The Irish Green Building Council’s MARION JAMMET and LINDA ONZULE outline how developing a National Sustainability Skills Roadmap is critical to the building of high-quality, sustainable, healthy homes.
The Irish construction industry faces a major challenge – labour and skill shortages. To achieve our national housing and retrofit goals and make our built environment more sustainable, we must attract more people to the industry, incentivise upskilling and make flexible training and education widely available. That is why the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC), along with other organisations, is developing a National Sustainability Skills Roadmap for the construction industry.
Sustainable construction skills
Achieving the very ambitious housing and retrofit targets set by the Irish government is proving challenging. While it is not the only reason, labour shortages and the lack of investment in skills at all levels of the construction supply chain have been identified, time and time again, as one of the main risks to the successful implementation of these strategies.
The Irish construction industry and the rest of the sector in Europe are experiencing major labour shortages. In a report released in December of 2022 (Report on Analysis of Skills for Residential Construction and Retrofitting, 2023-2030), the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science estimates that there is a need for as many as 50,831 new entrants in the construction workforce to meet the housing and retrofit targets of 2030. Reaching these targets will likely require targeted communication campaigns to inspire, recruit and upskill in energy renovation school leavers and those working in declining sectors. Possible actions include using the STEM template to attract more young people to the industry, organising school visits and career guidance to ensure young people are aware of the diversity of work in the industry, and communicating more about the sector’s critical role in tackling climate change.
For those already working in the industry, the development and roll-out of flexible, affordable, and accessible training programmes (eg, online and on-site) providing the right mix of theoretical and practical learning is vital. Upskilling could also be further encouraged through different mechanisms, such as the introduction of a “Sustainability Pass” similar to Safe Pass or the use of public procurement to incentivise upskilling.
These actions are critical as the new workforce requires skills and proficiency in building high-quality, healthy homes that are not only energy efficient but also constructed in a more sustainable way. Likewise, retrofitting of existing buildings must be carried out to the highest standard to ensure that these homes will be fit for purpose years into the future.
This will require new skill sets that have only recently been identified. Along with energy efficiency, knowledge and skills in whole-life carbon, circularity, biodiversity and digitisation are becoming equally as important. Under the proposed revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), whole-life carbon measuring will be mandatory by 2027. Legislations such as the EU taxonomy for sustainable activities are also contributing to stronger environmental requirements becoming the new norm. The taxonomy outlines the key criteria to be met for an economic activity to be regarded as “green”, with a view to tackling greenwashing. In simple terms, the more environmentally friendly a project is, the easier it should be to obtain funding at a lower interest rate.
A roadmap for sustainable construction skills
To truly decarbonise our built environment and achieve our national targets effectively, a holistic approach to examining and identifying the needed skills is required.
A recent report commissioned by the IGBC from a group of researchers at UCD shows that the built environment accounts for 37% of our national emissions, the same as agriculture. This comprises about 23% operational emissions associated with the energy we use to heat, cool, and light our buildings. A further 14% of the emissions are embodied carbon emissions from the production of construction materials, transport of materials, construction process, maintenance, repair and disposal of buildings and infrastructure. The report also shows that we cannot halve our sector emissions by 2030 without addressing both operational and embodied carbon emissions.
To achieve this, we must look beyond construction practices and take into consideration everything from the way we source and use resources to the way we handle waste and incorporate biodiversity in our built environment. That is why it is important to continue researching the construction industry, anticipate the skills and deliver further and higher education now to close the skills gap and transition to “a totally decarbonised, circular, resource-efficient built environment”.
In 2023, the IGBC, in collaboration with the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS), Laois Offaly Training and Education Board (LOETB) and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), will work on the development of a national sustainability skills roadmap for the construction industry. The roadmap will be developed as part of a European-funded project called BUSI2030, and it will look at skills requirements up to the end of the decade. It will also set out steps to help ensure that flexible training and education programmes are developed.
BUSI2030 will hold a series of workshops over the summer where representatives of the construction industry and education in Ireland will be able to come together and give their input on green skills. They will be able to share their knowledge and develop new ideas that will then be used in the creation of the roadmap. The aim of these workshops will also be to facilitate the creation of new collaborations and encourage the construction industry and the education sector to actively engage with one another in the creation of flexible education programmes and other innovative and accessible forms of training.
Growing your career in 2023
The IGBC has already developed several different programmes and learning tools to advance the closing of the skill gap.
Along with TUS, the IGBC created the “Build Up Skills” app. The app shows all available courses and programmes in energy efficiency across Ireland. Construction professionals can find courses based on their professions or existing skill sets. Courses can be further filtered by combining the different skills a person might want to learn, making finding the right programme easy and fast. Along with tracking their own progress, app users can view other profiles and see other paths of training and education. The app was created to ensure anyone who wishes to upskill would have a place where they can access high-quality training created in response to the industry’s skills needs. It also enables construction professionals using the app to curate their educational path, continuously advancing their careers at their own pace, all while aligning with industry requirements.
DASBE-Digital Academy For The Sustainable Built Environment
DASBE – Digital Academy for the Sustainable Built Environment is another project IGBC is part of in a bid to close the skills gap. DASBE was created by higher education institutes and industry partners to provide flexible, online and hybrid higher-level courses for construction industry professionals. There are currently over 40 programmes under energy efficiency, circular economy and digitisation that combine hands-on practical training and learning of theory. DASBE courses are unique in the sense that some of the courses can be broken down and taken in stages at an individual’s own pace as the skills are needed. The desired result is that industry needs are met in real time.
Finally, the IGBC will keep providing training in various areas such as embodied carbon, indoor air quality, nearly zero energy buildings and more. This training is delivered through live sessions, pre-recorded videos, and newsletter-style weekly mail courses.
The IGBC has also developed the Learning Hub, an online hub that hosts resources on energy and carbon, sustainable communities, circularity and biodiversity and more.
Along with regular training, several individual webinars and webinar series are also held regularly.
To draw focus on other areas of sustainability, the IGBC recently delivered a webinar series on circular economy and construction. The webinars showcased advancements in circular products, biobased materials and circular practices, as well as highlighted the importance of circularity in the most raw material-intensive industry.
The current webinar series is focusing on biodiversity and the built environment. Taking place from 15 February – 15 March, the series shares the best practices to protect and enhance biodiversity in the construction and use phases, and through the value chain.
Recordings of all webinars can be viewed on the IGBC website (www.igbc.ie).
If you are interested in participating in the development of the national skills roadmap, please contact the Irish Green Building Council by phone at 01 6815862 or email email@example.com
More information on BUSI2030, other projects and the recently published National Decarbonisation Roadmap can be found on the IGBC website. www.igbc.ie