Dawn Michaud finds a different career path in building safety
The mother of four girls, Dawn Michaud, building inspector/assistant plans examiner for the Nashua Building and Safety Department in Nashua, N.H., started her academic career on a different path, putting herself through Nashua Community College for an associate degree in accounting. She went on for a bachelor’s degree in business at Southern New Hampshire University, and then found herself working for the Nashua Building and Safety Department.
In January 2017, she found herself being honored as one of the first graduates of the New Hampshire Technical Institute’s Building Inspector and Plans Examiner Certificate Program. Launched in 2015, the three-semester, 18-credit-hour program prepares students to critically examine permit applications and plans for residential, commercial and other building types, and to subsequently ensure that the construction of buildings with permits is conducted in accordance with and within the provisions of relevant building codes. The Institute has a close working relationship with the International Code Council as it is a participant in the High School Technical Training Program.
“The first time I opened up the code book,” Michaud says, “it was a life-changing experience. There’s no better feeling than understanding what a code is for, explaining it to someone, and seeing them really ‘get it,’ helping them realize this code is here to protect them. Plus, if you love to learn every day, this is the career for you. I don’t think there’s another career out there that requires you to know so much – and it’s always changing. “I feel very lucky to be part of this fledgling program – the only one of its kind in the nation.”
Additionally, with some 85 percent of New Hampshire’s inspectors approaching retirement age, Michaud says that expanding her skill set will open up a wide variety of jobs she can perform, enlarging her choice of occupations in the future. Michaud recently shared her thoughts on building safety and the construction industry in an interview for the Building Safety Journal:
BSJ: What was the path to your career — how and why did you pursue a profession in codes enforcement?
DM: I began my career in building code enforcement completely by accident. I hold a degree in accounting and the company I was working for 12 years ago was closing their doors. I began to search for a new job. I sent out many resumes and shortly received a call from the jurisdiction I work in now. At the time of interview, I was under the impression I was interviewing for the billing department. After searching all over city hall, I found that I was actually contacted by the building department. I took a leap of faith and took a chance and went through with the interview. I was offered the position and accepted. I opened a code book and immediately knew that I belonged in building safety and code enforcement.
BSJ: From your perspective, are there special challenges or distinctions in being a woman in this industry? Do you think there are special skills women can bring to the table?
DM: Being a woman in this industry, we are clearly the minority. Thankfully, this is beginning to change. At first I felt I would not be taken seriously and not be able to gain respect in the field. This feeling has passed. Perhaps I had to work a little harder to achieve it and prove myself a little more, but I honestly feel that once people realize I have the knowledge and capability of performing my job, they accept me. I feel I bring the same skills as anyone. A woman may tend to have a more methodical approach to the inspection process, like researching, reading instructions and analyzing construction documents.
BSJ: How have you overcome unforeseen challenges throughout your career?
DM: The biggest factor in overcoming any challenge in my career has always been the importance of education and constantly gaining knowledge.
BSJ: How have these experiences and challenges helped you to achieve your goals?
DM: The more I thrive to learn about the construction industry, the more I educate myself, and the more confidence I have out in the field.
BSJ: What are your passions about what you do? What do you see as potential challenges?
DM: My passion is being able to work together with developers, builders and contractors to build better, safer and healthier buildings in my community. These parties may find the permitting and inspection process tedious and time consuming and consider the building safety department not a part of their team. If we form relationships, be available for questions, and all work together on their projects, I strongly believe it will raise the profile of this profession.
BSJ: What is one piece of advice that you would give to those starting out in the building safety industry?
DM: Network with others, form relationships and always use available resources. Most importantly, never stop learning.
BSJ: What are some ways we can begin connecting with a younger generation of code officials and introduce them to code enforcement and the building safety industry?
DM: By making ourselves present in the community. Reach out to schools, colleges and attend job fairs. Make the younger generation aware that this can be a very rewarding career path and not just a position you go into in your later years.
BSJ: What three things do you need to be successful in this job?
DM: Good people skills and effective communication skills; resources and networking; and extensive knowledge of building codes, state laws, local ordinances, and where to locate them as needed.
BSJ: What blogs, authors or other resources do you regularly read to keep up to date on new advancements in your field?
DM: Life Safety Digest, Building Safety Journal, AWC newsletters, Journal of Light Construction, building forums, Pro Construction Guide… to name just a few.
BSJ: The final question is one we ask for our Building Safety Journal audience. If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title would be, and why?
DM: Determined — A Woman’s Rise in a Man’s World. All the hard work, training, learning and obtaining certifications it took me to get where I am today from not knowing a single building code and never being on a construction site. It is determination that brought me here.