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RE: Lack of Drafters

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I wanted to jump into this conversation, because the issues are even
more important than finding a structural draftsman to me. There is no
question that finding a draftsperson who understand what they are
drawing is nearly impossible in our small area. You would think that
with nearly 200,000 residents in the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs
California), that you would find more trained draftspersons to support
the few engineers who are local (less than a dozen by my guess).
What is more disturbing to me (and probably of less interest to
engineers) are those who have taken a few cad classes and decide to
advertise their skills as architectural designers. While it is not my
responsibility, I find that lately I am called upon to educate these
self-professed "designers" about prescriptive, conventional
construction. They do not understand the code provisions, few have read
it and deal only with plan check corrections, but most disturbing is the
fact that their fees are so low, a great many of the local builders /
developers are hiring them. The plans are poor - yet most of the public
is ignorant about the subtleties in a well designed floor plan that
makes it work over a period of time. The public is enamored by finishes
and colors - not layout and design. One example is that for a number of
years, designers were placing kitchens on the front of the home with the
dining area as a hexagonal protrusion like a bay window where the family
dines. The problem is that what you see from kitchen is easily seen from
the street and most people find that they roam their kitchens in bed
clothes at night and in the morning to be viewed by anyone driving up
the street.
There are no controls on designers and anyone who can put a plan on
paper can compete against architects. Furthermore, the designer may be a
well trained unlicensed graduate Architect, but it is nearly impossible
for the public to weed out the qualified (by education) and the person
who knows how to draw a few lines, but has no idea how the building is

As a corresponding member of the BSSC TS-7 committee (conventional
construction provisions for the 2003 IBC) it is disturbing to be
involved in the technical aspects that the profession is working with to
improve the quality of prescriptive design only to know that there is no
way to control the quality of the design or construction in the field.

Not only are we at a loss for qualified structural draftspersons, we are
in competition with draftspersons who take one or two CAD courses and
proclaim themselves as building designers.

I've been asked to suggest courses at the local community college and I
would recommend that we all contact our local community college
department chair to discuss the need for more technical courses that
require additional courses in building technology to help prepare these
self-proclaimed designers and require that they understand the hard work
that is being done to improve the quality and performance of homes
designed to prescriptive standards. In the process, we can open the
field up to those who wish to provide services as structural designers
by providing the appropriate courses taught by engineers.

We should also demand that structural draftspersons as well as framers,
who construct load paths, prove their ability by testing and possibly
certification. Proving competency in this area is NOT tested on the
General Contractors Exam, it is NOT required to obtain a license as a GC
and there are no provisions to insure that the person who draws the
plan, or lifts the hammer understands the intent of the code provisions.

What purpose is there to fine tuning building codes - investigating bolt
slippage in holddowns and deflection or stiffness of panels if there are
no standards to insure that the framer understands this as well?  NAHB
claims to be promoting certification and education programs - but they
are not mandatory and are fought by the Building Industry. Only those
large companies with the resources or who wish to set an example will
properly train their personnel. This is a very small percentage of those
working in the industry who are the first to belittle the professional
fields attempt to improve the quality and performance of construction.
They speak the language that the non-professional understands best and
because of this, gain an advantage by developing the faith of their
clients who do not understand the intent or rationale behind the
building code. They are told that we are crating stricter codes to line
our own pockets by promoting work where it is not necessary. They use
the same arguments that frustrate us and we joke about - "Our buildings
are constructed to the highest code standard and have never failed in
the earthquakes or winds that are in this area." "The engineer want you
to pay more money for to profit from a field that we have been building
for over 150 years and which has proven to perform well." "why pay more
for an Architect when we can perform give you the same quality for a
fraction of the price?" "You don't need an engineer - stay away from
them as they will only take your money and not guarantee you any better
quality than we can give you."

>From the owners side: "My contractor is the best. He obtained a building
permit and his buildings are constructed as well as any building
designed by an Architect or engineer."  "I'm sure my builder used a
qualified Architect - after all, he received the approval of the
building department." "All buildings that are issued permits are built
to the highest standard to withstand earthquakes in this area." "My
contractor told me that I can do this and don't have to worry about
building permits - the city only wants their share of the profits."
(worse yet are those who claim: "Nothing can withstand a large
earthquake so why pay the high price of an Architect or Engineer when my
contractor, who is the best in the area, can build a home that will
never fall down.")

The problem is that we, as a professional community, are doing nothing
to educate the public and make them aware of the differences in
construction and code requirements. Prescriptive codes do not benefit
the homebuyer - the serve to increase the profits of the builder who is
free to advertise his product as equivalent to any engineered home. We
give into the arguments coming from the NAHB and their skewed statistics
that don't accurately reflect the evaluation of damage such as those
caused by the Northridge Earthquake. As one important member of the
NAHB-RC once told me - (and I paraphrase) the problem is with the
public. Their expectation is too high and they are not willing to take
responsibility for the damage expected to occur when building in an area
known for high risk. The over inflated prices reported from the $20
billion dollars in damage during Northridge was due to builders and
engineers who took advantage of the public and over inflated their

Now I ask you - we expected CUREe to evaluate damage from the Northridge
Earthquake. So far, we have had nothing but the opinions of a few that
contradicted the supporters of Prescriptive construction and who stated
that none of the seismic events we have had were major. They further
stated that they (as members of the Wood Frame Project) were seriously
concerned because the performance of wood construction, while serving
the intent of the building code, left a great deal to be desireable and
these few representatives of the committee believed strongly that in a
strong motion earthquake much more damage will occur and lives will be
lost. I agree with this assessment because I have spent my time
evaluating local construction and prescriptive code requirements.

When the heck are we going to wake up and do more about construction
quality than sit back and bitch about it? We won't invest our dollars in
proper training of draftspersons, we want to increase post graduate
education and certification to reduce the financial investment in
apprenticeship training that was our history and we look so closely at
our productivity that it is easy to understand why we can't find
qualified people - we don't take the time to train them any longer and
if we expect this to be done as a part of education, we don't take
positive measures to work with the colleges to promote or create the
courses that are needed. Once we do find a qualified person, the
competition will yield more money than the draftsperson is worth - not
because of cost of living - but because they are so rare as to be a
bargaining tool that, as Gerry pointed out - are not worth the price
when we open our eyes and evaluate what we hired.

So, stop bitching about the problem and do something productive. Invest
your time to promoting courses at local colleges, technical training or
in your own office to teach those willing to learn what is expected of
them. Stop bitching about how strong the lobbies of the Building
Industry or NAHB is that prevent them from certifying builders and place
the requirements for certification or proof of capability in the general
notes of your design drawings and give the engineer or architect the
final responsibility to choose a competent builder for the owner. If
this is not legally possible - get off your butt and work to change the
industry. Start by educating the public - spend the time you take to
market your ability and give them a taste of the problems that exist in
the industry which they are not familiar with. Promote a minimum
standard for prescriptive construction that is equivalent to the minimum
standard for full-compliance design.

Most of you, I believe, are sick of listening to me preach on this
subject - but honestly, do you think the quality of construction and
design is improving? When I became a corresponding member of BSSC and
agreed to review the documentation from CUREe I never expected to step
in front of a snowball rolling downhill. The work is so far advanced
that it is virtually impossible for any professional who is critical or
interested to change the course of events.

Finally, if you want a qualified structural draftsperson - then be
prepared to pay the price and train them in-house. Also be prepared for
them to recognize the value of what you gave them and tie them into a
contract for at least three years if this can be done legally. Make them
give back what you invested - but pay them fairly and according to the
quality that they provide.

If you have gotten this far in my post, then possibly I've made a dent.

Dennis S. Wish, PE
California Professional Engineer
The Structuralist.Net Information Infrastructure


."The truly educated never graduate"

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