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Certified Technicians for Concrete Testing

First published in the December 2022 issue of Quarry Management 

Edwin Trout, executive officer of the Institute of Concrete Technology, discusses the development, launch, content, and uptake of the ICT’s Concrete Field-Testing Technicians (CFTT) certification scheme

There are dozens of good reasons why the accurate testing of concrete is important, not least the cost of rectifying construction work completed with non-compliant concrete. Yet site practice is often inadequate, carried out in ignorance or indolence – as a wealth of anecdotal evidence testifies (see Concrete, November 2022). The correct performance of the appropriate tests, carried out in accordance with the relevant standards, is probably best demonstrated by certified practitioners.

It was with this belief that the Institute of Concrete Technology (ICT) set out to introduce a certification scheme that would examine not only technicians’ knowledge of the tests, but also certify demonstrated performance. Such a scheme existed, operated by the American Concrete Institute (ACI) for use in the parts of the world where ASTM standards prevail, but there was nothing to cover practice to European standards.

Consequently, working in partnership with the ACI, the ICT developed an EN equivalent, preparing a new workbook and compiling a bank of questions relevant to European practice. This bespoke content was then teamed with the established American programme’s quality-assured administration and offered as a jointly sponsored, jointly badged certification scheme. Examiners would be ICT members fully trained and approved by the ACI. Successful candidates would receive certificates and the accompanying field cards (valid for five years) with the logos of both institutes. Crucially, the certification of EN-accredited technicians would be recognized in the ASTM zone and vice versa, ensuring the scheme’s international portability.

In practice, two-day sessions, accompanied by copies of the workbook, would consist of a thorough revision of the standards’ requirements and advice from a tutor on the assessment process. A multiple-choice exam, consisting of detailed questions, would conclude day one and the following day, individual candidates’ demonstrations of each of the seven tests would be assessed by an examiner on a one-to-one basis. With two examiners on duty, the number of candidates would be limited to 12.

Scheme launched, 2019-20

The certification scheme for Concrete Field-Testing Technicians (CFTT) to EN standards was formally launched in April 2019, following a trial programme at selected sites over the preceding few months, and was rapidly adopted in both the UK and the Middle East (Bahrain and Qatar), indicating a gratifying degree of demand. Sessions were held repeatedly in Gloucester, Belfast, and Warrington, some candidates coming (exceptionally) from as far away as Latvia and even Australia. Then, in the early months of 2020, it was the turn of Dublin and – by invitation – Riga too.

The reception by industry was overwhelmingly positive, with the major integrated minerals companies well represented among the candidates. Feedback included comments such as, ‘I am very pleased: the course was really well run, and as a newcomer to the industry, was informative yet enjoyable’; and ‘The study booklet covered everything, as you’d expect…the revision session was very good and the practical demonstration was very helpful and the examiners were exemplary’.

Having made a promising start, progress was curtailed by the pandemic after March 2020.  CFTT sessions were halted and did not resume until the autumn of 2021. However, the enforced break enabled a review and re-weighting of the multiple-choice exam questions, and the opportunity to agree an extension of the time permitted to complete the examination.  There are now 10 questions for each of the seven tests, and 90mins available, allowing for varying abilities in the English language and ensuring a fairer assessment.

ICT training videos, 2020-21

A second opportunity occasioned by the pandemic was the production of a suite of training videos designed to illustrate best practice in concrete testing. The project was prompted by changes in 2019 to the standards on Testing Fresh Concrete (BS EN 12350) and Testing Hardened Concrete (BS EN 12390). The ICT set out to provide a generic training resource to help raise standards across industry, and in late 2020 sought support from companies and other like-minded bodies to achieve this. Brett Concrete, BRMCA, Delmon Readymix, GCP Applied Technologies, Hanson Cement, QSRMC, Sika Ltd, TALENT Concrete Training, Tarmac, and Testing & Consultancy Services kindly offered funding and LKAB gave support in kind. The scripts were prepared and recorded over the winter and filmed on location once lockdown was relaxed. In September 2021, this industry-sponsored suite of training was posted on the ICT website, with access free of charge to all who are interested in improving standards.  

The videos can be accessed at www.theict.org.uk/CFTT-training-video.asp by clicking on the appropriate link and entering the viewer’s email address. In just the few weeks following the launch, the interest shown was considerable, with 274 visitors from at least 29 companies in the UK. Some viewers have been prompted to write in appreciation. One engineer working for Black & Veatch described them as ‘very clean and professional’. He commented at length: ‘The narration is easy to understand and the video quality excellent.  The length of each video is perfect to keep everyone’s attention and watch over the course of lunch or a break with trade workers too. I could see these being shown during a toolbox talk or morning briefing over the course of a week. Many workers probably think they know how to perform these tests, but I have witnessed more poorly performed tests than I have correct ones…The videos are honestly great as is and are much needed in the industry.’

A seventh video on sampling has been added subsequently.

Renewed uptake, 2021-22

Since the lifting of Covid restrictions in late 2021, numerous sessions have been arranged in the UK – mainly in England and Northern Ireland (where the scheme enjoys the support of CITB-NI), but now in Scotland too. Furthermore, overseas sessions have been carried out in France, Qatar, and Ireland (where additional ICT examiners have been recruited), with the prospect of other sessions in Denmark and Malta.  

The scheme has enjoyed widespread industry support. To date, 38 companies in England alone have put a combined total of 99 candidates through the certification process, with a pass rate of 85%. Companies range from ready-mixed concrete suppliers, test houses, and precast concrete manufactures, to civil engineering contractors. Some contractors have even decided to certify their technicians in private in-house sessions and now insist that technicians in their employ are certified to CFTT. In addition, eight companies in Northern Ireland have put 38 candidates through, resulting in 32 certified staff (an 84% pass rate). 

Further sessions are being planned over the next few months, details of which can be obtained from the ICT executive officer: [email protected]

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