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Better Skills for Better Buildings: The QualiBuild Challenge

By Mark Keyes, Industry Training Coordinator, IT Blanchardstown

In 2011, the EU-funded project Build UP Skills Ireland (BUSI) was tasked with establishing the extent of the skills gap in the building sector for achieving 2020 energy saving targets. The broad training provision for construction workers in Ireland was considered to need some up-dating in light of the significant changes to building standards and the technologies currently being adopted on-site for energy performance. This resulted in the development of a National Roadmap of actions to address the issue.

The BUSI project concluded that the pace of change in building construction and renovation standards has not been matched by the availability of compatible training provision for the construction workforce. As a consequence, a gap has developed in the requisite skills and knowledge for on-site implementation of energy efficiency measures and the integration of renewable energy systems.

Generally, the gap identified is one of knowledge rather than skills. However, this knowledge is fundamental for the successful implementation of low energy buildings. To address this, it was concluded that all building workers would require at least an introductory or ‘foundation’ level of training – a mammoth task with over 60,000 employed in the industry.

The BUSI research also found that the majority of trainers of construction related crafts lacked experience and knowledge on the implementation of low-energy building. These trainers, by virtue of the fact that they were not directly engaged with the industry during this significant period of change, were largely unaware of the implications for on-site implementation of new energy performance standards for buildings. This conclusion also highlighted gaps in the continuing professional development of trainers involved in the delivery of construction-related craft apprenticeship and associated programmes for construction skills.

QualiBuild

Build UP Skills QualiBuild, the follow-on project to BUSI, commenced in 2013. One of the project’s main objectives is to initiate the key training action identified in the BUSI Roadmap, the need for a foundation energy training course for all building construction workers. QualiBuild has developed this ‘Foundation Energy Skills’ (FES) course as a 3-day training programme.

To support the piloting of FES, the project has also initiated a Train the Trainer programme with a target to up-skill 100 trainers of construction workers. This programme serves a dual purpose of establishing a pool of suitably qualified trainers of FES for regional delivery and ensuring that a significant number of existing trainers of construction craft skills in an apprenticeship setting are prepared for envisaged future updating of curricula.

Train the Trainer Programme

The Train the Trainer programme was developed as a blended learning programme leading to a Special Purpose Award at NFQ Level 7. It is a 4-module programme as follows:

  1. Building for Energy Performance
  2. Building Fabric
  3. Building Services
  4. Pedagogical Approaches

The programme was offered over two cycles in 2014/2015 and 2015/2016. Training catering for the East of the country was located at IT Blanchardstown, the West at IT Sligo and the South at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). Over 80 trainers registered for the programme over the two cycles. This included lecturing staff from various Institutes of Technology, trainers and teachers from ETB centres and colleges around the country and a number of trainers from private organisations involved in the delivery of training in the field of low energy building.

From the ETB sector, there was representation from LMETB, GRETB, Kilkenny and Carlow ETB, Ballyfermot Training Centre, Pearse College, Cork Training Centre, Coláiste Dhúlaigh, Dun Laoghaire Further Education Institute and Mallow College of Further Education.

In recognition of the work commitments of participants, face-to-face contact time was limited to two days per module. Learner manuals were developed for each module and distributed 3-4 weeks ahead of workshop days held at the regional delivery centres. The workshops were designed to focus on ‘active participation’ and ‘peer learning’ through a range of activities based on the learner manual content.

This is effectively a flipped classroom approach, with course content provided to learners ahead of workshops to facilitate independent learning. Preworkshop activities were also included as part of the course assessment in order to encourage engagement with course content ahead of contact days. For Modules 1, 2 and 3, an additional day of site visits was included to provide insight into practical applications of theories and concepts. For module 4, which focussed on pedagogy, two days of workshops were scheduled to accommodate practical activities, such as in-class presentations and peer feedback.

Foundation Energy Skills Programme

The focus of the Foundation Energy Skills (FES) course is knowledge of the underpinning principles of lowenergy buildings and the importance of a new quality-based culture in construction. The challenge was to develop a programme that would lead to a common understanding among all workers of the key principles of lowenergy building while emphasising the need for collaboration between all trades involved in the process in order to achieve standards.

This training needed to be conducted within the constraints of different construction enterprises and the demands on their resources, i.e. offering flexibility to facilitate attendance and a reasonable duration so as not to impact negatively on work outputs.

To this end, the programme sought to strike a balance between the learning objectives and the demands on employers and individual workers. This has resulted in the development of a 3-day training programme, with an evening/Saturday option to cater for the preferences of both individuals and employers.

To support delivery and a certain proportion of independent learning, a comprehensive set of course materials were developed including a learner manual, a trainer manual and a suite of individual and group activities. These materials were designed to emphasise persuasive arguments and messages around the positive aspects of lowenergy buildings and maximise opportunities for peer interaction and discussion.

A national piloting of the FES programme commenced in September 2015. To facilitate this, suitable venues needed to be identified to facilitate practical demonstrations of low-energy building principles, such as air tightness and insulation detailing.

Partnerships were developed with organisations with such facilities in place, including ETB Training Centre Ballyfermot, Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and private providers such as Saint Gobain Technical Academy in Kingscourt, Cavan and Partel Ltd in Claregalway.

In the first phase of training, seven courses were offered: Blanchardstown (ITB), Cork (CIT), Galway (Partel), Limerick (LIT) and Cavan (Saint Gobain), in both daytime and evening variants. A further five deliveries were undertaken in early 2016 at locations in Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Waterford at WIT. Additionally, QualiBuild were approached by the coordinators of an SEAI Sustainable Energy Communities project to organise a one-off delivery for contractors and tradespeople in the Gaeltacht region of Belmullet Co Mayo. Also, the Irish Prison Services requested a similar stand-alone course for their Trades Officers, who were responsible for the maintenance of their buildings.

By the end of the pilots, 232 participants had registered for the training with 196 attending all sessions and receiving certification. The pilot is currently undergoing an evaluation process which includes analysis of reaction questionnaires, results of assessments and one-to-one post training interviews with individual participants and employers whose staff attended training. Feedback from the evaluation of the pilots has been unanimously positive, with consensus from participants that such a course is a necessity for all construction workers in Ireland as an information-giving and awareness-raising exercise.

National Roll-Out of the Courses

The Train the Trainer Courses have already trained a number of eligible trainers to deliver the FES course. This course is delivered by ITB and LIT as a NFQ Level 7 award and further courses can be provided on demand. The FES course is currently certified at NFQ Level 6 as part of a 2-module programme – Certificate in Low-Energy Building Construction – and is accredited at LIT, ITB and CIT (with Springboard option).

It is proposed to validate FES with a City and Guilds certification, enabling the course to be facilitated throughout Ireland by a broad base of providers.  A number of ETB centres (Ballyfermot, DFEI, Dundalk and Tralee) have approached QualiBuild and expressed interest in the FES course. Further ETBs may also be interested in this proposal.  Secondary Schools have expressed an interest in providing the material and content from the FES course as part of the Construction Studies at Leaving Certificate level.

National Roll-Out and Support from ETBI and SOLAS

Consider this: to facilitate over 60,000 workers to participate in the FES course, 3,000 courses will need to be delivered (assuming an optimum of 20 participants per class). If the FES course is phased over three years, then

20 courses will need to be carried out every week nationwide. This is a tall order, but a necessity for the progression of the construction industry. This emphasises the importance of involving the ETBs, as well as recognised private providers such as Partel (Galway) or St Gobain (Cavan) who participated in the pilot scheme.

So What’s Next?

The QualiBuild National Roll-Out is in its final phase, providing recommendations on roll-out of courses which consider supporting measures, financial costs and further training (CPD). Gathering support from relevant bodies to work together and agree on the best approach to progress the roll-out of these courses effectively is the final step, and possibly the most important step.

The groundwork has been completed, now QualiBuild needs to be implemented.

The National Roll-Out is to incorporate not only the delivery of the aforementioned courses but also the establishment of a Construction Workers Skills Register which will record all training and skills achieved by the individual. It is important to encourage construction workers to continue training and the improvement of their knowledge on a regular basis through CPD, as regulations and types of technologies within the construction industry are rapidly changing. The number of workers employed in building construction totals approximately 60,000 people. To date, there are few registers for the individual worker and those that exist are mainly limited to the electrical, plumbing and heating sectors, e.g. RECI, RGII.

It is anticipated that the Construction Workers Skills Register for individual workers will sit alongside existing company registers run by CIF, SOLAS, National Guild of Master Craftsmen, etc, as well as established professional registers such as RIAI, BER Assessors, and so on. To assist in the development of the register, a detailed review of all of the registration bodies in the construction industry in Ireland was completed and a comparison matrix created. The collaboration of all sectors of the construction industry was also seen as being important. Hence, the QualiBuild project held six workshops nationwide inviting workers and professionals from within the construction industry to share their views.

The registration system development is very much an integral part therefore of not just the QualiBuild programme but of the future of the Construction Industry.

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