Mike Morrison
Mike Morrison

What happens when more and more public project owners specify a qualification you deem unimportant and therefore lack?

It’s not a trick question. Being disqualified from bidding is a reality for contractors who don’t certify their adhesive anchor installers, installation inspectors, and other employees. In this final interview of our series preceding the much-anticipated Infrastructure Imperative conference next week, Nov. 13-15, American Concrete Institute (ACI) Certification Program Development Manager Mike Morrison uncovers three significant competitive benefits realized by firms that embrace certification. Mike joins the lineup of durability experts presenting in Cleveland to make a compelling case for certification – it is, he contends, the industry-driven method for ensuring the proper procedures that ultimately protect lives.

Mike’s street cred is backed with substantial technical expertise. Before his current role with ACI, he served as group manager/principal materials technologist in CTL Group’s Materials Testing & Analysis Department. Even then, he was committed to certification.

“I made it part of my annual budget every year,” he says. “All my staff had ACI certifications – I viewed it as a cost of doing business. I needed them to be certified.”

Advance registrations are still being accepted for Infrastructure Imperative, and onsite registration will be available at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel if you want to bring a colleague at the last minute. Please take a moment to examine the expansive agenda and subject matter experts, and then make this event a priority next week. It’s THAT important! The editors of Public Works and Concrete Construction, the author of this article, and hundreds of your industry peers will be there to connect with you. We look forward to seeing you!

Whatever your view on the subject, Mike will show why certification is not only good business practice but also a matter of public safety.

Concrete Construction (CC): How would you characterize industry buy-in of certification? Is it where it ought to be?
Mike: I have to be careful how I answer. If I say no, someone might say, ‘Well, that's what he should say – he works for ACI.’ A lot of people think that way. But ACI is a nonprofit. We develop these programs because there's a benefit to the industry and somebody has identified a problem in a certain area. We're not doing this to make money.

That said, perspectives differ depending on where you are in the industry.

Some view certification as a very important part of their business because they need it to be considered for projects. A transportation department might specify field tech certification, or you might have to have flatwork finisher certification, or they might want you to have an inspector certification. Job specifications are starting to call these out. We're now seeing the adhesive anchor installer being called for on plans.

Some contractors use it as a marketing tool; they say, ‘All our inspectors are ACI-certified.’ It's an angle or a leg up to say, ‘This is why you should employ our firm: We have the best people working for us.’

CC: You didn’t mention it, but I would think staying out of legal hot water would be another major motivator to adopt certification into your company.
Mike: I don’t like to use scare tactics, but we do live in a litigious society; so as soon as something fails, everybody's going to get sued. I'll talk about the liability aspect in Cleveland. [Author’s note: Liability – as in the consequence of putting a non-certified worker on a job that requires certified personnel.]

CC: Those are three pretty solid business incentives – two big potential positives and a serious negative to be averted. Why would a contractor take a chance by not certifying laborers?
Mike: Some people look at certification as a hard cost with no value, so we need to help them understand what it brings to the table.

When you take your car into the shop, you want to look on the wall and make sure you’ve got certified mechanics working on it. If you get your leg X-rayed, that technician is most likely certified. We have certified IT personnel. So why don't you want certified employees working on your construction project?

To me, certification gives everyone more confidence: the employee, the employer, and the client.

CC: What’s the catalyst for a new certification program?
Mike: If there's a specific need or somebody sees an obvious shortfall or there's a safety issue, it's generally identified by somebody in the industry and brought to ACI. We in the certification department don’t sit there and go, ‘Hmmm…what's the next thing we can certify for?’

The need is then very well-vetted. A detailed, specific procedure is followed that involves subject matter experts from that part of the industry that brought the concern forward.

Adhesive anchors were identified as a need because “it's going to be in the code” [ACI 318-14: Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete and Commentary].

CC: Is the need confined to younger laborers coming into the workforce?
Mike: I’ll answer that with an example: We did two pilot programs in Chicago in early 2011. There was no training or review or anything – we just said, ‘Thanks for coming today. You're going to take this exam and then you're going to go out and do this installation. If all goes well and you pass, you'll be certified; if not, you won't.’

Some had upwards of 20 years’ experience. Eighty percent failed the practical exam and 40% failed the written exam.

CC: Whoa, if even veteran installers struggle, how does anyone make the grade?
Mike: The passing rate is much higher now.

At the pilot sessions, we interviewed each person at the end of the day. Most were angry – they felt they didn't have the opportunity to practice; they weren't familiar with some of the systems. Because of that, we now require our sponsoring groups to do a hands-on practice and review session.

In addition, we developed an 80-page workbook using subject matter experts and myself and a 20-minute video that demonstrates proper procedures. The package is available in English and Spanish, and soon will be in French.

CC: So you’re covering just the Americas?
Mike: No, it's worldwide. It's in India and the Middle East. I've been to South America, the Philippines, Singapore. We're setting up a program that’s going to get started in the U.K. We have 125 sponsoring groups globally and 27 certifications.

As of July 2018, we had 80,000 field testing technicians worldwide and about 125,000 total certifications. Since our inception 35 years ago, we’ve had about half a million people become certified through our programs.

It's a big deal. And with our established infrastructure, ACI can help bring new programs to market quickly.

CC: Why do concrete infrastructure professionals need to hear your talk next week?
Mike: I'm going to make them aware that the list of owners requiring these certifications is really growing and they need to become part of that list. And with regard to properly installing these anchors, life safety is the concern.

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