Craft workers can now prove their level of skill.
Royale Concrete/Erin Jo Ledger Craft workers can now prove their level of skill.

There are many benefits to craft workers and their employers in becoming certified within their specialty. Being certified proves that a worker has a certain level of skill and knowledge, providing employers and customers with greater assurance that the project will be done right. Over the past year, the American Society of Concrete Contractors and the American Concrete Institute have launched two certification programs related to specialties that require unique knowledge and skill in decorative and polished concrete.

“The polished concrete certification is very important to my company and to the polishing industry,” says Jessica Ledger-Kalen, president of polishing contractor Royale Concrete in Fairfield, Iowa, and chair of the Concrete Polishing Council’s technical committee. “Any time you have trained people in an industry, it provides higher quality results, manages expectations better, and results in a more sustainable industry. Customers get upset when someone promises polished concrete can do anything, and it doesn’t live up to their expectations. This program begins to address that issue.”

Decorative Concrete

The ACI Decorative Concrete Flatwork Finisher certification program, released in July 2018, was developed by a group of decorative concrete experts to set apart the best decorative finishers. Early on, a decision was made to limit the scope of the program—the topics included are coloring, stamping, exposed aggregate, stairs, and cleaning and sealing. Decorative flatwork certification can be obtained at either the Associate level (pass a written test only) or at the Finisher level (written exam plus documented work experience), but to take the test you first need to be certified as an ACI Flatwork Finisher. The inaugural decorative concrete certification test will be conducted at the ASCC annual meeting in Chicago this September.

Polished Concrete

The more recently released certification program, is the ASCC Concrete Polishing Council’s Concrete Polishing Tradesman and Craftsman certifications. At the Tradesman level, you only need to pass the exam to demonstrate knowledge of concrete polishing; for the Craftsman level, you also need 4,500 hours of verified work experience.

The Concrete Polishing Council came into existence only a few years ago when the Concrete Polishing Association of America merged with ASCC. CPAA had an existing certification program that was revised to become the new CPC program. A team of experienced polishing contractors working with ASCC technical director Bruce Suprenant developed the program, which includes a polishing manual, a review course, and the exam.

“When we looked at the CPAA certification program, we saw the need to stop and revise it and do it in a different way,” says ASCC executive director Bev Garnant. “But both Bruce and I felt it needed to get back up and running as soon as possible, so we pushed this program into practice as quickly as we could. What we have introduced now is not forever; we’ll keep looking at it and adjust as needed.”

Polished concrete has recently become the floor of choice for many applications, and there’s a real danger that the industry will lose control. “Think back to decorative contractors 20 years ago,” says Garnant. “It suddenly became popular and everyone was jumping on the wagon. But the good decorative contractors wanted to do something to prove themselves, so they formed the Decorative Concrete Council, which made a real difference in the quality of the product. With the founding of the CPC, polishing contractors saw the same thing happening in their industry, so CPC leaders decided that a certification program was a way to set themselves apart.”

To revise the program, Suprenant’s team basically started from scratch. “We developed the manual to make sure people know what they will be tested on,” says Suprenant. “And instead of running the program only at the World of Concrete, we wanted it online so polishers could take it any time they wanted to. The certification is completely based on what’s in the manual and that’s what the review course covers. We wanted it to be 100 percent consistent.”

ACI’s decorative and polished concrete committee ACI/ASCC 310 is now joint with ASCC. “That committee has completed a polishing specification,” says Suprenant, “and it requires a CPC tradesman or equivalent on a polishing job. That’s why we felt an urgency to get this complete. We want to improve the overall quality of polished concrete floors, and if we’re going to say in the specification that you should hire someone who’s trained and certified, then this program needs to be up and running. This should help the polishing industry on both the specification and construction sides, and that in turn will help drive the certification program.”

Polishing Manual

Each of the 10 chapters of the manual (which is $50 for members) starts with a description of the topic and includes technical sidebars. There is a series of review questions at the end of each chapter that are formatted exactly like the questions one will encounter on the certification exam.

Concrete polishing is different from other types of flooring systems, requiring polishing contractors to be totally vested in understanding the processes and equipment in order to be successful. Polished concrete floors are manufactured in situ and require, according to the introduction, a “unique combination of science and skill to transform an existing concrete substrate into a predetermined aesthetic flooring system intended to provide a specific set of performance values.”

The manual starts where all concrete work should, with safety—emphasizing electrical safety, dust control, and confined spaces. Chapters 3 through 7

cover polished concrete—what it is, what tools and materials are needed to do the job, and how to get the result the owner expects. Chapter 8 covers concrete basics. Chapter 9 is a glossary on polished concrete terminology. And the manual concludes with three CPC position statements on slab protection, slip resistance, and coordinating contracts. Position statements are used by polishing contractors to communicate the industry’s position on specific topics to the construction team.

The CPC Tradesman online review course is $150 for members and the Tradesman exam is $250—a bargain for obtaining these credentials. Today, with certified craft workers, the decorative and polished concrete industry is poised to move to a higher level of professionalism.