Energy Efficiency in Buildings: The Challenges and Opportunities in the Drive to Net-Zero

Canada has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. One particular area presents opportunities into achieving this: energy efficient buildings.

Canada has committed, along with 120 nations, to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. One particular area presents tremendous opportunities into making a dent in those emissions: making our buildings energy efficient.

The building sector covers new and existing commercial, institutional, and multi-unit residential buildings. It has been identified as the “lowest-hanging fruit” in Canada’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, as its relatively small financial and behavioural investments can yield significant impacts.

ECO Canada’s latest report Assessment of Occupational and Skills Needs and Gaps for the Energy Efficient Buildings Workforce, is a qualitative look at the demands that creating energy-efficient buildings will have on the current workforce, and what can be done to address skills and labour gaps.

The building workforce, overall, is facing a labour shortage. Many of the professions are coming up against challenges in attracting new talent to the building sector, and the current workforce is ageing, taking skills and experience with them into retirement. But this is only one of the issues that Canada needs to address in order to meet the demands of making the country’s buildings energy efficient.

In our research, we broke down the occupations needed throughout a building’s life cycle into the following categories:

  1. Design and engineering professionals
  2. Energy managers, modellers, specialists and advisors
  3. Construction management and onsite supervisors
  4. Construction and related trade workers
  5. Commissioning professionals
  6. Quality control and assurance specialists
  7. Building operators
  8. Information technology specialists
  9. Regulatory specialists and officers

Breaking down silos

In order to optimize the energy efficiency of buildings across Canada and reduce carbon emissions, our research has found that there needs to be a mindset shift to a “building-as-a-system” approach.

No longer are buildings following a sequential life cycle from design to construction, commissioning, management, and retrofitting – energy efficiency must be optimized throughout its lifespan.

This mindset shift requires a second shift in the sector’s workforce because the professionals who are typically involved in one of the above phases now need to work with each other throughout the building’s life cycle.

Reaching energy efficiency requires a collaborative approach among multiple disciplines, and siloed work has created a gap in the soft skills needed in newer methods of building design and construction, such as the Integrated Design Process (IDP) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD).

These collaborations will need to happen over the building’s life cycle, requiring communication and negotiation skills, and even a view of the big picture – all of which are acquired through experience or cross-training.

Technical skills for energy efficiency

Technical skills are always in demand in the building sector. Our report covers two categories of skills and occupations needed for the near future workforce: core, which includes current occupations that will continue to be in high demand for in the energy efficiency sector, such as architects, building operators, and construction trades; and growing, which covers areas that are poised to increase in demand, such as thermal energy engineering/design, and building systems analysis.

Post-secondary education and training, as well as professional development courses, will need to incorporate both soft and technical skills required for the upcoming workforce demands of transitioning to energy efficiency buildings.

From foundational skills training, to project management, to learning about the latest equipment, materials, and technologies – there’s a lot of ground to cover.
Digital skills and literacy will continue to be in high demand. New technologies have become increasingly used throughout the building process and to optimize energy efficiency, particularly:

  • Smart buildings and leveraging IoT
  • Data collection
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions and applications
  • Energy management and sustainability technologies
  • Tenant focused technology solutions

These technologies will have a significant impact on the building sector, and energy efficiency goals, as they offer the greatest opportunity to optimize building performance.

What’s next?

Our report into the workforce required for energy efficiency in buildings also covers recommendations for industry, post-secondary institutions, and government to collaborate and develop solutions to address the workforce issues facing the building sector, if it is to meet Canada’s Build Smart and Net-Zero goals.
Key recommendations include:

  • Working together to improve the sector’s attractiveness
  • Developing a hiring forecast
  • Aligning education and training to address skills gaps

By initiating the process of developing labour market information specific to the building sector, we aim to provide insights not only around the specific gaps in the workforce but identify areas of opportunity, for all stakeholders involved in the move to energy-efficient buildings.

To learn more about our findings, insights, and recommendations around the Energy Efficiency and Building workforce, download the full report.

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