This blog was co-authored by NEEP fall intern Jimena Muzio.

The need for a more energy efficient building sector has led to the adoption of increasingly stringent building codes. With this, the relevance of professions such as Code Enforcement Officials or Licenses and Inspection Officials will soar. However, there is skepticism regarding the availability of inspectors prepared to meet the increasing demand of inspection for energy efficient building projects. Many of these professionals are in short supply, aging, or leaving their jobs rapidly. A 2014 survey conducted by the National institute of Building Sciences and the International Code Council suggests 31 percent of code officials intend to retire by 2019, and an additional 51 percent by 2029. Not much has changed since then, other than retirements continue to occur as predicted. Compounding this issue, there are not enough people entering the profession, which is creating a greater demand for these skilled professionals.

While the outlook for job growth is great news, diversity remains an issue. The industry must do better at prioritizing training and support that enables women and minority workers to access jobs in this sector. Ideally, the transition to a green economy should provide solid career paths while fostering sustainable economic development. An additional challenge is these jobs tend to offer low compensation but also increasingly demand building science knowledge. 

How Do We Overcome These Challenges?

Improve Training

One of the biggest challenges to increasing the existing workforce is the availability and quality of training programs for careers in code enforcement. Former House Bill 1089 is created to incorporate a building code official “trainee” program in Pennsylvania. Currently, there are no formal programs that offer substantial in-person training at the initial certification level for code enforcement officers. Across most states, the exclusive provider for initial certification training and education on the International Residential Code (IRC) is the International Code Council (ICC). Moreover, the IRC training course primarily relies on online self-study, presenting a challenge for newcomers to the field. Given the complex nature of certain concepts, in-person instruction is crucial. In addition, while remote courses can make learning more accessible and flexible, they may not be the most appropriate form of education for individuals who thrive on motivation and accountability. Training providers should consider the following strategies to address these shortcomings:

  • Partner with universities, community colleges, and trade schools to develop specialized training programs. 
  • Combine online courses with hands-on, practical training to provide a well-rounded learning experience. 
  • Work with certification bodies to ensure that training programs meet established standards. 
  • Advocate for government financial support to make certifications and accreditations accessible to everyone.

Provide the Right Incentives
Despite their crucial role in advancing climate and equity goals, code enforcement officials are inadequately compensated, which prevents many people from pursuing or accepting these jobs. Municipalities may need to increase compensation and other incentives to attract more people into this industry. However, budgetary restrictions that municipalities face make it extremely difficult for local government agencies to offer competitive salaries for code enforcement positions. To address these constraints, jurisdictions can:

  • Take advantage of programs within the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that offer flexibility for local leaders to use funding to support technical education, training, and other workforce-related activities.
  • Implement flexible work arrangements such as hybrid work and flexible hours, and policies that accommodate various needs and lifestyles. 
  • Offer benefits such as maternity leave and performance-based bonuses. 
  • Enhance transparency regarding salary levels associated with each additional certification.

Increase Awareness
Education on this career path should be widespread. Raising awareness through the right channels is also a key strategy for diversifying the workforce. As it stands, the green workforce, including code enforcement officials, is predominantly older, male, and lacks racial and gender diversity.4 Raising awareness about the availability of these jobs will be key to increasing diversity in the green economy workforce. These are some of the actions that jurisdictions could take to raise awareness about green jobs to grow and diversify the workforce:

  • Collaborate with educational institutions to create awareness about green career opportunities, targeting underrepresented groups. For instance, partnering with women-only schools, trade schools, and high schools could greatly increase the diversity in the code official’s workforce. 
  • Organize career days and fairs in high schools to attract students who may not be interested in pursuing traditional college degrees. 
  • Forge partnerships with community organizations and grassroots initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion in the green workforce. 
  • Implement inclusive hiring practices such as blind recruitment and focus on outreach activities targeted at underrepresented communities to access a broader pool of candidates. For example, actively seeking to engage formerly incarcerated people in the recruitment process could be an excellent way to foster inclusion. 
  • Leverage the power of social media to promote the work of code enforcement officials and highlight how they contribute to decarbonization and will ensure that people live in safe and comfortable homes. 

Tackling the challenges posed by climate change requires the decarbonization of our built environment. Consequently, cities and municipalities will have to adopt new and more stringent building codes and energy efficiency regulations, which, in turn, will translate into increased demand for code enforcement officials.

To effectively meet the escalating demand and attract and retain a proficient workforce, states and jurisdictions must provide substantial training and the right incentives. The success of our decarbonization efforts will depend on equipping code enforcement officials with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the evolving landscape of sustainable building practices and regulatory frameworks.

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