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Building official training rises to tomorrow’s construction challenges

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PHOTO COURTESY ONTARIO BUILDING OFFICIALS ASSOCIATION — To address the training of new young inspectors, the Ontario Building Officials Association created the Building Official Fundamentals Certificate program in 2019 in partnership with George Brown College. The program fast-tracks students to OBOA Building Code Qualified-Housing certification. In late November 2020, the program announced its first 16 graduates from George Brown College. Pictured are some of the graduates. DR.

The building trades are not alone looking for fresh young talent to replenish a retiring work force. Building inspectors and officials are experiencing similar recruitment pressures.

Given the ever-increasing complexity of new energy efficiency mandates and building code amendments, it’s easy to understand the necessity of attracting new professionals and to provide the training they need to hit the ground running.

To address the training of new young inspectors, Aubrey Leblanc, CAO of the Ontario Building Officials Association (OBOA), explained how his association created the Building Official Fundamentals Certificate program in 2019 in partnership with George Brown College. The program fast-tracks students to OBOA Building Code Qualified (BCQ)-Housing certification. In late November 2020, the program announced its first 16 graduates from George Brown College.

“We are competing with the trades for the same person,” Leblanc recently told the Daily Commercial News. “The certificate level offered by George Brown College is fulfilling a nice entry level that had not yet been filled.”

While explaining that the OBOA and George Brown “share ownership” of building code training in a private-public partnership, Leblanc is hopeful other colleges will sign on. “We teach a lot of what I would call the journeyman level, short of being an engineer or architect. That’s our bread-and-butter,” Leblanc said. “Most building officials aspire to get to that level.”

The OBOA also recognizes that attracting students to the rewarding, long-term career as a building official can only succeed if the program courses are in-depth and employment-oriented.

“The idea is that it’s in our hands to find a job for anyone graduating from this program,” said Leblanc. “We profile them on our website, we promote them to municipalities, we do a lot of student career days, and we give them a membership to the OBOA. We have pre-tested the program to ensure it’s a good level of pre-certification for a municipality. This allows them to distinguish course graduates from anybody who just walks in off the street.”

Leblanc said the OBOA has also responded to pressure for increased levels of continued professional development for current building officials. “We doubled the national requirement three or four years ago and put in other requirements in place regarding the code cycle.” This is particularly important given the number of updated energy efficiency and code amendments being introduced.

“We’ve really got to go hard at some of the new themes. So, I will tell you that energy, accessibility and some of the other broader public policy elements that have been added to building codes over the last five years are the dominant fresh topics within our continuing professional development.”

• Read more about: What does 2021 hold for the construction industry?

Contractors and builders sometimes comment that two inspectors or officials will deliver two different interpretations of the same code requirement. It’s something the OBOA has heard many times before. Leblanc said that, in fact, this is a problem more common in large municipalities rather than in smaller ones where the odds of dealing with the same official increases. However, he acknowledges the challenge.

“The root of it is the delegation model,” he explained. “The national code is created. The provinces take it as their own, and then it bounces it one more level down to the municipalities where you can have enormous staffs, 460 in Toronto alone. They, in fact, are the authority with the jurisdiction. They have the right to interpret the building codes and are encouraged to even go above it, like Toronto’s green roof initiative, for example.”

Looking ahead, Leblanc believes the George Brown/OBOA courses will succeed as the feeder to an industry that needs smart, committed young people who enjoy human interaction.

“The good news is that the modern student, including those from other disciplines than just architectural technology and engineering, are actually more predisposed to a customer-centric world. The work is very technical but also requires people skills to handle conflicts. The new student is actually a better student than the old student from that retail point of view.”

DCN/MS

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