Bentonville, Arkansas has become the mountain biking capital of the world. The city’s 70 miles of trails connect to the expansive 400-mile Oz trail system that winds throughout scenic northwest Arkansas. In December 2022, the U.S. National Mountain Biking Team announced that top cyclists will use Bentonville and the surrounding area for training and skills-development camps leading up to the World Cup racing season, with the long-term goal of winning gold at the 2028 Olympic Games.
This growing industry of bicycle shops and world-class trails wouldn’t be possible without skilled bicycle assembly and repair technicians and skilled trail maintenance personnel. NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) selected NOCTI as its certification partner, working with industry leaders to develop a nationally standardized accreditation exam and certification for trail building and maintenance competencies.
Certification Answers the Need for Skilled Bike and Trail Technicians
In November 2020, the Bicycle Industry Employers Association approached NWACC with a request. Demand for mountain bikes had spiked during the pandemic and employers wanted a program to train technicians and validate their skills. A technical program and certification to validate skills would help professionalize the industry by defining competencies and setting standards for curriculum.
In August 2021, with a grant from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, NWACC launched a Bicycle Assembly and Repair program. The program’s mission is to prepare students for immediate employment in technical positions in the bicycle industry, including preparing students with the skills needed to meet challenges, think critically, solve problems, and position themselves for future success.
With a training program for bicycle technicians up and running, NWACC began planning its next initiative: a certification to evaluate skills needed for the technical aspects of planning, building, and maintaining mountain biking trails. But before they could begin, they needed to find a third-party credentialing partner to develop the assessment based on defined competencies and input from subject matter experts. This effort is supported by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.
Workshop and Certification Development With NOCTI
For NWACC, NOCTI was the logical choice for a certification partner. With over 55 years of experience developing standardized and customized credentialing solutions, NOCTI is an organization accredited to ISO 17024 standards and known for developing high-quality assessments. Additionally, creating a credentialing assessment with a third-party organization ensures independent development and verification, reducing any actual or perceived conflict of interest.
The first step of the certification development process was to define the standards, and the work took place over a rigorous three-day workshop. NOCTI facilitated the sessions which included industry experts from over ten organizations and associations including the Trailblazers, American Trails, Trail Design Specialists, Professional Trail Builders Association, and the National Trails Advisory Group.
The workshop’s goal was to gather input from subject matter experts, prioritize essential skills and competencies, and develop assessment items.
“The workshop was such a productive experience,” said Megan Bolinder, executive director of NWACC’s bicycle and trails program. “Everything was so well organized, and the material presented like a brilliant lesson plan. Dr. Tina Koepf, a psychometrician at NOCTI/NBS, was adept at incorporating insights from a diverse group of stakeholders. By the end of the workshop, we had formulated the 127 items for the assessment. It was an intensive process, but exciting to see the assessment take shape in front of us!”
NOCTI and NWACC are now working through the next steps which will include pilot testing the assessment over the next year. The certification’s official release is slated for fall 2024, in tandem with the new trails training program from NWACC.
Supporting the Growing Bicycle and Trails Industry
Defining competencies for trail building and developing a certification to evaluate those skills will help employers and skilled trail builders as the industry grows. Employees can earn recognition for their skills and employers can ensure trail builders have the relevant skills needed to build safe and ecologically sustainable trails.
“Mountain biking has had such a positive impact on our communities,” said Bolinder. “Not only will these programs and certifications advance careers and support local economies, but they will also help us build spaces for people to be active and enjoy our state’s natural beauty. Mountain biking also has enormous potential as an active transportation solution, especially for communities without ready access to public transportation.”
NOCTI is proud to be NWACC’s credentialing partner and excited to be a part of this initiative. Our contribution not only benefits the people of Arkansas but extends to mountain bike enthusiasts worldwide!