Relationships between concrete producers and concrete contractors can be rocky. This is especially true when there's a problem on a cast-in-place job. Owners and general contractors know and often encourage using a blame game to assign a cost penalty.

In this game, the contractor would often blame the concrete and the producer would blame the workmanship. The truth, of course, is often more complicated.

Fortunately for our industry, there are leaders who believe that the solution to the blame game may be as simple as working together to communicate and educate.

“Concrete is an installed product,” explains Rita Madison, the executive director of the Arkansas Ready Mixed Concrete Association (ARMCA). “No matter what the quality of the concrete delivered to the jobsite, proper installation and curing determines the quality of the finished product.” With that in mind, the ARMCA initiated a program to train their contractor customers instead of blame them.

ARMCA's new cooperative program goes beyond training. It aids contractors certified in nationally recognized programs for flatwork finishing, concrete testing, and pervious concrete installation.

The results have been dramatic, with fewer callbacks, increased concrete quality statewide, and a better relationship between producers and contractors. And just as important, ARMCA has been successful in convincing engineers and owners to insist on including contractor certification in their bidding documents.

The holy grail of certification is to have it incorporated into project specifications. The problem with this is the chicken or egg dilemma. Specifiers are not going to require certified people on a job if they are not already available, and most contractors don't want to spend the time and money to get their people certified if it's not required.

There are several such programs in the industry. The American Concrete Institute administers most of them (see ACI Certification at the end of this article). ACI has programs for field-testing technicians, laboratory testing technicians, and flatwork finishers, among others.

ACI also manages certification programs in cooperation with the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (for tilt-up supervisors). Another national certification program is for pervious concrete craftsmen, sponsored by the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA).

At its most basic level, certification as a flatwork technician or field testing technician only indicates that a person has studied the reference documents and was able to answer the questions on the exam. Someone with no background in concrete, but who has studied the books for a few hours, could get certified as a technician.

Even so, the effort does provide assurance that a certified technician has some level of basic knowledge. However, moving up to the finisher or craftsman level requires significant experience—up to 4500 hours (about three years) to be certified as an ACI Flatwork Finisher.

While national organizations develop and monitor certification programs, local training is handled by sponsoring groups, like local ACI chapters or state promotional organizations like ARMCA. Typically, these groups will hold a training class and follow it up with a certification exam. And since concrete remains a local business, it's often up to these local groups to convince all stakeholders of the certification's benefit.

Sponsoring and promoting certification

“I've made it a goal to improve the overall quality of cast-in-place concrete across the state,” says Joey DeRoe with Razorback Concrete and chairman of ARMCA's flatwork finisher certification program. (DeRoe recently changed jobs and now is a market manager at Holcim in Memphis, Tenn.) “This all started when I got on a marketing committee whose goal was to increase the number of concrete parking lots in Arkansas. I told the committee that the only way to sell more concrete parking lots was to increase the quality.

“The first thing we needed was people who could build parking lots as fast as the customers needed and to do it with high quality. So we developed a program for flatwork finishers. We raised the flatwork finisher certification program from 10 or 12 people every two years to where we had 280 over a two-year period.”