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Soil Technician Certification for Materials Testing: Is it for you?

Soil Technician Certification

Whether working in the lab or field, soil/geotechnical professionals can advance their career by holding a related technician certification – but beyond the technical knowledge, do you know what you need to know to earn that certification? Simply read on to find out.

This is the fifth in Gilson's series on preparing for a technician certification exam, and is geared to soil/geotechnical technician certifications for professionals in the highway and infrastructure construction industry. Keep in mind that while there are also soil or soil science technician certifications available for the agriculture or environmental science industries, information from such sites generally won’t pertain to preparing for a soils technician certification in construction materials testing.

Dishing the Dirt on Various Soil Technician Certifications

You don't have to dig too deep to find industry-recognized agencies that offer a wealth of useful study and training resources to help prepare for the written and/or performance exams. There are numerous entities at the state, regional and national level to take you step-by-step through the certification process. The chart below highlights some of the existing certifications available at the national level through ACI and NICET. ASTM D5255 Standard Practice for Certification of Personnel Engaged in the Testing of Soil and Rock includes relevant criteria for establishing a soils technician certification program.

AgencyDesignationScope of
Position Skills
Requirements
for Earning
Certification
Recertification

American Concrete Institute

Aggregate/Soils Base Testing Technician

Must have proven knowledge and ability to perform, record and report results of basic field and lab procedures for aggregates and soils. Additionally, must have strong knowledge of numerous related AASHTO/ASTM standards listed (see designation link for specifics).

Passing grade on written examination, and successfully completing the performance exam.

Every five years; must take and pass written and performance exams.

NICET

Construction Materials Testing - Soils Certification

Level I: Technician Trainee

Requires experience, knowledge and basic skills for working in soils. Works under direct supervision and is familiar with relevant industry standards, sampling, lab tests such as proctor and Atterberg Limits, field/site testing and more as described online.

Must provide Performance Verification.

Successfully passing required exam(s).

Every three years.

Recertification is based on job-related activities in prior 3 years.

NICET

Construction Materials Testing - Soils Certification

Level II: Associate Engineering Technician

Should be sufficiently skilled, with higher level of knowledge and experience to work more independently than Level I Technicians. More comprehensive information on responsibilities is provided online.

Level I certification.

Provide Performance Verification.

Successfully passing required exam(s).

Every three years.

Recertification is based on job-related activities in prior 3 years.

NICET

Construction Materials Testing – Soils Certification

Level III: TBD

Additional information coming soon on NICET.*

Levels I & II certifications.

Provide Performance Verification.

Successfully passing required exam(s).

Personal Recommendation.

Every three years.

Recertification is based on job-related activities in prior 3 years.

NICET

Construction Materials Testing Soils Certification

Level IV: TBD

Additional information coming soon on NICET.*

Level I, II & III certifications.

Provide Performance Verification.

Successfully passing required exam(s).

Personal Recommendation.

Major Project write-up.

Every three years.

Recertification is based on job-related activities in prior 3 years.

*NICET changed its Work Element (WE) certification format to a standard model Computer Based Testing (CBT) earlier this year and will formally end WE on December 31, 2017. As it rolls out new exams and protocols, the agency will continue to update the website to reflect the latest information and resources pertinent to all construction materials testing technician certification offerings.

Other bits of useful information regarding the ACI or NICET soil technician certification process include:

  • Testing Venues ... both provide an online tool to find a local or regional test center that offers certification examinations.
  • Test Materials ... each agency links to internal resources with reference and/or study materials related to the soils technician certification.
  • Examination ... ACI has a two-hour open-book written examination and a closed-book performance examination to demonstrate proficiency with required standards. NICET's written examinations are generally closed-book, with no performance test. However, a Performance Verification from a supervisor is required as part of the NICET application process.
ACI Technician Certification TestingPhoto courtesy of ACI

Finding Regional or State Certification Programs

There are four large regional certification training and testing programs throughout the country that offer a range of soil or geotechnical technician certifications, either under their own umbrella or with their respective state DOT and/or other partners. A fifth regional program which served southeastern states appears to be inactive at this time.

  • The NorthEast Transportation Training and Certification Programs (NETTCP) serves Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. NETTCP offers two soil programs certifications:

    Soils & Aggregate Inspector – a three-day course, and Soils & Aggregate Lab Technician – a four-day course. Both programs offer classroom and laboratory training and an examination, which includes written and performance components. The links above take you to pages with specifics on course demographics, prerequisites, outline, exam and recertification. Course study manuals are included with program registration.

    In addition, NETTCP offers an Interim Certification on a one-season only basis, with the requirement that the individual, if eligible and qualified for the Interim Certification, earn the formal certification before start of the next construction season. More information on eligibility criteria and the policy overall is available here.

    It's interesting to note that an outreach by the American Council of Independent Laboratories (ACIL) to NETTCP and subsequent discussions between the two organizations resulted in one Midwest state recognizing an NETTCP certification program. A 9/07/2017 memorandum of the Ohio Department of Transportation includes the NETTCP Soils & Aggregate Inspector Certification in its list of required certifications for prequalified consultants in construction inspection and construction administration consultant categories. ACIL said they will “continue to look to further expand the program to other states as needs are identified."
  • The Mid-Atlantic Region Technician Certification Program (MARTCP) includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. MARTCP also offers a range of technician certifications including Soils and Aggregates Compaction Technician, with all pertinent information for the regional partners housed within the Maryland DOT State Highway Administration.
  • Multi-regional Training and Certification (M-TRAC) has 13 states under its umbrella: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Each state listed links to its respective DOT, where you can search for available soil technician certification programs.
  • The same is true for the Western Alliance for Quality Transportation Construction (WAQTC), affiliated with Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and the Western and Central Federal Lands Highway Divisions. Simply click on the state name and link to its DOT.

Below are some examples of what state DOTs can offer – this may guide you in what to look for when exploring further within your region.

  • The Tennessee Department of Transportation offers Field Operations Training for many technician certifications, including soil and aggregates. Individual pages can be accessed from the link above that provides information on the specific testing process, regional testing locations and dates, course description and scope, prerequisites and more.
  • North Carolina's DOT has a page that lists its business partners for related materials testing, including GeoMaterials laboratory training schools, technical trainers by name and location, DOT staff contacts and more.
  • The Arizona DOT, through the Arizona Technical Testing Institute (ATTI), offers two soils-related technician certifications. The Field Technician Certification is broad-based, and covers sampling in the areas of soil, aggregates, asphaltic concrete and asphalt binder sampling. It also offers a Laboratory Soils/Aggregate Technician Certification specifically designed for laboratory testing of soils and aggregates.

Missed the first four blogs in this series? Check them out: Construction Materials Testing: 7 Things to Know About CertificationThe Road to Earning a Technical Certification in Concrete, Paving the Way to an Asphalt Technician Certification, and Preparing for an Aggregate Technician Certification.

The series wraps up in November with a summary blog that will include updates and information on any new certifications that exist.