In this article, VECAT seeks to answer some of the most frequently asked questions received every year from industry personnel. Here we clarify how the Material Certification School (MCS) program works, if certification is necessary, how to best prepare to get certified or help your employees accomplish certification and what the consequences may be when the tools provided are not utilized.
DO I NEED TO BE MCS CERTIFIED??
This question often causes some confusion among company administrators and students alike. The best answer is Not Necessarily. It depends on the job an employee is performing. Per Section 114.01 of VDOT’s Road and Bridge Specifications, VDOT requires that the contractor have present during the production, placing and testing of some materials a Certified Materials Technician. This means that other jobs, such as a roller operator or dump truck drive, are not required to be MCS certified.
Here’s another example. VDOT specifications in Section 315 require the contractor to have an Asphalt Field Level II technician on-site during paving operations. In many situations, this requirement is met by the density testing technician who must be Asphalt Field Level II certified. However, the density technician is not always present on the project. Therefore, the contractor must have another certified individual on the project.
The best approach to take when trying to determine if certification is necessary is to refer to either contract documents for the project or review the Road and Bridge specifications for clarity. This same approach applies to non-VDOT jobs as well. A Local Assistance Project, privately funded, or locality funded project may have a different set of requirements for certification. Again, the project contract should specify these requirements.
ARE VECAT MCS CLASSES TRAINING CLASSES?
Most people register for and attend VECAT classes thinking they are attending a training class. This is a common misconception, as the MCS classes offered by VECAT are exam prep classes rather than training classes. The difference between the two is that exam prep classes are short, intensive classes that cover a wide range of material at a very high level. This approach assumes that students attending class already have working knowledge and experience in and of the topic. Training classes, on the other hand, assume little-to-no knowledge of a topic and therefore require more time and discussion to educate the student.
Currently, the MCS Certification classes are the only classes that VECAT offers for the Asphalt industry. As a result, employers send employees to class with the expectation that they will be “trained” and ready to go to work upon successful completion of the course. Often this leads to frustration and anxiety for the student, can cause a delay in the flow of class activities, and sometimes results in an exam failing for the student and possibly unemployment.
Company administrators need to realize that VECAT CLASSES ARE NOT BUILT TO BE TRAINING CLASSES so that they do not set their employees up for failure when sending a completely “green” employee to class. Because this issue is widespread across the state, VECAT staff are working diligently to develop some actual TRAINING classes that will be longer classes with more teacher/student interaction intended to teach students the nuts and bolts of the subject for which they are attending class.
WHAT TOOLS ARE AVAILABLE TO HELP ME OR MY EMPLOYEE PASS THE FINAL EXAM?
Since its start in 2016, VECAT staff have worked very hard to ensure that students have the materials they need at their fingertips to increase the chance of content mastery and a positive exam outcome. Since 2016, all videos used in MCS certification classes (except Mix Design), have been loaded onto YouTube so that students who want to prepare before the class can watch them, and students who want to brush up after class or use them to prepare for an exam can review them. This has worked exceedingly well for those who don’t have a strong background in asphalt and want to watch the videos ahead of time to absorb the material before hearing it in class. Additionally, those who felt overwhelmed in class or did not understand a topic area can re-watch the class.
For anyone interested in these resources, they are posted on YouTube under the search item VECAT. All class videos and demos (if separate from the class videos) are listed by class year and class topic. For example, all 2019 classes are grouped, or you can search by Playlists to find the videos grouped by class rather than by year. Videos from 2018, 2017 and 2016 currently appear online, so there are multiple opportunities to watch the same topic presented over three different years (for the over-achiever in the group).
Along with YouTube, all VECAT students (i.e., classroom and online students) have access to Blackboard, the Virginia Community College System’s current Learning Management System, commonly referred to as LMS. (Please note that Germanna will be migrating to a new system called Canvas this summer.) All VECAT classes are available through the LMS (Asphalt Mix Design will be available in Summer 2019). The LMS contains class videos, PowerPoints, and Knowledge Checks. Again, students that utilize the LMS resources have been very successful on the MCS exams.
Additionally, the VECAT page on the VAA website has resources that don’t appear on the YouTube page, including additional demos or videos provided by industry partners. This is also a good place to go for extra information and other FAQs about VECAT, the apprenticeship and scholarship programs, and other useful information.
I HAVE BEEN DOING THE SAME JOB FOR MANY YEARS. WHY AM I REQUIRED TO RE-TAKE A CLASS RATHER THAN SIMPLY TAKING AN EXAM TO GET RE-CERTIFIED?
The need to come in every five years to renew a certification is a VDOT requirement rather than a VECAT rule. The decision to require students to retake a class either in person or online rather than simply taking a test is to ensure that all students across the state receive the same information. We have found that sometimes districts do things differently, or different companies handle critical processes, either correctly or incorrectly, differently. The requirement to either come to class or complete a class online assures VDOT and industry partners that communication and information delivered are standardized and that students are informed of changes in technology, VDOT specifications, work processes, etc. Even though an individual may be considered a subject matter expert in their field, there is always new information to learn or a different way of completing a task. Although we don’t see it often, we have had students come through class who have performed the same role for many years but find that they are not doing it properly per VDOT requirements.
I TRIED TO SIGN UP FOR A CLASSROOM CLASS AND NO SPOTS ARE AVAILABLE. NOW, HOW DO I GET CERTIFIED?
This scenario happens more often than we would like. Students log on to register for a class and find that there are no seats available in their desired location, or any other locations for that matter. For most MCS classes, we offer an online option as well, so if classroom classes fill up, a student can always take the class online. The Mix Design class is the only oddity, meeting twice a year in the classroom only. Once those classes are completed, there are no additional ones offered until the following year. This is mostly important for the new student who is getting certified in Mix Design for the first time. Those currently holding a certification will be able to take the class online starting Summer 2019.
It is the responsibility of the student (or their employer) to register for classes. It is also the responsibility of the student to know when their certification comes due. VDOT will not give you a heads up that your certification is expiring. Germanna will not contact you to sign up for a class or to remind you to take the final exam or proficiency tests. THESE ARE ALL THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STUDENT.
I HAVE SEVERAL EMPLOYEES THAT NEED TO TAKE THE SAME CLASS. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET THIS DONE SO THAT I CAN MINIMIZE IMPACT TO WORK PROJECTS?
VECAT has developed an offsite option for completing classes to help companies minimize the number of employees that are away at the same time. Rather than coming to a VECAT training site such as FredCAT or Daniel Technology Center, this offsite option can be completed at the home office with as many employees as desired. The company must have a representative who is willing to “moderate” the session and a room with proper audio-visual equipment where videos can be shown. VECAT provides all the videos used in classroom classes and a leader’s guide for the facilitator to use as a guideline. The session can be run with all employees present and as time permits – on a rainy day, early in the morning, on a pre-set day, etc. Benefits of this approach include the ability to complete the class around work project priorities, opportunity to stop videos and address questions, time for practicing math equations to ensure comprehension, and extra testing if desired to verify mastery of content. Once the class is finished, the moderator simply contacts Germanna to schedule testing at a local community college, and that’s it! Convenient and pain-free!
Another option is to schedule a custom class. This includes a VECAT staff member who will come to your site and lead the class for you. Please note that there is an added cost for this convenient option. If interested, contact Judith Calvert at Germanna Community College at (540) 937-6757.
I HAVE A CERTIFICATION THAT REQUIRES A LABORATORY PROFICIENCY. WHEN IS THE DEADLINE TO COMPLETE THE PROFICIENCY?
The Plant I, Plant II and Mix Design classes each have proficiency testing that must be completed along with the final exam to achieve certification. If you or one of your employees have proficiency testing to complete, you must register for the testing online at www.germanna.edu, at which point Judith Calvert at Germanna will contact you to schedule the testing. ALL PROFICIENCY TESTS MUST BE COMPLETED BY DECEMBER 1 OF THE YEAR IN WHICH YOUR CERTIFICATION RENEWAL COMES DUE. Germanna will not contact students to sign them up for these tests. It is the responsibility of the student to get the ball rolling by registering online. Please do not wait until the end of the year to schedule and complete this testing. At the end of 2018, many students were unable to schedule testing and thus did not receive their certification. The number of students rushing to test before certification time lapsed overwhelmed the number of available slots. If you have questions about this process call Judith Calvert at Germanna at (540) 937-6757.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
In short, know your numbers. Know what year your certification is coming due, know the dates of the classes for a given year and make sure you register early in the year and know how many days are left in the year before a class and exam must be completed. Failure to know or not know this information and not act on it can sometimes lead to termination of a job which rests squarely on the shoulders of the individual.