Our industry is often accused of being resistant to change. Now being a little cautious when you are building structures meant to last 100 years is prudent, but change does happen, whether forced onto us by external developments or because contractors have identified efficiencies that will add to their bottom line, without big risks. To try to gage what changes are making a positive difference across the industry, we spoke to industry leaders—here’s what they told us.

1. Professionalism Takes Hold

Once upon a time, a concrete contractor might have done all right just bidding low enough and often enough to keep getting work. These days, though, it takes more than low bids to win contracts and run a successful contracting business.

Faced with an onrush of new materials and tools, new design and construction technologies, and new safety and environmental regulations, contractors must work hard to stay abreast of the changes. And those who do must then find ways to distinguish themselves from others in a highly competitive market. The concrete industry has responded to these needs by greatly expanding contractor education and certification programs, serving field staff and management alike. These programs are helping to raise the level of professionalism among contractors in the U.S.

Much of the impetus for training and certification programs has come from industry organizations, such as ACI, National Ready Mix Concrete Association (NRMCA), the American Shotcrete Association (ASA), the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA), and others. These groups generally have the technical knowledge to develop and administer the programs, and an incentive to help ensure practitioners in the field are doing the work properly. Typically, certification requires an applicant to undergo a prescribed course of study, successfully complete a written examination, and demonstrate proficiency either through a performance test or documented field experience.

ACI currently offers 18 certification programs—some designed for craftsmen, some for testing technicians, and some for construction inspectors—and more are in the development stage. John Nehasil, ACI’s managing director of certification and chapters, says that employing ACI-certified craftsmen can help contractors win projects. “It’s something a contractor can promote, and sometimes it’s required as a qualification for bidding a job. Some big-box retailers require it in project specifications, even when the certification is not directly relevant to the job, because it indicates that crews will have a level of training and trainability that they want.”

Education and training play a major role in today’s concrete industry, epitomized by the World of Concrete (WOC), not only through partnerships with associations that run certification programs during the show, but also through its own educational program. WOC’s senior conference manager, Bonnie King, says that continuing education is a growing need: “A number of states are now requiring contractors to complete some continuing education credits in order to maintain their licenses, just as architects and engineers have had to do for a long time. We’re working with those states to ensure that WOC remains an approved continuing education provider.”

Another example of education’s importance to our industry is the Concrete Industry Management (CIM) program, a 4-year Bachelor of Science degree offered at Middle Tennessee State University, Arizona State University, California State University—Chico, Texas State University, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The curriculum combines general education and business courses with a range of concrete-specific technical studies. The CIM program began as an industry initiative with two students in 1996. Today, more than 600 students are pursuing degrees in concrete industry management, and hundreds of CIM graduates are working in the concrete industry. This steady growth indicates that there is a new level of professionalism across the concrete industry.

By Kenneth A. Hooker, a freelance writer based in Oak Park, Ill.

What experts say: Jerry Holland

  • There’s been a tremendous jump in the professionalism of concrete contractors in this country, but we’re still catching up with the rest of the world. [In most other countries,] it’s the rare contractor who doesn’t have a university degree.
  • Durability is nearly the same thing as sustainability which is not the same thing as green. With some floors, the owners noticed how much was being spent to maintain the floors. They realized in some cases they were building the most expensive floor (because of maintenance costs) when they thought they were building the cheapest floor.
  • It’s crazy that there aren’t more floors built with shrinkage-compensating concrete. I’ve been doing these successfully for many years. There’s a real lack of vision on this.
  • I keep proposing new materials on transportation projects, like self-consolidating concrete. But the DOTs are very bureaucratic. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Holland is a partner in Atlanta-based Structural Services Inc.