Fragments and knowledge gaps February 21 2014, 0 Comments

BHE is based on translating the knowledge we have about building science and energy efficiency in housing into a format that is accessible to those already working in the home building industry. Labourers, tradespeople, renovators and contractors, as well as those who are less hands-on but still involved in the industry: office managers, internal sales teams etc.

As a set of crafts and trades that really grew into a commodity-based industry only after World War II, housing is still finding its feet as a cohesive industry. The many trades and interests that come together to build a house all have their own silos of expertise. As energy prices and environmental concerns have created the need for energy efficiency measures and green building issues, the fragmentation of the industry has continued. Now not only do we have builders, tradespeople, contractors and inspectors, appraisers and mortgage lenders, but a whole layer of techno-weenie evaluators, assessors, trainers, designers, and consultants (yes, I am wearing my appropriate hats).

Within the actual on-site workforce, there is a double-whammy challenge:

1. The building industry is fragmented. Severely so. You work on the mechanical side or on the building envelope side. Join a subgroup from either of those sides and defend your fiefdom (I exaggerate only slightly).

2. There is a recognized and looming knowledge gap between mandated energy efficiency construction standards and what those carrying out the work are trained to do. Available training is primarily geared to the business owner ('the builder'), site supervisor, crew chief, or other decision-making position. Not much is available to the tradesperson who carries out the work, especially labourers who are not attached to a trade school program or an apprenticeship. Few construction firms can afford to lose crew time to class time and few workers can afford to lose the income.

The fragmentation and the lack of energy efficiency training for the workforce is going to cause long-term problems with new and existing housing. That's acknowledged right across North America and also throughout Europe. Regional and national organizations can help underpin local workforces with 'basic training' in energy efficiency: how the house works as an integrated system, why we care and what happens to the rest of the house (and the occupants) when changes are made to the building envelope or the mechanical systems. The challenge is getting past the 'trickle down' assumption: that trained builders, crew chiefs and managers will in turn, train those on site.

Uh, no.

Builders, crew chiefs and managers are not always good trainers, and they have to keep to tight schedules to make a profit.

The building industry is accustomed to face-to-face training and less book-centred learning. This is because, generally, 'hands-on' learners gravitate to homebuilding. But face-to-face training is very expensive to deliver, and to attend. The building industry can take the lead from other industry sectors that have plunged into e-learning and found successful uptake. Happily, it has been determined that successful online training relies on interactivity and strong graphic elements, both of which are better ways to train 'hands-on' learners.