How to Become a Certified Inspector: Info by Specialization

Learn how to become a certified inspector. Research the job options and the education and certification requirements, and find out how to start a career as an inspector.

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Should I Become a Certified Inspector?

There are a variety of career paths and specializations in this field, including building inspectors, fire inspectors, quality control inspectors, and public health inspectors. Building inspectors examine the overall safety and structural quality of buildings, also ensuring that buildings comply with zoning regulations, ordinances, and municipal and state codes. Fire inspectors examine a variety of structures and buildings for fire hazards and make sure local, state, and federal fire codes are met. Quality control inspector examine and monitor the quality standards of a variety of manufactured products and materials, while public health inspectors, also known as environmental science and protection technicians, help safeguard the general public from health hazards that may in their food, water systems or workplace air ventilation.

Almost all types of inspectors work on a full-time basis, primarily during regular business hours. Some evenings and weekends may be required, depending on the types of inspections and emergencies that might occur. All inspectors are exposed to some elements of risk, including hazardous locations, toxic materials, and/or loud noises. Precautions such as protective gear and special clothing are often required to keep inspectors safe.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or associate's degree minimum education typically needed; bachelor's degree may be preferred or required for some positions
Degree Field Construction technology, building inspection technology, fire science, public health, environmental health or other major related to type of inspector
Training On-the-job training commonly provided; internships and cooperative experiences available
Licensure and Certification Most states require licensure or certification; several specialty certifications available
Key Skills Math, mechanical, analytical, critical-thinking, problem-solving, communication, good judgment and decision-making skills, physical stamina, detail-oriented, integrity
Average Salary (2014) $58,430 per year (for all construction and building inspectors)
$58,980 per year (for all fire inspectors and investigators)
$38,400 per year (for all quality control inspectors)
$45,910 per year (for all environmental science and protection technicians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine, American Society for Quality

Steps to Becoming a Building Inspector

Step 1: Complete Postsecondary Education

Although most positions for building inspectors typically require a high school diploma, some employers prefer candidates who have obtained postsecondary education. A common program of study is a certificate or associate's degree in building inspection technology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), students should choose programs that contain courses, such as in building inspection, drafting, home inspection and construction technology.

Success Tips:

  • Get familiar with numerous construction practices. The BLS states that building inspectors who have extensive knowledge of construction practices and skills will likely have better job opportunities. To acquire this type of knowledge, one can take classes that emphasize evaluating plans and blueprints.
  • Acquire valued skills. In addition to courses that highlight blueprint reading and building and home inspection, one can also consider other courses that will be useful in this career. These include shop, geometry and algebra.

Step 2: Gain Relevant Work Experience

Since this career field combines the knowledge of multiple specialties, individuals will typically need work experience from a variety of construction trades. To gain the work experience that is preferred by employers, aspiring building inspectors can find employment as a plumbers or electricians.

Step 3: Receive Building Inspector Training

Most building inspectors receive on-the-job training, however; they are required to learn building standards and codes on their own. The type of training a building inspector receives during this period varies and is dependent on local jurisdictions, state and type of inspector. During this training period, individuals work with experienced inspectors and learn about contract specifications, recordkeeping, reporting duties, inspection techniques, regulations and ordinances. Building inspectors may also receive supervised training onsite during their training period.

Step 4: Obtain Licensure and Certification

Licensure or certification is required in most states. Although requirements can vary by state, most building inspectors are required to possess liability insurance, pass a state-approved examination and meet requirements for experience and education to obtain certification or licensure. Certifications are available from several organizations, including the Certified Real Estate Inspector credential from the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI) and the Commercial Building Inspector and Certified Residential Mechanical Inspector designations from the International Code Council (ICC).

Success Tip:

  • Earn numerous certifications. The BLS states that building inspectors who are certified and can perform a variety of inspections will have favorable job prospects. Smaller jurisdictions will likely prefer building inspectors who possess broad knowledge of numerous specialties, while larger jurisdictions usually hire building inspectors who have knowledge of a specific area of construction, such as electrical or plumbing.

Step 5: Maintain Licensure and Certification

The period of time in which a building inspector must renew a certification or license depends on the specific jurisdiction or organization. For the NAHI credential, designees must earn 16 continuing education units every year to maintain certification. Certifications obtained through the ICC are valid for a period of three years. One must take specific health safety and welfare credits, learning units or continuing education units to maintain ICC certification.

Step 6: Consider a Bachelor's Degree

The BLS notes that an increasing number of building inspectors are starting their careers with bachelor's degrees. Inspectors may choose programs, such as a Bachelor of Science in Building Science or Building Automation Technology. These programs provide further study in areas like historic building preservation, sustainable rating systems, heating systems and HVACR digital control equipment. With this training, inspectors are better prepared for advanced career opportunities that may involve inspecting buildings with more complex systems.

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Steps to Becoming a Fire Inspector

Step 1: Earn a Degree

While many fire inspectors have a high school diploma, most employers prefer candidates who have earned an associate or bachelor's degree. Degree programs in fire science can be beneficial, in addition to engineering and chemistry. Coursework for an associate or bachelor's degree in fire science includes fire dynamics, fundamentals of fire prevention, fire safety administration, fire protection systems, fire department management and firefighting tactics and strategy.

Success Tip:

  • Get familiar with fire codes and fire inspection/protection standards. The majority of employers prefer fire inspectors who have considerable knowledge of state and municipal codes relating to fire inspection and protection. To acquire this information, one can take courses that are specific to fire and building codes and fire prevention.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Although the requirements will vary for each employer, having previous experience is required for most positions as a fire inspector, particularly, experience in fire prevention and fire suppression. Working as a fire fighter or a police officer will allow one to gain the experience needed to find employment as a fire inspector.

Step 3: Complete Training

The training requirements for fire inspectors can vary for each state, but training is typically provided on the job and in a classroom setting. Classroom training takes place in a police or fire academy and can take several months to complete. During this time, one can expect to learn about the proper use of equipment, guidelines for conducting an inspection, courtroom procedures, legal codes and hazardous materials. After completing training in a classroom setting, fire inspectors receive on-the-job training. This is usually performed during a probationary period while under the supervision of an experienced professional.

Step 4: Obtain Certification

Fire inspectors may need to be certified, although this requirement varies between states. Certification is also valued by most employers. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers numerous certification opportunities, such as Certified Fire Prevention Specialist (CFPS), Certified Fire Inspector I (CFI-I) and Certified Fire Inspector II (CFI-II). To obtain these certifications, one must meet the minimum requirements for education and work experience, in addition to passing an exam.

Step 5: Maintain Certification

To maintain the CFPS credential, one must accumulate 50 recertification points over a 3-year period. This is accomplished by participating in various professional development activities. Fire inspectors with the CFI-I or the CFI-II certifications are required to recertify every three years by earning 60 continuing education credits and paying a recertification fee.

Step 6: Consider Specialty Certification

Fire inspections wishing to demonstrate further expertise may consider voluntary certification from the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) as a Certified Fire Investigator (CFI). With this certification, inspectors can demonstrate proficiency in dealing with cases that involve criminal activity. To earn this credential, individuals must obtain a passing score of 70% or higher on the certification exam, in addition to meeting education, training, and work experience requirements.

Steps to Becoming a Quality Control Inspector

Step 1: Learn Necessary Skills

Since a high school diploma is sufficient for some positions as a quality control inspector, one can begin learning the skills necessary for this career while still in high school. According to the BLS, aspiring quality control inspectors can take high school courses in computer-aided design and other industrial trades. Math skills are also valued in this position, so students should consider taking extra math classes. Courses in chemistry or biology can enhance analytical skills and may be helpful for anyone who would like to pursue positions in medical or pharmaceutical labs.

Step 2: Receive On-The-Job Training

Most quality control inspectors receive on-the-job training to learn the responsibilities of the role and become more familiar with the everyday duties associated with the position. This training can include quality control techniques, reporting requirements, safety, blueprint reading and the use of computers, gauges, special meters and other types of instruments.

Step 3: Become Certified

Quality control inspectors have a variety of voluntary certifications to choose from. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) is an organization that offers numerous opportunities for certification. These include Quality Auditor, Quality Inspector, Quality Improvement Associate, Quality Technician and Quality Process Analyst. To be eligible for any of these certifications, one will need to meet specific requirements for education and experience.

Step 4: Maintain Certification

The Quality Technician, Quality Process Analyst and Quality Improvement Associate certifications are lifetime certifications and do not have any recertification requirements. All other certifications can be maintained in one of two ways. One can either accumulate 18 recertification points during a 3-year period or choose to take an exam.

Step 5: Consider Earning a Degree

Some employers may prefer candidates who have earned an associate degree. To increase employment and career advancement opportunities, one can consider an Associate in Applied Science degree program in quality control management or quality assurance.

Steps to Becoming a Public Health Inspector

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

An associate's degree is the typical educational requirement necessary for public health inspectors, also referred to as environmental science and protection technicians. This degree can be in public or environmental health, environmental science or another related field. Students in public health-related program, can expect to take courses in natural science, biology, chemistry, geology and physics.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Previous work experience is valued by most employers in this career field. Many programs offer internship or cooperative fieldwork where students can gain supervised work experience.

Step 2: Become Certified

Certification is preferred by most employers hiring public health inspectors. A variety of organizations offer certification opportunities, such as the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA). Through these organizations, one can pursue numerous certifications, including the Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Certified Professional - Food Safety (CP-FS) and Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS) credentials. To be eligible for these certifications, one must pass an exam and meet the requirements for education and experience.

Step 3: Maintain Certification

One must maintain the CSP certification by achieving 25 recertification points every five years and paying an annual fee. To maintain the REHS/RS and the CP-FS credentials through the NEHA, one must accumulate a minimum of 24 hours of continuing education over a 2-year period and pay renewal fees.

Step 4: Consider Earning a Bachelor's Degree

Public health inspector positions requiring more in-depth analysis or investigation may give preference to candidates with a bachelor's degree. Programs available through 2-year study are also awarded as bachelor's degrees. Most 2-year programs are designed so students can easily transfer credits toward a bachelor's program, according to the BLS.

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