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The Building Code Profession Is Dying Out, and That's a Problem

Discussion in 'Industry News' started by mark handler, Oct 19, 2018.

  1. mark handler

    mark handler Sawhorse

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    The Building Code Profession Is Dying Out, and That's a Problem
    Jake Blumgart
    https://www.citylab.com/life/2017/02/the-building-code-profession-is-dying-out-and-thats-a-problem/515826/
    Many of the officials who check construction plans and inspect buildings for safety are on the cusp of retirement—and they’re not being replaced.
    At professional events, George Williams is used to being surrounded by people many decades his senior. The Salt Lake City-area building inspector is 34, which makes him a young gun in an aging workforce.
    His role as the lone youth among venerable peers began when he first started attending professional networking and training events in 2010. Williams would walk into a continuing education course or an event held by the local chapter of the International Code Council (ICC) and he’d be one of the few people without gray hair.
    “Without fail, I was the youngest person in the room, every single time,” says Williams. “Not slightly younger, but dramatically younger than nearly everyone else.”
    In early 2014, his curiosity piqued, Williams asked the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing if he could view their records on the demographics of the state’s building code professionals. The department wouldn’t give him names or addresses, but it emailed him a spreadsheet with the ages of every building inspector in the state.
    A crisis in numbers
    Upon crunching the numbers, Williams found a looming crisis. It turns out that 60 percent of the statewide industry is close to retirement. And Utah isn’t an outlier, as he found a few months later when the ICC and the National Institute of Building Sciences released a report with disturbingly similar findings. “It comes as little surprise that the current workforce is aging and making plans for retirement,” the authors write. “However, the actual numbers are a bit alarming.”
    That’s putting it mildly. Eighty-five percent of the respondents to ICC’s survey were over the age of 45. Only three percent were under 35. Most of them were looking to get out of the game in the near future: Eighty percent planned to retire within 15 years, and a full 30 percent within five.
    Building code officials can serve as managers, plan reviewers (checking construction plans to make sure they’re up to par), or inspectors—or they can wear two or three of those hats at once. Inspectors are tasked with ensuring that new buildings (and renovations of old ones) have been built safely and responsibly. They carefully check that everything is braced and wired and insulated to meet the requirements of the local codes.
    Inspections protect against developers and landlords who endanger people by trying to build or repair a property on the cheap, or in ignorance of safety standards. Without them, the result could be a building collapse or faulty wiring that causes a fire. The Ghost Ship tragedy in Oakland last year underscored the importance of codes and inspections.
    Not only does building inspection serve a clear societal purpose, it’s the type of middle-class job that is in increasingly short supply. Only a high school diploma is needed for an entry-level position as a code official, and the median income is about $57,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ICC survey found that the median salary range was between $50,000 and $75,000, with a fifth of respondents earning up to $100,000. Job security, pay, and benefits were the top reasons respondents gave for joining the ranks.
    Construction rates are healthy—there is plenty of need for building inspectors’ services. And theirs aren’t skills that can be easily automated. So why are their ranks dwindling?
    A low-profile job with less stability
    Williams’s explanation for his industry’s grim state is multifaceted. For one thing, it simply isn’t a job that very many people know exists. The profession is relatively small, with the BLS counting 101,200 “construction and building inspectors” in 2014.
    It also isn’t the most glamorous field of all time. “There aren’t any grade-school children right now who are drawing pictures or writing papers about becoming a building inspector,” Williams says. “I think this profession finds you rather than you finding it.”
    George Williams in the field (Courtesy of George Williams)
    Like many of his compatriots, Williams found the job through the building trades. Historically, people have gravitated from the trades to codes work because it’s steadier than construction, which is more vulnerable to the boom and bust of the real estate cycle.
    The career wasn’t one Williams intended to pursue at first. He started attending community college for construction management. When he got a job with a local engineering firm, they asked him to get further training so he could do building inspections for them. It took him two more years to get fully certified, but even then, it didn’t seem like a long-term career.
    “It thought it would just be a chapter,” says Williams. “But in 2008 the economy was down, construction was down. The thought of entering a construction company as the low man on the totem pole was not very appealing. The stability did become appealing at that point.”
    Most code official positions are in state and local government. Williams is unusual, in that he worked first for an engineering firm and now for a building code consulting firm. By his estimate, 90 percent of people in the industry are employed in the public sector; both of his employers have received much of their work from government entities.
    The industry is having a hard time attracting new recruits in part because the stability that attracted Williams is no longer the norm. The public sector took a beating after the Great Recession, with the number of government employees plummeting after the downturn and taking far longer to recover than private-sector employment did.
    Pay for those who remained actually fell.
    The benefits that compensate public workers for lower pay are coming under threat, too.
    The industry is having a hard time attracting new recruits in part because the stability that attracted Williams is no longer the norm.
    “During the downturn, cities were laying off some of their building department staff who had been there for 15 or 20 years,” says Williams. “That historical sense that working for the local government is an incredibly secure job went out the window. The sense of permanence is no longer there. That’s been detrimental to those switching careers [from the private sector].”
    Countering the retirement wave
    The ICC is trying to stave off an inspector shortage.
    It sponsors a program in technical high schools that teaches students in major construction trades—like electrical, plumbing, and mechanical—how to navigate the code.
    The program “incorporates a hands-on component to allow students ... to directly apply what they learn in the code book to an actual construction project,” the ICC’s vice president of membership, Ron Piester, writes in an email. The idea is to both improve code compliance and make the pipeline from the trades to codes roles more explicit.
    The organization has also launched an initiative to improve recruitment and formed an emerging leaders council.

    Cities around the world like LA, London, and Mumbai, are creating an electric future to change the way we live.
    In Utah, the regional manager of Williams’ company reached out to the department of licensing and proposed an educational program to train more inspectors.
    The state already uses 1 percent of building permit fees to pay for continuing education for contractors and inspectors. Williams and his colleagues got $30,000 of it.
    They used that slim outlay to develop a test-prep series with 41 two-hour sessions spread over two years. So far, 36 people have been licensed through the program.
    (Inspectors are certified by the ICC and licensed by their state.)
    They didn’t stop there. This spring, Williams’s company will launch an online Building Code Academy, which will offer test prep and training videos at $200 a course.
    The company has hired four inspectors under the age of 35 in Utah, and more in California.
    Still, Williams is worried for the future of his industry. He believes that without returning to an employment paradigm closer to the pre-recession norm, the retirement cliff will continue to loom.
    It used to be that jurisdictions would hire a junior inspector to train under a senior inspector, whom they would eventually replace. Now that they want to do more with less, those junior inspectors aren’t getting hired.
    “The cities are trying to have smaller building departments and trying to accomplish more work with less people,” Williams says. “As a result of that, the cities aren’t willing to invest in an individual who does not have the training and experience. That’s where this gap has grown.”
     
    Ty J. likes this.
  2. cda

    cda Sawhorse

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    I am thinking it is like any business, people come people go.

    Someone is always looking for a job, and does not appear cities have problem filling openings.

    Yes a large group may retire, but he group that replace them will go through the same thing 20-40 years down the line.

    I saw that with the fire dept. I work with, when I first started there were a large group with around 20 years in, at the 30 year mark they started retiring,

    Now there is a group of youngsters in, that will go out in 30 years.


    Yes newbies need training, but most of us did also, when we started. Can there be programs to interest people to be inspectors, yes. would help.
     
  3. inspecterbake

    inspecterbake Sawhorse

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    I know what you are talking about I work for a municipality and our neighboring inspector is retiring at the end of the year. I was approached by his board to take his position which I declined. I have worked with them for 13 years trading services if he was off I would cover his inspections which he did the same for me. Now they have worked out an inter-municipal agreement for myself to do there inspections. I have 10 more years until I retire and every inspector around here is either retired working part time or ready to retire. I have told my supervisors that they need to start looking ahead but they are not seeing what we as inspectors are realizing that 10 years from now or sooner the inspection pool is going to be sparse.
     
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  4. JCraver

    JCraver Sawhorse

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    When the vast majority of the country treats these jobs as second-class, offers embarrassing starting wages, and makes advancement beyond the code desk impossible, this is what you get.

    There's no way to make this job glamorous, or popular. If you want young talent, you're going to have to pay enough to make them look past other careers. When a brand new IT guy makes more than a 10-year veteran building inspector, which job do you think a kid is going to want more?
     
  5. steveray

    steveray Sawhorse

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    For the most part, they just don't care.....If we do our jobs perfectly,....nothing ever happens.....If we suck, maybe nothing happens or at least the municipality doesn't get sued and that is all they will recognize. The fact that shoddy construction leads to expensive buildings to maintain which stunts growth and raises costs alludes them. When the grand list goes to pot because all of the buildings are shot, maybe they will start looking at it differently.....
     
  6. fatboy

    fatboy Administrator

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  7. Pcinspector1

    Pcinspector1 Platinum Member

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    Pretty glamours job being a codes inspector, I'm sure ICE will attest to that!
     
  8. Sifu

    Sifu Gold Member

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    I have said many times, our job is only ever recognized when something goes wrong. Nobody ever talks about the building that didn't burn down, or the bridge that didn't collapse. That is just part of the job, I don't think many people get into this business to be recognized and those that do I rarely want to be around.

    I have been in the business of contracting and inspections for more than 2 decades, but I am not sure I see myself ending my career in this field. I continue to work on a degree in a different field with the thought that someday I will get out.

    BTW, in the last two years my department has had a 100% turnover. We have lost more people than we employ, with many positions turning over more than once.
     
  9. fatboy

    fatboy Administrator

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    ^^^

    Interesting, I took over as CBO 13 years ago with a staff of ten. I had one inspector leave for private sector, he came back to work for me 6 years later, one permit tech retired, one plans examiner passed away, and I terminated one. Virtually no turnover.

    Guess I am lucky.........
     
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  10. JCraver

    JCraver Sawhorse

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    It's not a "cool" job. I'll bet any of you a years worth of Sawhorse membership that when you were in HS your dream job was not as a building inspector..

    HS kid looks at a job someone has and thinks, "Man his/her job is so awesome, I'm going to go to college so I can do that!" A code pro's job is not that, by any stretch of any imagination.

    The rest of the HS kids look at someone else's job and think, "Man he/she makes soooooo much money, I'm going to go to college so I can do that!!" Not one kid anywhere ever has thought that about a guy who's a building inspector.
     
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  11. Sifu

    Sifu Gold Member

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    My dream job was architect, even had classes in it......IN HIGH SCHOOL! At least I stayed in the same general field.
     
  12. Sifu

    Sifu Gold Member

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    Yeah, I am not implying the field itself drove all the people away, though the job has changed a lot and could cause a lot of the seasoned vets to want out. A good BO, good director, good city manager, good council.............all have a hand in code official satisfaction. Sounds like your organization has been able to weather the changes better than some others.
     
  13. mark handler

    mark handler Sawhorse

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    Not as dreamy as you might think....I is one.
     
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  14. Sifu

    Sifu Gold Member

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    I thought that comment would get a second look from some of you. I guess its like most other professions, it's work and it pays the bills. Good days and bad days and all that.
     
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  15. Keystone

    Keystone Sawhorse

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    I for one have zero regrets in leaving the trades and becoming an inspector, it may not be a glamouros job but it certainly can be what you make it!

    A pending shortage, I believe so. Pennsylvania completed voluntary feedback from code officials and I do not recall the exact numbers but the average age throughout is very near typical retirement. When I attend seminars, I see a few guys and gals that are around 40 however it is a small percentage of the room.

    Pay, throughout Pa. The scale varies wildly and again the voluntary feedback from code officials was an average wage of about 52K with top tier being 100K. JCarver is correct, a new IT rep usually has a starting salary higher than our industries capped of top tier.

    Attracting talent, easier said then done. Finding people who want to self study is difficult. Frankly IMO it's the unknown of the self study, getting over the first hurdle. The size alone of the residential code book can appear daunting to a newbie.
     
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  16. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    Everybody's worst fear:

    [​IMG]
     
  17. mtlogcabin

    mtlogcabin Sawhorse

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    7 man department 3 of us can go any day we want to pull the plug. In reality 2 will be here at least 2 years and the other one at least a year. The other 4 are all under 45 and are eager to grow and learn the multi inspection disciplines we cover as a AHJ.
     
  18. ICE

    ICE Sawhorse

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    So what exactly is meant by "dying out". There's no shortage of building inspectors. There's no shortage of people who want to be an inspector. Run an ad in the paper and hundreds will apply. Ask any building official what's the state of inspections......You will witness glowing accolades being heaped upon the department.


    "Attracting talent, easier said then done." Damned near impossible I'd say.
     
    #18 ICE, Oct 19, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2018
  19. fatboy

    fatboy Administrator

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    Yeah.........not so much. I was out for both a plumbing and electrical inspector this past year.....had trouble finding 3-5 applicants worth interviewing. I got lucky and found both.

    In regards to my post above, one position was replacing the deceased Plans Examiner (also a plumbing inspector), the other replacing the electrical inspector that was terminated in 2007.
     
  20. mark handler

    mark handler Sawhorse

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    We are having a heck of a time finding "Qualified inspectors". Plenty of wantabees but not qualified. Passing a test does not make you qualified. regardless what ICC or the State says.
     

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