Lopez's THASIE takeaway. He said, "You can use it for anything."

In the future, Lopez plans to make training and education a high priority for his business. "I'm going to try to get my setters to get certified, too," he said.

"I just finished high school and didn't keep studying, but with the CTI, I am so proud of myself... I would like to invite others who have English as a second language, if they don't feel confident, to at least try. Do not care what others say. It will benefit them and others."

Alex Ochoa is persistent in his pursuit of becoming a CTI.

Alex Ochoa finished his mockup and received a grade but he did not pass the CTI test this time. He remains determined and has already scheduled to retake the test.

Alex Ochoa is persistent in his pursuit of becoming a CTI.

Alex Ochoa 

When someone does not pass a sponsored test, CTEF considers it to be "a free preview wrapped in a discount" because, as of this writing, CTI test retakes only cost $200. 

Sergio Ortiz overcame CTI test challenges with confidence and support.

This interview was conducted via an interpreter.

With over 15 years of experience, Sergio Ortiz found the CTI test valuable for his personal and professional growth. Ortiz said,

"First of all, it was a good experience taking the test. One of the good benefits is to have a certification, and the clients are a lot happier knowing that one is better qualified to work with ceramic and stone or different materials."

Sergio Ortiz 
The greatest challenge for Ortiz to becoming a CTI has always been money. Since his test was sponsored and his employer paid for travel expenses, the door of opportunity finally opened. "If I had had the opportunity to take it sooner, I would have done it," Ortiz said. 

Like Lopez, Ortiz had language barriers to contend with, however, during the practice test there was a bilingual staff member available so Ortiz could ask questions. Ortiz said, "I was 100% sure I knew how to do it, and I never doubted myself."

Ortiz not only passed, he was the second one to finish.

THASIE was the first industry event Ortiz attended. "I am happy for more people to follow and do those types of events to expand knowledge," he said.

Jason Woods embraced professional growth by becoming a CTI.

Jason Woods, who has a degree in culinary arts, transitioned from the restaurant scene to the tile industry at age 23 so that he could spend more quality time with his daughter.
He started as an apprentice for his uncle and learned about mixing mud, grouting, and being a right-hand man. "I was handing him things before he was asking for them," Woods said, "and that is when he finally started letting me set with him."

A year and a half later, armed with his experience as an apprentice setter, he began setting tile on his own. "To me, it was like cooking. You start from scratch with a basic set of ingredients, but when you're done you have something amazing," Woods said.

Jason Woods embraced professional growth by becoming a CTI.

Jason Woods 

When Woods heard about the CTI test at THASIE, he decided it was time to set himself apart from everyone else. "I kind of just bit the bullet," Woods said. "It really helped out that it was sponsored... I didn't want to let my sponsor down, and I felt like I had something to prove."

In the days leading up to the test, Woods experienced a strange mix of emotions. "I was super stoked and then super stressed out, waking up every night," he said. Woods rode this emotional roller coaster from the time he started studying until he put his tools down on the day of the test. 

"You really have to use the time wisely," Woods said. "You're better off if you set a time limit for yourself for certain aspects of the project." At first, Woods was trying to perfect each step, but when he heard there were only four hours left, he had to shift his strategy.

"I sat back, rubbed my head, and took a deep breath. At that point, I stopped spending so much time on things. It wasn't a beauty contest; it was a test of procedures... I stopped overthinking things at that point. I was in my own head."

Once Woods completed the test, he knew that whether he passed or not, it would make him a better tile setter. He explained,

"My floor didn't have the best coverage. Now, in the field, I will pop up a couple [of tiles to check coverage]. Taking the test has really made me evaluate what I do on a daily basis."

The THASIE takeaways were abundant for Woods. He said,

"That was the first [industry] event I had been to. I loved the demonstrations, the floating, the drains, and it was really cool to go around and listen to so much knowledge of the products that we don't know about. I liked the QEP booth. The seminars were super cool. The epoxy coloring... I had never dealt with epoxy on that level."

When Woods got the call from Brad Denny that he had passed, he "wanted to do cartwheels down the road." In the future, Woods plans to get his own contractor's license.

Deepening the Manufacturer-Contractor Relationship at THASIE 2024

For tile installers, the education, camaraderie, and opportunities for collaboration, growth, and advancement within the industry are supported by regional events like THASIE and its sponsors. 

Bergerson believes we are seeing the future of the trade shows. "We have mindlessly and blindly been going to trade shows for years. We end up with the same group of people. This is sort of a proposition of a different caliber..." Bergerson said. "This is a regional opportunity for people who don't get to do trade shows on a national scale... There's a medium or an excuse for people to do something with their hands. It facilitates conversation. So if this grew into an extension of, like, a big NTCA workshop, I think it would be a huge success..."

With THASIE, manufacturers are not in complete control, Bergerson noted. "It's a new ideology, so the installers still have a big part of it, in terms of its direction, but it feels more revolutionary," he said. "I think young people will be more attracted to it, too. Ten of my son's peers may not jump on a plane and go to Vegas together, but ten of them might show up to DeSoto Tile because it's a comfortable, neutral place."

The stories of these CTI test takers, from overcoming language barriers to refining skills and practices, help draw attention to the benefit of a collective commitment among contractors and allies creating a more regional approach to educational industry events. Their feedback about the THASIE event emphasizes the value of bumping elbows, handling tools, watching product demonstrations, and playing with mud. These organic opportunities to deepen the manufacturer-contractor relationship can benefit the entire industry.

Learn More About Becoming a Certified Tile Installer Click Here to Download the CTI Kit. 

About Alice Dean  


Alice Dean, owner of Top Floor Writer, helps trades contractors and others in the stone and tile industry to be seen, heard, and understood by their target audiences by creating marketing content that attracts, educates, and sells services. She is a writer, video editor, marketing content manager, and author of Stone and Tile Stories

Follow Alice on Facebook at Top Floor Writer and on LinkedIn.