AMANDINE DE COSTER-LACOURT
About BUILD UP Skills: upgrading energy efficiency and sustainability skills in the building sector
How has the BUILD UP Skills initiative evolved since it was launched in 2011? What were its main milestones?
Europe has set ambitious targets for buildings energy performance, whether for renovations or new buildings. All new constructions should be Nearly-Zero Energy Buildings  from 2020 onwards, in line with the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive . This means not only tighter performance standards in terms of energy consumption and airtightness, but also an increased use of renewables. At the same time, technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), the Internet of Things (IoT), prefabrication of building components and 3D printing, to name but a few, are becoming more widespread and are expected to bring important benefits in terms of energy performance.
However, the smartest buildings or the best retrofit opportunities would not exist without a qualified workforce to build them. Ensuring the highest quality construction work is essential to maximising the building’s energy performance. As illustrated in many studies, actual energy consumption in buildings is often significantly higher than predicted consumption. Poor quality construction and the lack of efficient interaction between trades onsite play a large role in this performance gap.
With close to 21.1 million people employed in the broader construction sector in 2015 across the EU, it constitutes a major source of employment in many European countries . It is largely dependent on the evolution of its human capital, both in terms of the availability of workers and the quality of the workforce. While skills shortages and mismatches remain important, energy efficiency and digitalisation are two of the most influential drivers affecting the need for skills  in the sector. At the same time, the construction sector is characterised by low predictability due to economic fluctuations, strong time constraints for the delivery of projects, the fragmentation of the sector across a multitude of crafts and professions, and the many small players involved. This means that few companies can afford the costs of training their workforce.
The BUILD UP Skills initiative , coordinated by the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME), was set up in 2011 to boost the continuing or further education and training of craftsmen, other onsite construction workers, and systems installers. To cater for specificities in construction markets and educational systems, it was important to focus on the national level. With European financial support, 30 projects were funded in 2011-2012 to gather key stakeholders from the energy, education, training and building sectors in ‘National Qualification Platforms’ . The platforms mapped the existing workforce, qualification programmes, gaps and barriers, and future skills needs. On this basis, national roadmaps were developed. One of the main findings was that 3 million workers in Europe would need training on energy efficiency and renewable technologies by 2020. The importance of breaking silos between crafts and professions was also clearly highlighted.
'With close to 21.1 million people employed in the broader construction sector in 2015 across the EU, it constitutes a major source of employment in many European countries’
In 2013-2014, a second batch of 22 projects was funded to turn the national roadmaps into action by designing new qualifications and training schemes and improving existing ones. More than 8 500  people across Europe were trained in 805 pilot courses, representing more than 27 000 hours of training. These figures might seem low when seen against the objective of upskilling 3 million workers, but it should be stressed that BUILD UP Skills was never intended to fund the actual running of training courses. Rather, its objective is to initiate a new dynamic at national level to be continued through other means (national support, structural funds, commercial training, etc.), based on learnings from the European seed money.
From 2014 onwards, the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme provided continued support to BUILD UP Skills. The focus was shifted to large-scale multi-country qualification and training schemes, while also addressing white collar professions (engineers, architects, building managers, etc.). Seventeen projects are ongoing or have recently been finalised.
The EU contribution to BUILD UP Skills since 2011 amounts to EUR 38 million, showing the importance of the EU commitment in this field.
Which Member States were particularly successful in developing and implementing skills improvement strategies for better uptake of EE and RES in the building sector?
BUILD UP Skills training and qualification schemes address a common goal: the upskilling of building professionals. However, they differ widely in the way they were implemented, whether in terms of course duration, target groups (roofers, bricklayers, electricians, etc.), share of practical vs theoretical training, or type of training material developed. This has to do with national specificities in construction sectors, housing stocks or vocational education systems. A comparison between projects is therefore not always straightforward.
There are success stories in many of the projects supported by BUILD UP Skills, but two countries come to mind. The Netherlands has been very actively involved in the initiative since the beginning, with strong involvement from the leading national organisations. No less than 10 000 workers were upskilled through an innovative application for smartphones, available in Dutch, but also in English and Spanish. The Dutch partners have also taken the opportunity offered under Horizon 2020 to join international consortia, which allowed them to expand the app to white collar professions and to emerging technologies such as BIM. This is a very good example of how BUILD UP Skills can help a national initiative to reach a European dimension. In Lithuania, the project funded worked with over 150 construction professionals and trainers through 12 training programmes. A fully-fledged certification scheme was set up and endorsed by the National Qualifications and VET Development Centre , as well as the National Builders Association .
'BUILD UP Skills training and qualification schemes address a common goal: the upskilling of building professionals’
But we should also look beyond individual projects’ achievements. BUILD UP Skills project teams have gradually evolved into a community of committed professionals eager to learn from each other. To support this, EASME has organised ten European Exchange Meetings since 20114, creating opportunities for projects to exchange common challenges and best practices. In addition, four technical working groups have been working on solutions around the long-term financing of training schemes, mutual recognition of skills and qualifications, innovation in training, and mechanisms to boost demand for skilled workers. Overall, with more than 50 projects now finalised, we can identify some of the main success factors. First of all, the capacity to mobilise the key national stakeholders has been a major contributor, an absolute prerequisite to establish the credibility of any new training scheme. Innovation in the delivery of training has also been essential, in particular finding more attractive, time-effective and user-friendly ways to convey technical knowledge on energy efficiency, such as e-learning platforms and apps. Fostering a better understanding between different crafts and professions also brought important benefits in terms of reducing errors on the construction site that have an impact on buildings’ energy performance. The training of trainers was equally important, as good trainers are the backbone of any successful skills development process. Last but not least, the projects that dedicated effort to the recognition of energy skills (e.g. through public registers of qualified workers) achieved some real and lasting benefits in terms of visibility and market acceptance.
What are the experiences of multi-country qualification and training schemes?
Multi-country qualification and training schemes are often a natural evolution of the national projects that were funded in the first phases of BUILD UP Skills. As a national scheme becomes more mature, there is often interest from stakeholders to expand it to more countries, thereby facilitating the mobility of professionals and creating a level playing field. Advantages of multi-country schemes include the opportunity to reach out to more professionals and to address a larger range of professions and subjects
As an example, the PROF/TRAC project  developed a European qualification scheme, setting out minimum skill levels for professions involved in the design, construction, refurbishment, and operation of the whole Nearly-Zero Energy Buildings value chain. The project enabled the training and certification of nearly 130 trainers from 23 countries, who then went on to train over 1 300 architects, engineers and building managers in pilot courses.
One of the main difficulties encountered when deploying multi-country schemes relates to the differences of maturity between national vocational education and qualification systems, as well a lack of mechanisms to ensure mutual recognition between them. Indeed, there can be wide differences in the national definitions of competence profiles and learning outcomes for a given profession. We lack the tools that would allow for easy comparison and evaluation of the energy efficiency skills of building professionals across Member States.
How will the BUILD UP Skills initiative evolve in the future?
BUILD UP Skills stands at the crossroad of several policy areas, in particular energy, construction, the internal market, employment and vocational education. As a result, we see a lot of potential to develop new avenues in the future.
For the coming years, the focus will be on boosting the demand for skilled building professionals. The Horizon 2020 Secure, clean and efficient energy Work Programme for 2019-2020 includes a topic welcoming proposals in this field. These proposals are expected to develop market level actions and/or support legislative changes. This may include, for example, tools facilitating the mutual recognition of energy skills and qualifications in the construction sector across countries; initiatives raising the awareness of home/building owners and tenants about the benefits of using skilled professionals; and support to public authorities to develop new legislative frameworks, such as requirements for skilled workers in public procurement. We look forward to receiving excellent proposals developing these types of concept.
'There is a clear lack of training and qualification schemes in the field of Building Information Modelling’
Lately we have seen a lot of interest in skills development in the field of Building Information Modelling, as there is a clear lack of training and qualification schemes in this field. This might indicate a need to focus future BUILD UP Skills support on skills for emerging technologies such as IoT, 3-D printing, and smart appliances. The idea here would be to have better trained professionals making the most of these technologies to leverage the energy performance of buildings and tap into their full energy-saving potential. Another area of focus could be apprenticeships, to better include sustainable energy-related skills in vocational education and training in the construction sector from the very start. These and further options will be assessed as we move closer to the implementation of the next multiannual financial framework.
 Directive 2018/844/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council
 European Construction Sector Observatory (ECSO), Analytical Report – Improving the human capital basis, April 2017.
 Conservative estimate, not counting people trained after the end of the project (e.g. 10 000 workers in the Netherlands).