The NPCA professional staff has been working hard to expand the use of quality precast concrete products without missing a beat during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting travel restrictions. In the months prior to countrywide shutdowns, NPCA professional staff members conducted 22 in-person presentations to a combined audience of 1,779 specifiers and students and participated in 18 live codes-and standards-related meetings. These numbers reflect not only the staff’s ability to educate the industry via face-to-face interactions, but it also shows that NPCA is committed to providing education and participating in the codes and standards process.
Although stay-at-home orders presented several challenges in continuing the in-person momentum from the first quarter of 2020, NPCA used the time to strategize. We implemented flexible, resourceful and innovative solutions to meet outreach goals even when stay-at-home orders were lifted but travel remained restricted.
Certification & specification
NPCA kept in contact with federal, state and local government agencies as officials worked to assess and address the impact of COVID-19 on the public infrastructure and construction industries. Working closely with specifiers and regulators during this time of uncertainty was critical in identifying ways in which the association and NPCA members could be part of the solution, both in specifications and with our own plant certification program.
In July, NPCA rolled out a strategy for promoting flexibility in the Plant Certification Program by conducting virtual plant audits where needed and allowed by state agencies. The plan preserves the consistency of annual in-person audits by converting critical sections of the 14th Edition of the NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast Concrete Plants to virtual audits that resembled in-person audits.
NPCA Director of Certification and Regulatory Services Chris Frederick maintained contact with specifiers and government officials to ensure precast continues to be specified by state and local authorities. In April, Frederick confirmed that Alaska DOT added plant certification requirements within their specifications for drainage structures along with noise, mechanically stabilized earth and retaining wall structures. Montana was another state-level success. In April, the state DOT extended NPCA Plant Certification requirements to all precast products after previously recognizing NPCA certification only for above-ground products and architectural precast.
Codes & standards
NPCA technical staff members were slated to attend several live conferences and meetings related to codes and standards development throughout the spring and summer. Fortunately, many of the meetings were converted to a virtual format. Director of Codes and Standards Eric Carleton, P.E., attended 19 virtual sessions between February through August. Major developments during this time included:
- ACI Committee 319, Precast Structural Concrete Code, held its inaugural virtual meeting.
- ASTM Committee C27 on Precast Concrete Products issued a ballot for review from April to May. The ballot included 4 items affecting ASTM C1227, C1804 and C1814.
- ACI 301-20, “Specifications for Structural Concrete” was finalized and prepared for publishing.
- ASTM Committee C13 on Concrete Pipe issued a ballot for review from July to August. The ballot included 23 items impacting precast concrete pipe and rubber joint standards, combining imperial and metric standards for manholes and connectors, and three newly proposed standards.
- AASHTO Committee on Bridges and Structures held main and subcommittee meetings to evaluate the proposed update to the existing outdated AASHTO box culvert standards in an effort to harmonize them with ASTM C1577.
NPCA’s presentations to specifiers, regulators, contractors and academia was the focus of our virtual strategy, as demand for virtual continuing education options grew in the current environment. Between May and August, NPCA hosted six webinars and reached nearly 1,400 live session attendees. Those six sessions reached nearly the same number of attendees as the 17 in-person presentations in the first quarter, which trained 1,524 attendees.
NPCA’s free specifier webinars saw the greatest success in drawing attendees, as regulators, contractors, academics and students joined our typically specifier-heavy audience. The first two offerings, in May and June, had record-breaking attendance and collectively brought in 1,250 live webinar attendees. With these two webinars alone, NPCA nearly surpassed attendance for all eight specifier webinars held during the last two years.
Onsite Wastewater partnerships
In addition, the outreach team leveraged long-standing partnerships with other associations to provide precast-specific education within their virtual education efforts. NPCA and the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association entered an agreement for NPCA to conduct four 8-hour courses throughout May and July.
Student and Faculty Relationships
The impact of COVID-19 restrictions presented an opportunity for NPCA’s outreach team to incorporate remote education throughout all outreach efforts beyond specifier webinars and industry partnerships. Plans are underway to convert our typical college visits into online learning opportunities. As colleges and universities across the nation moved to remote instruction for the fall, so did the outreach program’s strategy for reaching this audience. The NPCA professional staff is currently reaching out to established academic contacts to conduct virtual guest speaking opportunities throughout the fall semester.
An update to NPCA’s Student Membership benefits was also announced this spring. NPCA will now offer graduating student members a free one-year Professional Membership. This added benefit is aimed at keeping students entering the workforce in tune with NPCA as they begin careers in the construction, manufacturing or specifying industries.
NPCA’s outreach program has continued the momentum gained in the first quarter and continued to push the needle by building on existing relationships virtually. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, outreach efforts in 2020 kept up with 2019 benchmarks. Our year-to-date number of people trained with precast-specific curricula (2,904) is on pace with last year’s YTD numbers (2,945). Looking ahead, NPCA will work to connect with the industry via more remote education offerings in addition to coordinating remote guest lectures for college, trade and vocational students throughout the fall, ensuring NPCA does not miss out on making these essential connections.
Despite the limitations created by the pandemic, NPCA continues to work for you to ensure specifiers and students are educated on the benefits of precast concrete products, specifications continue to recognize precast concrete products as the building material of choice, and relationships develop across the country with DOTs, counties and municipalities. PI
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