A survey conducted by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) for the International Code Council (ICC) reveals a ‘mass exodus’ of building safety professionals over the next several years. In fact, 80 percent of respondents plan to retire within the next 15 years, with 30 percent planning to hang it up in the next five years.

The survey also revealed only 15.6 percent of code officials are under the age of 45; more than half (57 percent) of respondents work in departments with nine or less employees; and most building safety professionals hold many job functions, from plan review to building inspection, making their roles more crucial and harder for departments to fill. 

“We anecdotally picked up comments about people getting ready to retire or looking ahead to retirement and then a few months ago, about 6 months ago or so, we started hearing more about state and local governments having a more challenging time hiring building safe professionals,” says Dominic Sims, CEO of ICC. “That’s when we decided to look into this a little bit deeper and try to learn a little bit more about what’s going on so we could help the industry begin to prepare for significant change.”

Another problem adding fuel to the fire, according to Sims, is the amount of code officials who were let go during the recession but are not returning to the trade as things look up, which is a problem across the entire building industry. 

A Pressing Need
The survey also identified that building code officials come from varying education and experience backgrounds, providing multiple paths of entry into the profession: 35 percent of respondents had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, 23 percent had an associate’s degree, 16 percent attended technical or vocational school, and 25 percent had only a high school diploma.

"These survey results highlight the critical need for high schools, vocational schools, and colleges to develop programs that train and educate our next generation of code officials.” says Ryan Meres, Senior Code Compliance Specialist of Institute for Market Transformation. “The safety, sustainability, and energy efficiency of our current and future building stock depend on it."

According to Sims, the ICC has started to encourage more people to enter the building safety industry by starting high school technical programs and reaching out to veterans, as well as building trade professionals who are looking for a change, since 46 percent of surveyed code officials indicated starting out that way. 

However, Maureen Guttman, president of Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP), says that’s only one part of the solution. “Municipalities can’t afford to pay a professional who really has the qualifications to do the work,” she says.

She also expresses concern for the understaffing or nonexistence of code enforcement in several jurisdictions across the country, noting that a lack of checks and balances for the building industry could have a grave impact. 

“I think offering really specific degree programs, certification programs that show a viable career path is going to help,” says Guttman. “But the other half of the equation is making enough of a case to the policy makers, to the city managers and mayors and councils, that building code enforcement is a very, very, very important part of what a city government is obligated to do, and in fact, they need to invest the appropriate resources into it to do it properly."