In this Mail Call episode, we answer questions about certification exams and accreditation program fees.
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 3, Episode 22: FAQ Mail Call
Recorded: September 1, 2022
Released: October 4, 2022
Host(s): Brian Johnson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Manager and Kim Swanson, Communications Manager, AASHTO re:source
Note: Please reference AASHTO re:source and AASHTO Accreditation Program policies and procedures online for official guidance on this, and other topics.
Transcribed by Kim Swanson and MS Teams.
[Theme music fades in.]
[00:00:00] Announcer: Welcome to AASHTO resource Q & A. We're taking time to discuss construction materials, testing, and inspection with people in the know from exploring testing problems and solutions to laboratory best practices and quality management, we're covering topics important to you.
[00:00:20] Brian: Welcome to AASHTO re:source Q&A. I'm Brian Johnson.
[00:00:24] Kim: And I'm Kim Swanson. And we have another mail call episode where Brian is going to answer some of his emails here on the podcast. Are you excited today, Brian?
[00:00:34] Brian: I love mail call.
[00:00:36] Kim: All right. So, the first one you gave me to give to you is, do you offer accreditation for erosion control product testing?
[00:00:47] Brian: We actually do not offer accreditation for testing laboratories that are performing testing on these manufactured products. Such as erosion control products.
[00:01:00] Kim: I would still encourage people to e-mail us about, hey, do you offer accreditation or assessment or proficiency samples for X? Because that's how we know if there's interest in it. So in for this particular case, we do not. But if we get a lot of interest in another scope of materials or something like that, we can add them to our scope of services. And we won't know if there's interest if people don't ask for it.
[00:01:27] Brian: And it has to be something supported by our oversight committee through the AASHTO Committee on Materials and Pavements. I guess the one exception to the manufactured products category would be rebar and some of the steel, iron and steel products. So, we actually do offer accreditation for testing those, but it is limited. So, if you want to know what we accredit, you can go to our website and see the scope of accreditation that we offer. And that it can be found pretty much all over the place on our website. So, I don't think we even need a special link to that one on the episode. But one kind of side note on why we don't just offer whatever is being requested is because that technical competency is really important to us and to the departments of transportation and other specifying agencies that require our services. If you were a potential customer and you said, hey, can you offer accreditation for this thing or this particular test method, even if it is within our scope of materials..
[00:02:29] Brian: That we cover. That starts a process whereby we have somebody review it. We have to make training materials for our staff. We have to make worksheets for our assessors. We have to build up our own staff competency to be able to deliver that service in a way that is in line with our quality policies and objectives. So that's kind of what is behind why it's so hard for us to just add something. And we currently have a lot of test methods in our program also. So we don't want to. We don't spread ourselves too thin. But like Kim said, if you wonder about it, you know it never hurts to ask and we can let you know what we can do or can't do for you.
[00:03:17] Kim: So, the next question in the inbox is, can you help us write our exam questions for our certification program?
[00:03:27] Brian: This is a question that we've actually gotten quite a few times because, you know one thing we do in the accreditation program is we have these standards that we accredit for that require certifications or require written exams for evaluating somebody's competency. And there are parameters for acceptance defined by some of these standards. And we will evaluate them for conformance. But we will not create the exams for you. And the reason why is it's a bit of a conflict of interest for us. So as the evaluator, or the auditor or assessor, or accreditor, we're looking to see who's in conformance and recognize that conformance. But if we start providing a service like either consulting or even doing the work for whoever is trying to get accredited or be brought into conformance. Then all of a sudden, we're kind of like self-accrediting or self-evaluating. That represents a conflict of interest that is not acceptable to our program or to quality in general as a concept.
[00:04:32] Kim: I feel like we've talked about this on the podcast before.
[00:04:35] Brian: I am quite certain that we covered certification reviews at least one time. [Kim: Yes.] So, I'm sure we'll put a link to that one on...
[00:04:43] Kim: We will, once I remember what it is, or maybe you'll hear me insert here. What? What, what? The name of that episode is. Once I figure that out. But.
[00:04:52] Brian: Yeah, and one thing happened years ago. I have to mention this. So, there was a time where one of our staff members worked on some exams and those actually did get out to the public. And we see them come back to us as exams that were prepared for laboratory. Right now, they're out of date. Of course, by now. And the questions are excellent that are in there. So, but they need to be updated. So, if somebody does have those and they say, OK, well, you guys wrote these, why don't you just accept them? They're out of date. And they also are not in line with current standards. So, they could be still used like a lot of the questions like we're not going to say oh, you can't use any of those questions because we wrote them, but they're out there. So, I mean, I guess they're up for grabs if somebody has them. Already. But we're still going to expect that whatever you submit to conform. So, you probably have to make some further revision. So don't just send them back to us and say that they're yours.
[00:05:50] Kim: I will say, season one, episode 16. We had a podcast understanding technician certification requirements might be the episode that we talked about. Some of this in. So, if there'll be a link to that in the show notes and any other pertinent podcasts, or documents around this topic. Anything else on that before we move on?
[00:06:12] Brian: I don't think so.
[00:06:13] Kim: Our third and final question in this mail call episode is, do you drag out the accreditation process to make more money?
[00:06:24] Brian: Yeah, I got that question the other day, I wasn't, I wasn't thrilled with it. I to be honest. Now obviously that person was asking the question because they weren't happy about something, right. The reason why I brought I thought this was a good one to cover is people are often confused about what our motivation is for quote dragging out the accreditation process. Now what that means from the perspective of the laboratory is they may submit something to us, and we kick it back to them and say it's missing this thing or these things or something wasn't done properly and then laboratory then makes some revisions or doesn't and then sends us another effort to resolve whatever, it is or show that they're in conformance and that may also not be acceptable, and this can go on for a little while, we don't have like a three strikes, you're out policy. It's kind of based on the deadline and how soon they submit. After the report is issued and that kind of dictates how much time they have to get it done, and there's also time where...
[00:07:29] Brian: There are delays on our end that happen from time to time. But there's no intentional effort to drag it out because we really do want to be timely. We actually have a lot of quality goals around timeliness and when we don't meet those objectives, we have corrective action that we have to take and a lot of that corrective action has resolved revolved around hiring new staff, you know, expanding our staff, changing some of our practices so that we can get a little faster in our work and we're actually currently undergoing a big change where we're trying to improve our systems so that we can automate more of what we do so that we can spend more time on the review and approval or process in less time on the administrative tasks. So that should help us too. So, there's a lot of things in play. But there is no possible conceivable way that dragging out the process could be advantageous to us. It really like from the if you were looking strictly from a monetary perspective, the best we could do is just to prove everybody without looking at anything because it doesn't really take time to do that. And if it doesn't take time, you know it don't need that many people to do it. But we are thorough, and it does take time and it does take people to get it done so that that's what happens. But we do, we do collect our fees from. Sponsors, they're sponsorship fees and there are also fees we collect from the participants in the program.
[00:08:56] Kim: Yeah. If you look on their website, our structure of the fees that are charged for the AASHTO Accreditation program is laid right out there and it is per standard, with a base fee. So it actually taking longer actually hurts our bottom line if that's what we were actually cared about. But AASHTO is a nonprofit.
[00:09:14] Brian: I think if you look at what we charge for the accreditation administrative fees, it's pretty reasonable and we do scale it so that we're not disproportionately charging the smaller companies. You know, it's not, it's not based on the company’s revenue like some associations or like that where it's based on the you know some portion of the company’s revenue but ours is based our accreditation fees at least are based on the scope of the accreditation. So, if your laboratory is only running five tests, you get a base fee plus a per test fee per standard fee. On top of that, it's pretty nominal for the annual fee, but if you're a massive lab and you've got all these different scopes of testing and. It could be very expensive relative to a smaller outfit, but we still cap that we have a maximum that we want to make it affordable from the accreditation fee perspective.
[00:10:16] Brian: And I will say it's not just because of it's assumed that the scopes of service are smaller for those smaller labs, it's because it's less effort for us with a smaller lab so. Let's say a lab is only accredited for five or six tests. That may have a lot less assessment reports to review, so you probably are not dealing with an AASHTO re:source and a CCRL report. If it's that small, you probably have less proficiency samples for us to monitor, and there's probably less things that are going on in general. So that requires us to spend less of our time working with that customer. So, I think it makes a lot of sense the way we handle that, and I hope that people understand that we're we do try to keep it low. Anytime we look at the budget and try to figure out what the fees should be, we try to. Be very careful about how we make those increases because we know that it's an industry that often is, is working in a little bit environment and we don't want to charge more than we have to.
[00:11:24] Kim: And so, another part of this question is, how long does it take to get accredited? And I know we've actually answered that question, I believe in a different episode, but are there any deadlines that it will take X amount of weeks to be accredited for a laboratory or what should they expect if they're new to the process?
[00:11:45] Brian: Yeah, that's always a loaded question. And I get it. I get it a lot actually the how long does it take to get accredited and one of the questions I ask is, well, how familiar how familiar are you with AASHTO R18? Do you know what a quality management system is? If the answer is no, I say at least six months. Because you need to develop a quality management system first. You need to make sure that that quality management system is in conformance with AASHTO R18. And then that's when you want to schedule your assessment. And that's going to take you a while. But because you're new to this concept, you're probably going to run into some issues here or there. So, I would allow yourself some time. I usually tell those labs somewhere around six months though.
[00:12:35] Brian: If they already have a quality management system and they are, they know what's going on. I asked them some questions. They're like, Yep, we have that. We have that we have that I say it would be reasonable for three months. But as long as you can get that assessment scheduled, that's kind of the hard part because you have to reach out. And if you do need AASHTO re:source and CCRL, that is another complication. So, you're working with two assessment providers to get the total scope of services that you need. And it is dependent on availability of staff.
[00:13:07] Kim: Yeah. And I think we go into more detail in that episode specifically. So, I will link to that. But I believe it was an FAQ episode of how long does it take me to get accredited? Don't quote me on that. That's the title. But I think it's something like that. So, do you have any other things that I did not ask you? Those were the only two three on the list that you sent me. So, is there anything else in your inbox that you want to get off your chest?
[00:13:32] Brian: No, there is a ton in my inbox, but those are the those are the big ones that I've been getting lately. I hope it's useful to people to hear this. I know the one about fees is kind of a... It's not real, well understood, but I know it. It can be a frustration when people are dealing with us, they pay a lot for our services and we don't take that for granted, even if it seems like you're not getting the service you expect or you know, you wonder why we're so nitpicky. I guess I should point that one out too. Our objective when we're getting into the into the weeds about certain things is that you get this resolved now and it's never a problem for you again. You know, we want to get you in conformance ultimately, but we also think it's better for you to deal with it. Now. Learn from it and then it should be smooth sailing from here on out. It's especially true for a new lab. We're not going to catch everything. Of course, during the assessments. But what we do catch, we want to make sure you resolve properly.
[00:14:32] Kim: During the back and forth with your quality analyst and whatnot, I think it's important to remember that the goal isn't just to appease your quality analyst. They're there for the standards that you want to be accredited for, right, that you want to be in conformance to. So, that's what they're, that's what their job is, is to make sure that you are fulfilling those requirements of of that. And again, the actual accreditation program has some requirements, but it's not like there's just these hoops of red tape or anything like that, that it's just for fun. It. There is a rhyme and reason for all of those things.
[00:15:05] Brian: So, it's really important that the specifying agencies and the sponsors can rely on the results provided by the AASHTO Accredited labs. And if you're a lab going through the process with us, we really want to set you up for success and help you be as reliable as you can be for those specifying agencies.
[00:15:23] Kim: Exactly. And I will say for some of the listeners out there that are just like Brian keeps mentioning these sponsors, what does he mean? He's referring to the AASHTO member states. So those are the state departments of transportations and that's what he's referring to as sponsors. So, in case there is any confusion, I didn't want to just throw out jargon there.
[00:15:45] Brian: Yeah, thank you for mentioning that because it, yeah, it's uh, it's not sponsors of the podcast. We actually don't have any and we don't have any budget. Well, I guess we have $12.95 a month for our podcast hosting fees, that's our budget.
[00:16:00] Kim: That is, that is but yeah. So I just wanted to make sure that there was jargon out there that listeners knew that sponsors in this case were referred to as the AASHTO member. So [Brian: The DOTs.] the American, the dot is the state dots here. So anything else in this episode you wanted to include?
[00:16:21] Brian: Nope, I think that covers it. Thanks. Thanks for taking the time to go through this with me today and I hope you got some good information out of it.
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