State departments of transportation (DOTs) rely on construction inspectors (CIs) to verify that contracted construction work on transportation infrastructure projects meets standards and specifications and is in compliance with approved plans. CIs are trained and certified for expertise in one or more specific areas, such as earthwork, structures, and pavement. CIs may be state DOT staff or employed by local governments or private sector firms.
A number of forces are affecting the CI workforce, creating challenges for state DOTs. Many state DOTs are facing high rates of attrition and the loss of institutional knowledge as seasoned CIs retire or the agency workforce is downsized, with some CIs transitioning to consultant firms or other employers. As a result, state DOTs are increasingly drawing CIs from external sources to augment agency staff. This has revealed that there is considerable variation in CI training and certification. The variability leads to inconsistency in inspection practices that affects the administration of construction contracts. At the same time, fewer individuals recognize construction inspection as a career option; the number of candidate CIs entering the transportation construction industry are inadequate to meet current and projected needs.
Another area of change that affects the work of CIs is evolution in contracting mechanisms used to deliver transportation projects (e.g., design build or DB, construction management general contractor or CMGC, design-build-operate-maintain or DBOM, public-private partnerships or P3s). The form of the construction contracting arrangement alters how risk and responsibility are allocated among the contracting parties, which, in turn, defines the decision-making authority for the project and therefore the roles and responsibilities of project staff, including CIs. To be effective, CIs must understand the implications of contracting arrangements for their work.
The skills needed for construction inspection have also evolved. An important area of change is the increasing use of technology in inspections such as remote and mobile inspection applications. These applications require CIs to be conversant with wireless and digital communications, competent with a range of software applications, and be adaptable when technology tools change or are upgraded. Inspection technology is anticipated to continue to evolve as emerging technologies, such as autonomous inspection vehicles, are adopted.
NCHRP Scan Report 15-01, Developing and Maintaining Construction Inspection Competence (available at http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP20-68A_15-01.pdf) documented recent experience of several state DOTs in training and certifying CIs, but did not develop detailed guidance. Additional ongoing studies are addressing broader workforce issues, including general strategies for recruitment and retention of the transportation infrastructure construction workforce. However, focused research is needed to provide state DOTs with guidance on how to design and implement an effective CI training and certification program. An effective program will produce a more competent and consistent CI workforce by using formal and informal training methods that equip CIs to use current and emerging technologies under a range of contracting arrangements. Further, well-defined skill sets, effective training methods, and improved portability of certifications increase the flexibility, competence, and progressive opportunities, elevating the appeal of construction inspection as a career.
The objective of this research is to develop a guidebook to help state DOTs and their partners in the transportation construction industry develop and maintain a CI training and certification program that is responsive to the changes affecting the CI workforce. The guidebook will address the following program components:
- Core competencies
- Formal education
- Informal education
The guidebook will also address how a CI training and certification program can support geographic portability of CI certifications, career mobility within a level of responsibility, and paths to progressive responsibility.