A new Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) report provides an action plan to close the low-carbon building skills gap in Ontario’s construction industry.
“In Ontario, green infrastructure investments are expected to increase along with demand for skilled tradespeople and a green workforce in the construction industry,” states the executive summary of the report entitled Trading Up: Equipping Ontario Tradespeople with the Skills of the Future. “To meet Ontario’s greenhouse gas reduction targets, fundamental changes to the structure of various occupations are needed to support the transition of the economy.”
Low-carbon buildings are projects that are highly efficient, use as little energy as possible to operate and also consider renewable energy as part of their supply, explained Akua Schatz, senior director of advocacy and market development for the CaGBC.
According to the report, green infrastructure investments are expected to create an estimated 147,000 job openings for skilled tradespeople over the next 15 years in the Toronto region. However, about 85,000 retirements are forecasted in the construction industry in the next decade.
“It’s really timely because Ontario is facing a wave of attrition when it comes to the trades and overall in the construction industry, where the expected replacement numbers are not necessarily going to meet the number of retirees,” Schatz said.
The report identifies where shortages in low-carbon skills training currently exist and highlights the risks to the quality of low-carbon buildings being constructed. It also provides an education roadmap that Ontario’s labour force, governments, educational institutions and industry organizations can take to optimize green building skills training and technical capabilities. The report aims to encourage the widespread adoption of energy-efficient, high-performing building practices as industry standards.
“In terms of priorities for Ontario, this new government has been very clear about wanting to modernize the apprenticeship system. This is definitely a report that helps inform that, as they are working through deliberations on how to modernize the system, to really understand the opportunities that Ontario has to not just streamline but really position itself well for the future in terms of competitive advantage, contribution to GDP and good quality jobs for Ontarians,” Schatz stated.
The report recommends what technical and soft skills are necessary from the trades and the entire project team to successfully construct low-carbon, high-performing buildings.
“It’s a combination of technical skills upgrading as well as a number of other types of recommendations that help to incent and support the trades to close the gap in their skills and be able to deliver on low-carbon buildings,” said Schatz.
“In many instances, they are very strong. There are skilled trades that do understand how to deliver these kinds of buildings but they can’t do it without the support of others in their construction teams. If they are not integrated in the design process, that then leads to challenges with the execution and then you end up with a building that may not be performing as you intended.”
According to the action plan, the requirements for improved technical skills include geothermal systems; photovoltaic and solar thermal systems; air and vapour barriers, including sealing techniques and airtightness testing; the building envelope, including insulation, wall assembly and thermal bridging; temperature bearing systems; plumbing and pipefitting; installation of forced air mechanical systems, including balancing air flow for ventilation; and Building Automation Systems, mechanical and electrical systems and equipment and commissioning.
“There is an opportunity there to make sure that the new trades have the skills that we need for these buildings of today and of the future,” said Schatz.
“This requires a coalition of actors…not just education providers like trade unions, colleges or universities but also owners who are looking to either retrofit their buildings or build new zero carbon. There are a bunch of key actors that need to be involved and each has a role to play in supporting the education of the trades.”
The action plan recommends Ontario undertake a few steps when planning for the shift to low-carbon buildings, including improve green literacy; amend the modes of training; adapt market infrastructure; identify and create incentives; and conduct further research into training and opportunities.
“We are looking to continue to inform policy that can help incent training and reduce the barriers to training for the trades,” said Schatz.
“We are looking at working with the industry to influence some of the market-based mechanisms that drive improvements in the skilled trades and other professions. We’re looking at working alongside curriculum development providers, trade unions and colleges, to make sure the curriculum we have available is one that meets the needs and helps close the gap.”