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Tomorrow's low-carbon buildings will make heavy demands on construction trades, says report

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 2/1/2019 12:17:00 PM

The transition to a low-carbon economy should be kind to the building trades, provided they have the necessary skills. Buildings account for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Meeting Canada’s emission reduction targets will require massive retrofits of existing building stock, more stringent energy efficiency standards for new construction, but also a new skillset for the construction trades.

That’s the subject-matter of “Trading Up: Equipping Ontario Trades with the Skills of the Future,” a new report from the Canada Green Building Council. It recommends new types of training, incentives that will help the trades workforce support the construction and mass retrofit of buildings that lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The evolution to green buildings comes at a time of transition and rapid growth for Ontario's construction industry. The report says that the Toronto region alone may see 147,000 job openings in construction in the next 15 years. Filling these positions with people who are proficient in how to construct low-carbon buildings is of paramount importance as Canada moves towards a zero-carbon economy.

The construction trades will need training in efficient building envelopes, including framing, insulation, windows and glazing. New construction will involve the installation of advanced mechanical systems, including heating, cooling, ventilation and air conditioning. Energy efficient furnaces, boilers, water heaters, solar panels and geoexchange systems will require specific maintenance skills.

It’s not just construction tradespeople who will need a skills upgrade. New energy efficient buildings will be high-performance instruments that will not easily forgive errors in design or construction. The entire project team — architects, designers, building inspectors, property managers — will need additional training.

The report says that available “green industry” courses and programs offered at Ontario’s colleges will not meet the needs of the construction trades. “There are no trade specific skills being taught in the ‘green’ courses and hardly any ‘green’ content taught in trade course offerings,” the report says.

The Canada Green Building Council says that the current generation of trainers will have to be retrained in the skills that the next generation of tradespeople will need. Retraining the current workforce will present a different challenge. Trades that are in high demand may not find a sufficient financial incentive to upgrade their skills as long as there is a large inventory of “old” construction to keep them occupied. Governments may need to provide incentives. A certification program in low-carbon skills would also encourage tradespeople to pursue additional training.

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