Researchers in Colorado State University’s Department of Construction Management have been awarded a $450,000 grant from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Christofer Harper, assistant professor and principal investigator on the grant, will investigate and develop training, education, and career development guidance for transportation construction inspectors.
Jon Elliott, associate professor, and Paul Goodrum, CM department head, are co-PIs on the research team, which includes collaborators from the University of Kansas, the University of Kentucky, and industry representatives from Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. and DRB Consulting, LLC.
‘Loss of knowledge’
“With the public asking for larger and more complex transportation projects,” Harper said, “there is a disconnect between the inspections needed on projects, the expected and actual workmanship, and the ability to deliver a quality project within budget and on time.”
State departments of transportation and the motorists they serve rely on construction inspectors to ensure that construction work on transportation infrastructure projects is safe and viable for use, and that a project does not require extensive maintenance once it is in operation. However, this important workforce has seen a growing loss of knowledge as experienced professionals either retire or leave DOTs in favor of consultant firms or private employers. That has resulted in a huge amount of variability in the training and qualifications of construction inspectors working on infrastructure projects.
“Our research was inspired by the workforce shortages and loss of knowledge that started in the mid-1990s when DOTs began to downsize, and continues today,” Harper explained.
Dealing with high attrition rates, lack of interest in inspector positions, and lack of people who have the appropriate knowledge and skills has become an increasingly difficult task for this industry. The research team will address these gaps and be a tool to promote construction inspector positions to students in the Department of Construction Management at CSU.
Finding the right people
In an effort to start a legacy of well-trained construction inspectors for state departments of transportation, Harper’s research team will be formalizing regional and national training, education, and workforce development programs for construction inspectors. The materials they plan to develop will be used in regional and national training and certification programs that are responsive to the changes affecting the construction inspector workforce and the transportation construction industry.
The team will be taking inspiration from training processes that have been applied in small areas around the country and putting them together into a comprehensive program that will ensure the quality of construction inspectors for years to come.
Part of that job lies in ensuring that there are young professionals ready and trained to fill these positions.
“I hope to encourage students to consider construction inspector roles as I tell them about this research in class,” Harper said. “Our students at CSU are being trained for these positions, so our department has been helping the industry find the right people for years, and we will continue to do so.”