Labor shortages are now predicted as we rise from the recent tough economic conditions in the construction industry. In a recent Associated General Contractors of America study, of more than 1,000 construction firms surveyed, 19% have invested in labor-saving equipment, tools, and machinery. More than eight out of 10 construction firms are having a hard time finding qualified workers, while 82% and 70% believe it will become harder to find and retain craft workers and construction professionals, respectively, during the next year.
How does certification relate to these challenges? Although most in the concrete industry recognize the merits of certification, is there proof that it really makes a difference to the bottom line or quality? Many companies do report a benefit in terms of the ability to earn projects, retain a qualified workforce, and improve the bottom line.
Certification on the Rise
Interest in certification in the concrete industry is rising. Charles Hanskat, P.E., executive director of the American Shotcrete Association (ASA), notes that ASA is seeing the highest number ever of applicants requesting certification, representing at least a 20% to 25% increase over the prior year.
ASA is not alone. As the volume of work returns in the commercial and residential construction industries, there has been an intentional effort to increase the number of certified project managers and jobsite superintendents, says Jim Baty, executive director of the Concrete Foundations Association (CFA) and technical director for the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA). For many firms, this means renewing certifications that were allowed to expire during the recession. For many others, that experienced and certified workforce is no longer available.
The process then of hiring a new workforce involves training workers and getting them certified much earlier, especially for those programs with tiered certifications, says Baty. TCA sponsors a personnel certification program that is co-administered through ACI with two tiers: a certified technician (education and written exam) and a certified supervisor (includes proven work experience). CFA completed a move of its personnel certification to a joint program with ACI earlier this year in anticipation of a similar offering.
“As there is more and more work out there to be earned by contractors, certification programs are going to help firms select the right individual for their company and be able to retain them by increasing their professionalism and experience,” says Baty. “The same applies to owners as they are able to identify who is going to work on their project based on a certification status and the implied quality assurance and training that result from earning that credential.”
The number of concrete-related certification exams administered by ACI in 2014 broke 30,000 for the first time, a 6% increase over the prior year. “When the economy was down, certification numbers also decreased,” says John Nehasil, managing director of certification and chapters.
Nehasil attributes the recent growth in certification to the rebounding economy, but notes that much of this growth is in individuals new to the industry. Many experienced people left the industry during the recession and found employment elsewhere, not returning to the construction industry. So the new workforce not only needs certification to meet the growing demand, but they also require training.
Ted Neff, executive director of the Post-Tensioning Institute (PTI), has also seen major growth in the certification rates of personnel in his industry. In fact, the number of individuals certified by PTI as bonded post-tensioning installers roughly doubled in 2014. Neff attributes the growth to post-tensioning being a specialized area of concrete, and it provides designers and contractors with unique skills that set them apart in today’s marketplace. He also notes the growing appreciation of certification by owners, who see it as a means to better ensure quality on their projects.