By: Cindy Rizzo, L.M. Scofield Company with Jan Bloom, technical writer
With the surging demand for decorative concrete, the need for experienced contractors and those who hold professional certificates has also increased. The good news is that there are many opportunities to learn to install decorative concrete. An individual can choose the kind of training that best fits his schedule and budget, as courses are available in many formats.
Whether a contractor wants to specialize in cementitious toppings or integrally colored concrete, install vertical applications or create countertops, or expand his business by offering stamped, stenciled or stained finishes, there's a training course available. In order to make the move to decorative concrete a successful one, contractors must understand the differences between the requirements for interior and exterior applications, as well as the differences of working on residential and commercial projects.
Those who are interested in an overview of a product or application can attend demonstrations (seminars with minimal or no hands-on practice). People who prefer to learn at home at their own pace can choose from e-learning courses, videos, and even CD or interactive DVD training programs. And for contractors who want to be immersed in an application and have the benefit of professional assistance, there are a variety of hands-on courses that last up to several days.
In addition to the professional associations that offer seminars and educational courses, some product manufacturers offer hands-on training that enables contractors and their staff to learn to install their materials correctly.
A word of caution is appropriate: Many programs simply offer an overview. If you're a contractor who is seriously interested in getting hands-on training with real-world tips from experienced contractors, invest your time and money in a program that will give you that experience. Nothing can take the place of practical experience in real-world types of situations.
Trade show trainings
Industry trade shows like the World of Concrete offer many opportunities for decorative concrete training. The outdoor demonstration area enables visitors to watch professionals install a number of decorative concrete products and ask questions of the installers.
At the 2005 World of Concrete convention, more than 90 narrowly-targeted seminars were offered. These expert-led sessions included everything from the basics of patterned stamping and using decorative overlays on existing concrete to troubleshooting decorative concrete.
It's never been more important to have the right credentials for the job, and those who attended four WOC seminars in a specific subject track earned a Master Certificate. Professional certificates help contractors add to their expertise and increase their bid-winning potential. In fact, some major retailers like Wal-Mart now require specific certifications for crewmembers who work on the construction of their stores. Training and examinations for the following associations were also offered at the 2005 World of Concrete trade show:
- American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA)
- Tilt-up Concrete Association (TCA)
- American Concrete Institute (ACI)
The extensive conference program for the 2005 International Pool and Spa Expo, in Orlando, Florida, (Oct. 31 through Nov. 3), includes a multi-track educational program that features technical solutions, as well as intermediate and advanced-level seminars. New this year is a two-day educational program designed to teach advanced-level subjects, from design and sales to construction and improving business management.
Industry organizations that can help you learn more
In addition to the seminars and examinations the American Concrete Institute (ACI) sponsors at WOC, the organization offers continuing education and professional development in concrete design, specification and construction. One of the oldest concrete organizations, ACI was founded in 1904. It manages certification programs, holds seminars and publishes a variety of technical documents.
The ACI Finishers Program falls into two categories: flatwork technician and flatwork finisher. The written tests are the same, but the finisher must have 3,000 hours of documented, on-the-job finishing time. These programs measure an individual's ability or knowledge to place concrete, but don't specialize in decorative concrete applications. Scott P. Thome, director of product services for L.M. Scofield Company, thinks it's critical to learn the basics of quality concrete placement. "If you look at the majority of the 'schools' or training programs, many overlook the basics," he says. "Without that foundation in place, long-term durability could suffer. I like taking the 'walk before you run' method of training. That's why I feel that all of our contractors and sales reps should take the Flatwork test."
Originally known as The American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM International, as it is now called, is a key source for technical standards for materials, products, systems and services. While many of the technical and professional courses offered by ASTM are not specific to decorative concrete, this venerable organization does offer award-winning continuing technical education programs for industry and government. Its training formats range from one- to three-day seminars.
ASCC, the American Society of Concrete Contractors, also offers training. This umbrella organization is made up of concrete contractors and people who provide services and goods to the industry, including contracting firms, manufacturers, suppliers, architects, specifiers and distributors. ASCC works to ensure that contractors use sound practices to ensure successful decorative concrete projects. Troubleshooting newsletters published by the society contain questions contractors ask which are answered by a professional in the field. The organization also publishes books, videos, CDs and DVDs.
The NRMCA, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, offers several different types of certification courses as well as a range of publications including books, CDs and videos.
The OPCMIA, Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association of the United States and Canada, offers formal apprenticeship and training programs. In addition to the entry-level apprenticeship program, workers who are currently working at the cement mason's trade can enroll in journey person upgrading programs through local unions. Apprenticeship consists of three years' on-the-job training and classroom instruction to provide students with broad working knowledge of the trade. While admittance to the programs involves no specific educational requirements, high school drafting, mathematics and shop courses are helpful.
The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals offers industry-specific training courses at the International Pool and Spa Expo and at regional shows. In addition, the organization offers contractors courses that enable them to earn a certificate as a CBP, Certified Building Professional. Other training includes correspondence courses with appropriate proficiency examinations along with relevant newsletters and publications.