Graham Brent is a well-known person in the crane and rigging industry. For the last 23 years, he ran the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO).

His association with the crane industry goes back to 1979, however, when he took a job as editorial assistant at Cranes Today Magazine.

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”Until the education system gets fixed it’s going to be incumbent on those industries that provide solid, well-paying careers that do not require a college degree to promote themselves.”  Graham Brent, CEO, NCCCO Foundation

“I’ve been hooked on cranes ever since,” said Brent. “It’s been a remarkable 40-year journey and I have to say I’m delighted it’s continuing through my involvement with the newly formed NCCCO Foundation.”

Brent said the establishment of the NCCCO Foundation was the fulfillment of a long-held desire by the Board of Directors of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) to create a nurturing environment for some of the adjunct activities that NCCCO had come to be involved in since it was formed in 1995.

“Engagement in workforce development, original research studies, and industry education was a natural outgrowth of NCCCO’s certification activities,” he said. “Transferring them to a separate entity (the Foundation) provided them with a dedicated home and allowed NCCCO to focus solely on certification program development and administration, which has always been its primary purpose of course.”

I have been curious about the Foundation ever since the news was released that it had been formed and Brent would head it up. With the Foundation getting up to speed and already producing results, now was a good time to check in with Brent and report on all facets of the organization.

Two years into the Foundation, what have been the initial achievements?

It’s true that the Foundation was formally established back in 2018 when we received our IRS determination as a 501(c)3 Charitable Organization. But for various reasons, not the least of which was my commitment to a smooth transition of all NCCCO operations to incoming CEO, Thom Sicklesteel, the Foundation’s first main activity really did not occur until October 2019 when we presented the Fourth Industry Forum on Personnel Qualifications. Since then, though, we have seen a flurry of activity with the publication of two reports based on original research, the development of two online directories that assist employers with operator certification compliance, and, just last month, the production of the Fifth Industry Forum, the most successful event to date.

How is the Foundation funded?

NCCCO provided the initial seed money to get the Foundation up and running and continues to be the primary source of its ongoing funding. However, as time goes by it’s likely the Foundation will also be seeking grants for activities that align with its mission, and will be reaching out to the industry for support as needed.

What made you choose crane operator evaluation as the first study for publication?

All the information we were receiving regarding employers’ understanding of their new requirements under OSHA’s revised crane operator qualifications rule was largely anecdotal. We wanted to gather some hard data that could throw some light on how well the new requirements were understood and being applied in practice. Our findings, published earlier this year (http://www.ncccofoundation.org/employers-respond-to-crane-operator-evaluation-requirements) indicated that, at least as far as the hundred or so employers who responded, most had a pretty good understanding of what is now required, but there are also some significant areas that need to be addressed. It’s also pretty clear that those who delve into the Preamble to the Rule have gained a much greater awareness of OSHA’s intent, which will stand them in good stead when the Compliance Directive is published.

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One of the Directories you mentioned is the Most Similar Certifications Directory; why is that so important?

The Most Similar Certifications Directory is probably the most significant initiative the Foundation has undertaken to date. It takes its name from the phrase in OSHA’s operator qualifications rule that states if no accredited testing agency offers a certification for a particular type of crane, an operator will be deemed to have complied with its certification requirements if he or she has been certified for the type that is most similar to the crane for which a certification is available. OSHA recognized it was not in the best position to make those determinations, so NCCCO established the Crane Type Advisory Group (CTAG) almost four years ago. Since then, CTAG has met over a dozen times and made determinations about more than 20 specific crane types and/or crane installations in response to requests from employers, training firms, regulators and other industry stakeholders. A full listing of CTAG’s “most similar” determinations can be found at www.ncccofoundation.org/most-similar. CTAG operates under the auspices of the Foundation and is staffed by some of the foremost experts in the industry with many decades of crane experience. Anyone with a concern about the most appropriate certification for a particular type of crane can email CTAG at cranetype@ncccofoundation.org for a determination.

What is the working relationship between the Foundation and NCCCO?

While the Foundation clearly supports NCCCO’s mission of promoting best practices in certification program and development, the two organizations enjoy an “arm’s length” relationship that allows the Foundation the freedom to engage with the industry and its issues from an independent perspective. For example, one of the first Foundation initiatives was the creation of the Who’s Accredited? Directory of certification bodies. The Directory (available at http://www.ncccofoundation.org/whos-accredited) provides guidance to employers on which organizations are accredited to provide certifications as required by OSHA, along with their specific programs. The Foundation lists all the certification bodies who meet either ANSI or NCCA accreditation not just NCCCO. While this is not something NCCCO would likely have done itself, it fell directly in line with the Foundation’s mission of providing independent, authoritative and reliable information about an important industry issue. Also, when the Foundation published its ground-breaking report on the potential for virtual reality technology in certification testing (http://www.ncccofoundation.org/can-virtual-reality-play-a-role-in-certification) this did not in any way commit NCCCO to adopt VR and, in fact, our understanding is that they have no plans to do so.

What is the Foundation’s strategy in terms of workforce development?

Promoting the opportunities offered by the skilled trades, and the crane and rigging industries in particular, is a central part of the Foundation’s mission. That’s why we have continued to support Lift and Move USA, among other initiatives such as YouthBuild Philly and ACE Mentor Program, in their efforts to make educators and students alike aware of the long-term career potential that these industries can provide. The tragedy and, frankly, the shame of the U.S. education system is the way in which it encourages high schoolers into a college track without any thought or responsibility for what happens to them after they enroll. How ethically or morally responsible is that when almost half those students won’t graduate and of those that do, many remain unemployed and saddled with tuition debt? Until the education system gets fixed it’s going to be incumbent on those industries that provide solid, well-paying careers that do not require a college degree to promote themselves and the pathways to that employment.

Covid-19 has been an issue for meetings and events, including the Foundation’s Industry Forum. What do you envision for future Forums?

There’s no doubt that the global tragedy of COVID-19 has scuppered plans for so many in-person events. While we all miss the chemistry of one-on-one networking, there has been an upside to this pandemic in that we have all had to up our game with respect to operating and collaborating effectively in a virtual environment. Online events, like the 5th Industry Forum on Personnel Qualifications, have also provided an opportunity for participation by those who would never have been able to attend in person, a fact that’s reflected in the more than doubling of registrations compared to the 2019 event. So we’re reaching more people with important safety information and that can’t be a bad thing. Depending on participant feedback, I think there’s a real chance the Industry Forum could continue with a virtual platform.

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The Foundation’s first main activity was the Fourth Industry Forum on Personnel Qualifications in October 2019. Last month, due to the global pandemic, the Foundation hosted the online Fifth Industry Forum on Personnel Qualifications, which provided an opportunity for participation by those who would never have been able to attend in person, a fact that’s reflected in the more than doubling of registrations compared to the 2019 event.

What is on the agenda for future Foundation projects?

While continuing to pursue opportunities to consolidate its role as a consistently dependable source of safety information for the construction industry, the NCCCO Foundation is committed to developing a philanthropic system that will not only provide information about career opportunities to youth and other underserved communities, but will establish a solid platform of education about safety that will also contribute to industry in a meaningful way. NCCCO has a long history of facilitating military transition (as a founding member of the Coalition for Professional Certification (CPC), NCCCO successfully lobbied Congress in 1999 to expand the Montgomery G.I. Bill to provide reimbursement of certification fees) and the Foundation continues to participate in Veterans Transition Conferences and American Legion Credentialing Summits, exploring ways to expedite veterans’ transition through appropriate credentialing pathways. Little has been done in other areas of transition however, such as offenders re-entering the workforce, and that is an area in which the Foundation hopes to make an impact in due course.

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The NCCCO Foundation supports Lift and Move USA, among other initiatives, in its efforts to make educators and students alike aware of the long-term career potential that the crane and rigging industries can provide. 

You mention developing a “philanthropic system.” What plans do you have for that?

It will be a while before the Foundation is able to provide much in terms of financial assistance for those seeking access to the industry through certification, but I am delighted to announce the very first grant that has been made available through the generosity of the Shinn family in memory of Kenny Shinn who passed away last year. Kenny was an extraordinarily active participant in NCCCO exam development, a huge proponent of certification even before NCCCO was established and a serving NCCCO Commissioner. His legacy is memorialized in the Kenneth J. Shinn Memorial Scholarship which is being readied now for introduction next year. We are truly excited at the impact this and other grants and scholarships will make in furthering the mission of the NCCCO Foundation by assisting those who might not otherwise have the opportunity of employment in this remarkable industry.