An important innovation championed by the Pennsylvania State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) is reaching a critical milestone.
PennDOT issued its clearance transmittal and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has granted its approval for implementation of the concrete finishers training and certification requirement on all PennDOT projects. The addition to Section 704 of Publication 408, requires 60 percent of concrete finishers to be certified effective as of April 2022.
The training and certification program passed through the STIC Innovation Development Process and came about as Pennsylvania and other states realized that the skill level of concrete finishers can be more important than the physical concrete itself when it comes to quality and longevity of the finished product. The goal of the training, which includes classroom and practical, hands-on work, is to help improve the durability and extend the service life of concrete and eliminate mistakes in concrete finishing that can result in costly repairs or reconstruction.
Over the winter, training for inspectors was held at winter schools in PennDOT Districts 1, 2 and 8. Trainings are planned for next winter in Districts 11 and 12.
In 2020, 52 concrete finishers who are members of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) completed the training, and 47 flatwork finishers who are members of the American Concrete Institute (ACI) completed the training.
Jim Fitzroy, western Pennsylvania training coordinator and business agent for Local 526 of the Operative Plasters and Cement Masons International, noted that many of his members are skilled workers with extensive experience in the concrete industry. However, the union always welcomes new ideas to allow its members to expand their skill base, and learn about new processes and procedures.
"We are very interested. It's a nice idea," he said, adding: "The state pays good money for what they want, and they deserve a quality product and deserve to know they have quality finishers on the work."
The training and certification program should level the playing field across the state and ensure more quality work will be done, he indicated.
Casilio's work on the innovation through the STIC attracted the interest of key players, such as Bob Belinda, manager at Centre Concrete in State College, and Ron Seybert, Ferguson Township (Centre County) engineer.
A member of the American Public Works Association, Seybert is its representative on the STIC, and he began talking with Casilio about the issue after hearing his presentation at the November 2019 STIC Business Meeting. Seybert said Ferguson Township had seen the same quality issues in finished concrete and wanted to assist in addressing the problem.
"We wanted to get an awareness among the Centre County region, among engineers and technical people who were doing contracts and inspections of field work, to know what is being done (about this issue)," Seybert said.
"We did a training session for engineers and inspectors the following February to raise awareness of the issue and the problems with concrete finishing and the results we can have when the projects are completed," he said.
"We became an early adopter and included in our contracts a special provision that required concrete finishers to be certified," Seybert added.
Working with Casilio, Seybert reached out to potential concrete bidders to let them know about the classes.
Belinda noted that Centre Concrete's owner, Eric Nicholson, is a former chairman of the board for PACA and previous board member of NRMCA. Nicholson wanted
Centre Concrete to take a proactive role in this initiative. Belinda, on behalf of Centre Concrete, set up a hands-on training class in May 2021 that involved replacing the concrete parking lot at the Pine Grove Mills Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) building in Ferguson Township. It drew 40 participants, and all passed the training and were certified.
"It was worth every bit of it to do and was a win/win," Belinda said. "It worked out very well."
"Guys walked away from it with great comments. All of the feedback we received was very positive," he added. "We were very happy with it, and Centre Concrete looks forward to supporting and participating in additional classes in the near future."
Moving forward, Seybert said the goal is to get as many people certified as possible, so contractors are able to meet the new certification requirements and be able to continue to bid for work. He even plans to have the township staff who do concrete work take the training.
"I'm glad PACA came forward and presented the innovation to the STIC, and STIC thought it worthy to move forward, and PennDOT to adopt the requirements that finishers be certified," Seybert said.
"I'm a firm believer in the class and the results of people learning the proper way to finish the concrete," he added. "We want to continue to spread the word around the construction community, to APC and others, to make contractors aware of it and get the training. Keep it going!" For more information, visits the Certified Concrete Finishers Course page on the STIC website.