The tentative revival of the construction sector presents an opportunity to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, but skills and knowledge gaps must be addressed if Ireland is to achieve its targets relating to Near Zero Energy Buildings, writes Seamus Hoyne
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Author: Seamus Hoyne BEng MEng MSc chartered engineer, head of Department for Flexible Learning, Limerick Institute of Technology

The skills and knowledge gaps that must be addressed if Ireland is to achieve its targets in relation to near-Zero-Energy Buildings (NZEB) will be the focus of a major conference and training event on 15-16 October. The ‘Better than Best Practice – Skills and Knowledge to Achieve Near-Zero-Energy Building’ conference is being held at the Wood Quay Venue in Dublin City Council offices.

The emergence of the construction sector from an extremely difficult period in recent times presents an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the past. Quality, well-performing buildings that achieve high energy standards are required. Can the sector meet these requirements? Not unless all parts of the supply chain (designer, developer, construction work, client and policy makers) align their vision towards one of quality.

In parallel with the cataclysmic collapse in building activity in the past number of years, the construction sector has to adjust to major changes in energy standards for buildings, a fundamental review of the apprenticeship system and new Building Control regulations. All of these have a common thread of focusing on quality. For a sector that has seen such dramatic contraction, it is difficult to adjust to these changes.

Assessing the energy-performance aspect, it is clear that, in terms of policy measures and technology responses, there have been rapid developments. At EU and national level, there is a range of directives, regulations and policies which demand improved energy performance and increased use of renewable energy. The majority of these also include specific actions related to training and upskilling.

Technology and systems are developing and emerging onto the market in response to these policy drivers. A dwelling that applies for planning in 2014 (under the 2011 Part L Standards) is required to reduce its energy and carbon footprint by significantly (>60%) compared to a similar building in 2005.

Equally onerous targets will also be in place for buildings other than homes. This presents designers and developers of such low-energy buildings with challenges when setting out de-signs for new buildings. A recent survey conducted for the QualiBuild and SustainCo projects showed that designers and engineers felt confident in their knowledge of the new building regulations . But it also noted that of those that did complete buildings to the new Part L 2011 standard, fully two thirds found it a challenge, responding that it was moderately diffi-cult or very difficult to achieve compliance.

CPD and upskilling in construction


During the conference, architect Joseph Little, of Building Life Consultancy, will discuss his experiences in training and upskilling architects and designers while Simon McGuinness from Dublin Institute of Technology will present an overview of opportunities for upskilling in areas such as modelling and BIM. The expectations and standards in relation to upskilling and CPD in the new Construction Industry Register Ireland will be outlined by Robert Butler from the Construction Industry Federation (CIF). This new initiative should be a key driving force for change in the sector.

Despite the confidence of the designers and engineers, concerns exist as to whether construction building workers and craft workers have sufficient knowledge and skills to meet these new standards in relation to energy and quality building.

The EU Commission identified this issue as a major policy gap and in 2010 started the Build Up Skills Initiative . According to Eurostat, the construction sector accounted for about 6.4% of the total gross value added in the EU27 on average in 2010. The Build Up Skills target group (craftsmen and on-site workers) can be estimated at around 7.6 million workers and makes up around 57% of the construction sector .

The initiative resulted in each member state producing a roadmap focused on actions and targets to upskill crafts people and construction workers. The focus of the roadmaps is on identifying ways to upskill these workers to support the drive toward Near Zero Energy Buildings in the year 2020. It also complements other initiatives such as the European Commission Communication in 2012 on a ‘Strategy for the sustainable competitiveness of the construction sector and its enterprises’.

In Ireland, the Build Up Skills Ireland roadmap was developed by a consortium involving Limerick Institute of Technology, Dublin Institute of Technology, IT Blanchardstown, the Construction Industry Federation and Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Developed through a consultative process involving Government departments, State agencies, training providers and construction workers, the roadmap has been specifically highlighted as a key component in Action 60 in the Government Construction 2020 Strategy, the ForFas Strategy Report on the Construction Industry and NEEAP (National Energy Efficiency Action Plan).

A major conclusion of the Irish, and other EU roadmaps was that the gap that exists for craftspeople and construction workers is one of knowledge, as opposed to skills. Translating this into reality means that, for example, a carpenter may have the skills to construct a roof structure but may not be able to eliminate thermal bridging. In addition, he/she does not how that can be achieved, nor why it is important. Fundamentally, it also found that across the trades, there is a lack of understanding that buildings have developed into complex systems which require all trades to work together if the energy performance is to be achieved.

One example of how crafts workers have responded positively to the demand for low-energy buildings will be presented by Tomas O’Leary from the Passive House Academy. The academy has successfully implemented a training programme for craftsworkers focused primarily on the Passive House Standard. Rolf Rehbold will give an insight into how the German education and crafts system is responding to the demands being placed on crafts workers.

Roadmap for recovery and growth in construction


Seamus Hoyne from Limerick Institute of Technology will provide an insight into how the Irish roadmap will be implemented. Specific actions are being taken to, firstly, upskill trainers of construction workers in IoTs, ETBs and private providers in relation to low-energy buildings and, secondly, to pilot a Foundation Energy Skills training programme for construction workers. These two major actions are part of an overall package seeking to build momentum behind a national initiative in this regard.

Germany is often referred to when looking for examples of best practice in relation to both craft development and low-energy buildings. Supported with funding from the Leonardo da Vinci programme, the KOMZET centre in Bibberach, Germany, has hosted over 400 Irish construction personnel (crafts people, architects, engineers and so on) who have been exposed to the exacting standards and demands placed on them when constructing low-energy buildings.

Reflecting on this training experience, Torsten Windmueller of KOMZET noted that, “A common theme that was picked up by the Irish participants on our programme was the need to achieve very high standards of workmanship and attention to detail if a near-zero-energy building is to be achieved. Visiting our buildings and suppliers the participants in the programme constantly comment on the fact that quality is respected and demanded. ”

One of the common complaints from building designers and developers, and indeed clients, is that they lack clarity in relation to what is demanded when designing a near Zero-Energy Building (nZEB). The SustainCo project, in which the Tipperary Energy Agency (TEA) and Limerick Institute of Technology are partners, aims to address this knowledge gap. It has produced a number of toolkits (technical and financial) that form part of an nZEB Training session on the 16 October. Targeted at designers, architects and engineers, the toolkits seek to provide in-depth knowledge, access to case studies and further information to guide the user through the key requirements of an nZEB.

Paul Kenny, CEO of the TEA noted, “nZEB is a new and emerging concept. In essence, it requires the building to have a low energy demand and to maximise the amount of energy that’s supplied from renewables. The emerging design and technology options which need to be considered can sometimes be overwhelming. These toolkits aim to support designers and developers to steer their way through the process. Vitally, they also consider the cost implications of potential design choices so you can achieve a ‘cost optimal’ solution.”

People can register for the conference and training (spaces limited) by clicking here. Details about the Qualibuild Project and SustainCo Project can be found on the Qualibuild site and on the SustainCo site.

Seamus Hoyne has been involved in the energy sector since 1993 and working in the third-level education sector since 1998. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering, MEng and MSc (Energy Management), and is a chartered engineer. Hoyne established the Tipperary Energy Agency in 1998 and stepped down as MD in June 2012. He co-ordinated the EU SERVE Project from 2007 to 2012, which saw an investment of €8.5 million in sustainable energy actions in North Tipperary. He also co-ordinated the Build Up Skills Ireland project and QualiBuild Project focused on training and upskilling of construction workers. Hoyne is currently head of the Department for Flexible Learning and is the principal investigator for the Centre for Rural and Sustainable Development within the Limerick Institute of Technology.

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  Author: Seamus Hoyne BEng MEng MSc chartered engineer, head of Department for Flexible Learning, Limerick Institute of Technology The skills and knowledge gaps that must be addressed if Ireland is to achieve its targets in relation to near-Zero-Energy Buildings (NZEB) will be the focus of a major conference and training...