Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Highway inspectors check the materials used during road construction and oversee the contractor's work to make sure each road meets its established specifications. Roads and highways are built by federal, state, and local governments. Highway inspectors work for the government and perform an important function in the road-building process. They protect the public in at least two ways. First, they make certain that the taxpayers are getting their money's worth and are not being cheated through the use of inferior materials. Second, they help reduce accidents by making sure highways are built properly.
Highway inspectors check every phase of road construction. They inspect the excavation of the roadbed and the use of landfill. They supervise the placement of wooden forms into which concrete is poured. Inspectors may test the concrete to make sure the proper amount of water has been used in the mix. Highway inspectors may also specialize in a certain phase of road construction, such as bridges, drainage structures, or concrete or asphalt paving.
After the concrete has been poured and allowed to set, inspectors often look for bulges, rough spots, or other faults. When defects are found, they are chipped out, patched, and inspected again. Asphalt roads are handled in a similar manner. Highway inspectors test building materials, such as reinforced concrete beams, metal pipe, and bridge rails.
Highway inspectors are also important to the contractor. Part of the inspector's job is to record the amount of work that has been done and the materials that have been used. Inspectors use these records to calculate periodic payments to the contractor as the work progresses.
Often highway construction plans are based on estimates of the distance involved. After a road has been finished, the highway inspector is usually responsible for measuring and recording the exact distances. These measurements are called builts, and they are used to determine the contractor's final payment.
Education and Training Requirements
A high school diploma or its equivalent is required. Courses in mathematics, plan reading, chemistry, physics, and other technical subjects are recommended. Shop courses and communication courses such as English are also helpful. Summer work as a laborer on a road-building project is an excellent way to get experience.
After high school there are several ways to acquire the training needed for this occupation. Some prospective highway inspectors enter an apprenticeship program in one of the building trades. Others go to technical schools for training in blueprint reading, construction technology, technical mathematics, and inspection methods. Others attend an engineering school and study civil engineering. In any case, a thorough knowledge of road-building materials and methods is essential to becoming a highway inspector.
Highway inspectors receive on-the-job training, learning inspection techniques, regulations, specifications, record keeping, and report writing. Their training is supervised by an experienced inspector. As their skills increase, they are given more responsibilities.
Getting the Job
Usually only people with engineering degrees go into inspecting immediately. Many highway inspectors start as craft workers, engineering aides, or trainees in a contractor's office. Job seekers with engineering degrees should contact the appropriate federal, state, or local government agencies. Contractors are listed under "Road Building Contractors" in the Yellow Pages. Local labor union offices will have information about apprenticeship programs with one of the highway building trades. State employment services, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet are other sources of job information.
To work for the state or federal government, job applicants must take a civil service examination. Many government agencies also require that a job applicant pass an inspector's test to work as a highway inspector.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Fully qualified highway inspectors can become senior inspectors or principal inspectors. Some inspectors become contractors. In any case, the key to advancement is education and experience.
For some advanced positions a person must have a certain number of school credits. These can be earned at technical schools or colleges, or through correspondence courses. Many government agencies conduct special programs to give inspectors advanced training.
The employment of highway inspectors is expected to grow faster than the average for all jobs through 2014. However, the number of opportunities in this field is often related to the health of the economy in a particular geographical area, because roads are usually paid for with tax money. In areas where the economy is slow, there is less tax money available for building highways. However, the public will always need roads. Usually those inspectors who are best qualified through experience and education will have the greatest opportunities.
Some road-building projects are required by law to have an inspector on the job site whenever any construction is going on. In these and many other cases, the highway inspector works out of a field office. The office may be a nearby hotel room or a trailer on the job site.
Much of an inspector's time is spent outdoors observing the work and the use of building materials. Depending on the job's location, this can mean working in mud, dust, rain, or other uncomfortable conditions. Some inspectors also do a lot of driving as they go from one job site to another.
Inspectors work in both urban and rural areas. Their work-week normally parallels that of the construction crews. When the weather is good or a schedule must be met, an inspector may work more than forty hours a week. However, schedules may be restricted during the winter months. Extra pay or vacation is frequently given for overtime work.
Earnings and Benefits
The amount highway inspectors earn depends on their education, experience, and qualifications. It can also depend on the particular government agency for which they work and the geographical area. The median salaries in 2004 ranged from $39,310 to $43,960 per year.
Where to Go for More Information
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
444 N. Capitol St. NW, Ste. 249
Washington, DC 20001
American Road and Transportation Builders Association
1219 28th St. NW
Washington, DC 20007-3389
International Code Council
5203 Leesburg Pike, Ste. 600
Falls Church, VA 22041-3401
Federal Highway Administration
400 Seventh St. SW
Washington, DC 20590
Benefits often include vacation and sick pay, pension plans, health and life insurance, and sometimes tuition assistance. Many government agencies pay the inspector for job-related mileage.