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Q&A with Portland Community College (PCC) Commercial Building Codes Students for Building Safety Month

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City of Portland inspector wearing high-visibility vest and carrying clipboard and safety glasses
"Building Safety Careers" is a key theme for the International Code Council (ICC) Building Safety Month in 2022. Joe Disciascio, Inspections Supervisor, met with students from the PCC Building Inspection Technology program to talk about being an inspector and working for the City of Portland.
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One of the themes of the International Code Council (ICC) Building Safety Month for 2022 is “Building Safety Careers." We recently met with students from the Portland Community College (PCC) Commercial Building Codes 3 program. Joe Disciascio, a Development Services Inspections Supervisor, spoke with students about working for the City of Portland and becoming an inspector. Joe shared stories with the students about what he’s learned in his years on the job and answered student questions.   

Joe Disciascio started with the construction industry since 1991. He joined the carpenters’ union in 1996 and in 2004 went back to school for Building Inspection and Plan Review. Joe has worked in inspections for close to 20 years.  Joe started as a building inspector, became cross-trained in combo inspections, was a senior inspector for several years and then became a supervisor. Today, Joe oversees Residential Inspections. Read what questions inspections students had for the seasoned inspector and then search all City of Portland job openings

Day-to-day responsibilities of an inspector 

What kind of problem-solving would a building inspector or a plans examiner encounter? 

One of the hardest things is understanding the intent of the code. We might all think it means something different. We must navigate the code the best we can. Don’t second-guess yourself; wrong calls will happen. Be willing to accept that and be willing to work on it. You’ll come across contractors who know more than you do about the code. That can be challenging! Leave your ego at the door and if a contractor says they disagree, talk with them to learn more. Learning will only improve your performance.  

The code book is a prescriptive tool you can use to help the customer to get to compliance. You can give them instructions and help for how to correct a problem in a way that helps the customer- and it helps build relationships. 

What are the safety requirements?  

For clothing, you should wear steel-toed boots, wear durable pants (no sweatpants) and your shirts must have sleeves. Sometimes job sites require more safety equipment like hard hats- we'll provide that for you. We follow OSHA requirements.  

What about tattoos, beards or piercings?  

If the tattoos don’t have offensive language, tattoos, beards and piercings are totally fine. 

Is there a dress code for inspectors? 

We just ask for clean clothes that are representative of the professional role. And in response to a related question, bib overalls are ok to wear while working.  

What's a typical day for a building inspector?  

  1. You’ll get a list of inspections to make your route as efficient as possible. 
  2. You must make sure all prerequisites are in place.  
  3. You’ll be on your own, working on inspections all day.  
  4. Inspectors are mobile and do not typically come to the office in the morning or at the end of the day. 

Experience, qualifications and certifications to become a City of Portland inspector  

What skills do inspectors need to have? 

Communications skills are important to this role; so are recognizing cues from people. Taking the time to explain something to an inexperienced customer will benefit both of you. You can help customers get to the finish line by spending a little extra time with them the first time you meet.  

You'll adapt your communications skills over time. You might be nervous at first, and it can take years before you truly feel comfortable, especially with the different trainings and teachings you’ll receive. It can be challenging to keep conversations on task and that will be part of what you adapt to doing, too. A willingness to learn is critical! You’ll have a lot of upset people if you don’t hear what someone is telling you. 

You must be a team player- not just an individual. You’ll run behind or need to move on and need help from your team. Being trustworthy is very important too. 

Racial Equity training is critical. It’s a difficult conversation to have and it can be difficult to learn, but this will come up often in your career. For our Equity training, we sometimes have guest speakers, and our Equity team will provide training classes. We’ve done more intensive training, too.  

What’s an entry-level inspector position at BDS?  

Building Inspector II and Combo Inspector. In order to qualify for entry-level inspections roles, you need your commercial structural or mechanical and residential structural and mechanical certifications and your Oregon Inspector Certifications (OIC) from the State. 

What kind of training do you require and how long does it take? 

The schooling that you go through now is part of your training. Then it will take a couple of years of growing pains- working with senior inspectors and learning from mistakes.  

Do you consider an applicant’s GPA? 

We just need to know if you are certified. That’s a pass/fail test.  

What are the requirements for an electrical inspector? 

  • Apprenticeship first, then a journeyman to be able to sit for that test 

  • Reach out to Joe Disciascio if you have an electrical inspection background, he is hiring right now for a couple of roles.  

Can I sit for the Certified Electrical Inspector Certification Program Inspections test with an electrical engineering degree?

Yes.  

What are the experience requirements? 

Job experience isn’t a requirement but it’s great if you have it. I have a direct report who was a teacher. Another staff member worked in Human Resources for the City of Portland.  

What qualifications and certifications are needed for entry-level positions? 

Get as many as you can! Take as many certifications as you can. Everywhere you apply will have different qualifications and you want to be ready. You need commercial and residential certifications to work for Portland.  

Is a permit technician certificate helpful? 

For a permit technician, yes. It won’t help with inspections jobs.  

Are there any opportunities for co-op experience? Any co-op program with schools?  

No, not right now. But maybe in the future. 

Is the City looking for internal and/or external candidates for positions? 

Both- it really depends on the role.  

Do you have any tips for what to put or not put on your resume? 

Make sure your resume directly addresses the requirements for the role and uses keywords from the job descriptions. Every jurisdiction has different things they look for in new employees. Larger jurisdictions use keyword software to scan resumes.  

What to expect in inspector interviews  

Tips to help us have an advantage when applying for inspector roles?  

  1. Put yourself through panel interviews anytime you can, even in jurisdictions where you don’t want to work, in order to practice! This will help with calming your nerves and preparing you for interviews.  
  2. Learn about the jurisdiction you are applying for by reading up on their website. If you can work website keywords or buzzwords into your answers, the jurisdiction will know you are invested in working with them. “I noticed on the website it said...and I really feel that...” 
  3. Obtain as many certificates as you can. We tend to put you in a specific area, but you still need to know something about the other areas of inspections.  
  4. In some jurisdictions you can use all of your knowledge right away and more certifications will help you get promotions.  
  5. Customer service skills, demeanor, body language and tone all affect the interview experience.  
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I am more concerned if I DON’T get any questions from new inspectors.  
  7. If you’re thinking about whether to get a job in a small or large jurisdiction, just apply and take a job to gain experience.  Get your experience where you can! 

Any suggestions for how to answer questions in an interview? 

Prepare. You might have 20 years in an inspector’s position and a couple of wrong words might mean losing the job. 

Most jurisdictions have a scoring system, and we must score your answers. We don’t score your job experience; we look at how you answered each question. We’ll evaluate whether someone answered an entire question. We’ll also consider whether the answer included examples. And of course, we’ll decide if the answer made sense. 

A lot of my on-the-job examples had negative outcomes. Is there a way to turn these negative outcomes into a positive interview experience?

It's OK to have a negative outcome. Focus on how you would do things differently in the future.  

For a multi-part interview question, can you take notes?  

Yes, you can take notes and the City of Portland will give you the questions a few minutes ahead of time. Expect to attend panel interviews, which can be nerve-wracking.  

Will there be code questions in interviews?  

That depends on the jurisdiction. Some will ask these questions, and some don't.

Responsibilities of an inspector  

As a building inspector, how much do you rely on the expertise of the builders or contractors to help you understand what's going on with a specific project?  

Sometimes you take in a lot of information from contractors and sometimes you won’t want to hear what they have to say. You must stay focused on what’s at hand and not what you’re being told.  

The first thing I often ask is “What are we looking at today?” Then they show me the plans and after we look at their plans, I ask for more information like “What are you looking for today?” This can help keep the inspection on-task.  

Have you ever felt pressure to pass an inspection you knew wasn't ready to pass? 

Yes, all the time when you write corrections. That slows down the process and no one wants that, so people will try to apply pressure.  

On-the-job inspector experiences and learnings  

What mistakes have you made on the job?  

I used to get defensive when asked about my resume. Then I realized I didn’t need to be on the defensive. If someone seems argumentative, keep your tone of voice calm and explain things in a way that shows you are there to help contractors become compliant. You’ll quickly see how the attitude will change.  

Code is the absolute building minimum; try to help customers set the bar a little higher. 

What secret would you tell yourself now? 

Try to help customers move forward with their project. What you get in return is really gratifying. 

Inspector job outlook and resources for new inspectors  

According to a 2014 survey, over the next 15 years, the building industry will lose about 80% of the existing skilled workforce. It's a great time to think about becoming an inspector. 

Search all City of Portland job openings. Read about the Code Council’s Safety 2.0 initiative and check out all of the Building Safety Month resources and events. And learn more about the Building Inspector Technology program at PCC