The International Code Council (ICC) Building Safety Month explored the "Training the Next Generation" theme for 2021. We recently met with students graduating from the Portland Community College (PCC) building inspection technology program. Joe Disciascio, a Development Services Inspections Supervisor, spoke with students about becoming an inspector and working for the City of Portland. During his time in their class, Joe shared stories about his work and answered questions from the students.
Joe has been with the construction industry since 1991. He joined the carpenters union in 1996 and in 2004 decided to go back to school. He started in the same PCC program as these students and has worked in the inspections world since 2005. "One of my biggest regrets was not getting into this career earlier," says Joe. The City is a "great place to be."
Q&A with a City Inspector Supervisor about what it's like to be a Inspector for the City of Portland
The students had a number of questions about becoming a City inspector. Some of those questions, and Joe’s responses, include:
What communication skills are most important to you when choosing a new hire?
This is the most important characteristic of this job. The communication skills are what will make your job easy or extremely difficult. You must have different communications styles and you have to adjust your communication style for different customers.
If you leave a job site and the customer doesn't understand what you told them, you'll probably have to come back to do another inspection. You must be able to read and understand people; you have to be compassionate and a good listener.
What are the most vital skills or attributes in new hires?
Willingness to learn, racial equity, customer service, being a team player and being an individual. And it all has to be learned on the job. You need a strong base in customer service or a willingness to learn. We need to be customer advocates; not adversaries. You have to leave your ego at the door; you can't become defensive with customers.
What is the biggest mistake you've made in your career?
When I first started I was pretty young. The contractors wanted to push back on my resume and I was exhausted trying to defend myself; it wasn't a good use of time. I'm keenly aware of public perception, more so now than when I was younger. Even running a yellow light in a City-owned car might mean a phone call about reckless driving.
Do you think that letting contractors know you are new on the job will give you more beneficial leverage or make it worse?
It makes it worse; instead just explain you are new. If they ask more details about your background, ask them to delay until after the inspection is completed. Happy to do a call with you later.
How much does job experience count in consideration of a position as an inspector? Do you require it?
Not required, but job experience is a plus. Reference it in your responses. Of the most recent recruitments I posted, most people who applied were new. Don't let a lack of experience get you down. The industry is changing; other skills like communications and training are also important.
When is somebody ready to apply? Can you apply before you get certified?
This depends on the jurisdiction. In Oregon, you should have all of your certification to make it through the Human Resources review. In Washington, you can begin to apply with your first certification.
Start applying when you get your certifications- you don't have to wait until you have your Associates Degree.
If you could tell your younger self a secret about working in the industry that would make it easier on him, what would it be?
It's fun and exciting when you start. But, corrections are not entertainment. You must spend time with customers and try to help them avoid corrections when you can. Your code book is a tool. You can direct a customer to follow the code book without telling them how to design a project. It's allowing the customer to get the job completed. Strictly follow the letter of the code, especially as a new hire.
For a new hire, would you recommend trying to get your first job in a large or small jurisdiction and why?
Get a job wherever you can get a job. With small jurisdictions, you can do both commercial and residential inspections. If you become a one-person shop, you have no one to ask questions or to share ideas with. You quickly build a rapport in the industry; get a job that gets your foot in the door. You can always use it to learn and then move on later.
How will inspection and plan review evolve over the next 10 years? What skills should the savvy new inspector be developing that maybe are currently overlooked?
Grow your customer service skills and your technical skills. You'll use an iPad, laptop, Teams and Zoom video calls and more in your job. You must adapt to changes to continue to evolve.
You must be willing to embrace racial equity. Racism and discrimination are still embedded in our society. I challenge you to investigate and learn on your own. Working for the City means working for the people and we need to start first with the people who have had the hardest time accessing our services.
Can you share three tips that will put me ahead of my peers when applying for the same position?
- I recommend that you go through some panel interviews with local jurisdictions to get some practice. You'll have several people asking you questions. It's nerve-racking.
- Learn about the jurisdiction, their goals and initiatives that are important to them. Bringing these up in an interview shows you are invested in working there. Listen carefully to the interview questions and answer the entire question- it may be in several parts.
- Obtain as many certifications as you can. When I applied for a commercial inspector job initially, I didn't get the job. But, the City encouraged me to apply for a residential inspections job and I got that one.
Is it normal to bring a pad of paper and to take notes during interviews?
Yes, absolutely, You can bring one with you or they might even give you one.
Can you ask for questions to be repeated?
Yes, but don't stall for time. Do take a moment to think through the question; do ask for a moment to compose your thoughts if needed.
Are interviews done in person or on the phone?
Both. Be prepared for calls or in-person interviews as it is different everywhere.
How long do City of Portland inspections job interviews take?
20-30 minutes is common. Administrator jobs may take several hours.
Some companies have become more casual as far as applicant/employee physical appearance. Would you say that this is a more traditional industry as far as "dress code" or things like tattoos?
Tattoos are body art! Some jurisdictions may be biased, that is not the case in Portland. Dress professionally, but we don't expect a suit and tie.
Public perception, I'm a little concerned about my long beard and hair. Should I be?
I wish I had a picture of my staff. They have beards, long hair, tattoos and it's perfectly fine. You may need to tie back your hair or trim your beard for safety reasons. But, it won't affect your chances of your job.
Can you describe the training for a new hire inspector?
After required Human Resources training, you will get placed with two to three weeks' worth of ride-a-longs. You'll see how we go about our days, as well as our policies and procedures. The first week, you will take notes and learn our computer system. During the second week, we'll let you take the lead on the inspections and we'll answer questions and give you input. By the third week, you will be ready to run inspections on your own. If you need more time, we'll give you more time in ride-a-longs and working with senior inspectors.
Compensation similar between Plan Examinations & Field Inspections?
Yes and no. Residential plans examiner is less than residential or commercial inspections staff. But the higher level plans examiner jobs pay more than the inspector jobs.
Is the City of Portland entertaining CWE (Cooperative Work Experience) interns yet?
It is on hold due to COVID.
Can we expect to not hear anything back if not chosen to interview? Or will there be a courtesy "no thank you"?
Yes, you'll get an email either way. The hiring manager won't have details at a large jurisdiction like Portland.
What questions do you ask in interviews?
I'll ask you about communication styles. Tell me about a time a communication style didn't work, what did you do? Tell me about a customer service experience where you advocated for the customer.
Best advice you have to give to someone new to the industry?
Be open to any position you can get into. Once you are in the industry and gaining experience, it changes your resume quickly and makes it easier for you to do well in interviews.
International Code Council inspector job outlook
The International Code Council welcomes a new generation of members and leaders to the building safety profession. Some information about the job outlook for code officials from the Building Safety Month website:
- Median salary $50,000-$75,000
- 75% of people in this profession are ages 45-64.
- Common jobs in this field include: plan review, building inspector, department manager, residential inspector, mechanical inspector
Also, the ICC states that over the next 15 years, the building industry will lose about 80% of the existing skilled workforce. It could be a good time to think about becoming an inspector.