Construction Materials Testing: 7 Things to Know About Certification

Construction Materials Testing: 7 Things to Know About Certification

Training and certification of technicians provides assurance of competence and accountability when assessing the quality of the built environment, and the expectation of a higher level of consistently accurate test results.

This is the first in a series of informational blog posts from Gilson to help guide you to programs and training resources for certification and recertification within the professions of concrete, asphalt, aggregates and soils/geotechnical testing. Information and resources contained within this blog post apply generally to these four areas.

No shortage of study resources

In addition to study materials supplied directly by the certification agencies, there are many other resources that offer preparation and training for the certification exams such as ASTM, the National Highway Institute, state Departments of Transportation, Regional Certification Programs, a state college Engineering School and more (see chart at the end of this blog).  As stated above, we will post a series of blogs related to a specific area in construction materials testing, starting with concrete.

This post is intended to be more generic with guidance on how to arm yourself with information before the process gets underway. No matter which Grade, Level or Specialty of technician certification pursued, the seven items discussed below will hopefully drive you along a smooth path to certification.

  1. Certification matters

    While not all specifications require that only certified technicians work on the project, many - including state- and federal-government awarded projects - will. The Federal Highway Administration's Code of Federal Regulations, 23 CFR, Part 637, surrounding Quality Assurance (QA) Procedures for Construction state, “After June 29, 2000, all sampling and testing data to be used in the acceptance decision or the independent assurance program will be executed by qualified sampling and testing personnel.” That specific level of “qualification” required of workers in the field will be clearly designated by employers, those who award construction projects, and other related decision makers. By having a specific certification, you not only offer documentation of that qualification - you demonstrate that you have additional training and experience.
  2. There is a difference between certificate and certification

    It's important to understand that earning a certificate of completion for attending a seminar or workshop is not the same as preparing for, taking and passing an industry-required examination for a specific construction industry technician certification. However, that workshop can help in preparation for the certification exam.
  3. Levels of certification and requirements to achieve them

    This can be confusing as there are many different technician levels and qualification parameters that can vary within the various testing agencies. For instance, those who hold an existing certification in certain specialties from the American Concrete Institute (ACI) may be exempt from having to repeat testing and work element requirements when taking an examination with the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies® (NICET). Testing agencies offer concise and useful information on their websites regarding the process, preparation and criteria to achieve the various certifications available, which lessens the confusion. This will be explored further throughout this blog series.
  4. Work experience credentials must document experience, knowledge and competency

    Certification testing programs that account for work experience require documentation and substantiation of the applicant's job-related knowledge and experience. Individuals seeking a higher-level certification, which is generally a more demanding process, will find this especially true. These programs are often more broad-based and their scope encompasses more than just a few specific test procedures. Some NICET programs operate on this basis.
  5. Understand the exam structure

    Is the test written or hands-on performance-based - or a combination of both? Do preparation materials include a practice test? What is considered passing or failing - and how soon can the exam be retaken if you don't earn a passing grade on the written exam? Most likely, you will need to retake the entire examination, not just the portion failed.
  1. Preparing for the exam is important

    These tests can be very detailed and you don't want to go into the testing room thinking that 20 years of field experience is all the preparation you need. Check out resources such as ASTM's E-Learning Construction Training courses designed to help prepare for certification exams in the different fields. Similarly, the National Highway Institute (NHI), the training and education arm of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), has an extensive selection of web-based or instructor-led courses in its catalog. These courses offer both continuing education units and certifications in concrete, asphalt, aggregates, and soils/geotechnical; the CE courses could be a source for study and preparation materials.
  2. Certify through a recognized and accepted agency

    There are numerous organizations at local, state and federal levels that offer a vast selection of technician training programs - far too many to list here. For that reason, this series will focus on the most widely-recognized national industry organizations that offer certification and re-certification programs - the American Concrete Institute (ACI), the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA), the Asphalt Institute, and the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET). Each agency clearly outlines guidelines, criteria and protocols for any given level of certification, including the progression to prepare and test for the next level.

The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies is a division of the National Society of Professional Engineers. It was established in 1961 to ensure proper training of technical personnel in several different fields, including construction materials. Among their Civil Engineering Technologies certification programs are construction materials testing, geotechnical, and transportation, which includes many highway construction-related programs.

NICET-certified technicians can advance to progressively higher levels of certification through additional testing and verification of work experience. The downloadable Program Detail Manual on Construction Materials Testing … Asphalt, Concrete, Soils is a wealth of information, containing program descriptions, certification requirements, technician profiles, preparing for and taking the test, recertification, and much more.

In summary, while the process of attaining any level of certification may seem daunting, it's not. The resources cited within this blog post are designed to provide the user with the best information to travel smoothly down the road to certification from start to finish. The list of useful resources contained in the box below is a good place to start. Additionally, as indicated earlier, your state DOT, regional agencies, and other related professional organizations should have online resources to help prepare for a construction materials testing certification.

AASHTO lab accreditation through AMRL, technical assistance & training resources
American Concrete Institute CertificationsExams for ACI concrete certifications, exam preparation & study materials

Asphalt Institute

Exams for NBCT asphalt certifications; webinars, seminars & training materials
ASTM Construction TrainingList of E-learning construction courses for training and exam preparation
Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory (CCRL)Division of ASTM International, CCRL offers laboratory inspection services
National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA)Asphalt pavement training, webinars & other resources in the online bookstore
National Center for Asphalt Technology (at Auburn University)Hands-on and online training courses, textbooks & other publications
National Highway Institute (division of the Federal Highway Administration)Web/in-house courses; study materials in asphalt, concrete, soil, geotechnical, etc.
National Institute for Certification in Engineering TechnologiesExams for NICET certifications in asphalt, concrete, geotechnical & soils
National Ready Mix Concrete AssociationExams for NRMCA concrete certifications, exam preparation & study materials

Missed the other four blog posts in this series? Click the links below to read more.

  1. Soil Technician Certification for Materials Testing
  2. The Road to Earning a Technical Certification in Concrete
  3. Paving the Way to an Asphalt Technician Certification
  4. Preparing for an Aggregate Technician Certification