Q: In the recent months, the European construction sector has attracted a great deal of attention, particularly with regard to the future of construction. Will there be more jobs in the construction sector in the future or will the jobs be lost due to digitalization in Europe?
For us, as the European association representing construction SMEs and craftsmen in Europe, expertise will always be the main driving force behind construction and renovation projects. It is inconceivable to replace manpower with machines, given the know-how required to complete projects in our sector, without excluding a greater or lesser contribution from digital tools.
We see digitalisation as a tool, not an end in itself. Indeed, digital construction will only benefit the sector if tools are developed in complement to human activity. We expect technological innovation to help with heavy tasks, health and safety concerns, the efficiency of collaboration and communication between actors in the value chain, the speed and lightening of processes and administrative burden, in other words, to facilitate the everyday life of our craftsmen and SMEs. This is especially true when considering that the sector struggles to find qualified labour, which is very much needed to achieve the goals of the EU Green Deal.
Q: In this EU Green Deal, the EU commission has proclaimed the ambitious Renovation Wave, with the objective to double the annual energy renovation rate of residential and non-residential buildings by 2030. Is the construction sector sufficiently prepared for this task?
We welcomed the European Commission’s Communication on “A Renovation Wave for Europe – Greening our buildings, creating jobs, improving lives” as an essential step to further improve the European building stock and as a possible stimulus for the construction sector. However, we believe that, to be fully ready to deliver the Renovation Wave, our construction SMEs and craftsmen need financial and technical support as well as a stable and enabling policy framework that really stimulates demand.
Although the Renovation Wave strategy aims to ensure high-quality, sustainable and digital renovations by providing a comprehensive approach towards building-related policies, we need to ensure that financial incentives and support are available for property owners to boost renovations, and refrain from discouraging their investments through constant regulatory changes.
Our close collaboration with the International Union of Property Owners (UIPI) serves this purpose. Another equally important aspect is the financial and technical support for the transformation of construction SMEs and craftsmen, as they are the essential actors to make these renovation ambitions a reality. In a dynamic context in terms of environment, digitalisation and innovation, addressing their challenges in the field of skills requires more technical and financial support from European and national institutions; in particular, our SMEs need more guidance on the funds available for upskilling or reskilling initiatives in the construction sector through a tailored approach.
Q: In the Renovation Wave strategy the EC also announced to support standardized so called one-stop shops (OSS) that can be deployed quickly. EBC is welcoming this measure. What are your expectations?
Today, one-stop-shops for sustainable renovation around Europe do not offer a uniform service package, too often focusing exclusively on specific aspects such as awareness-raising or the coordination of market actors, which diminishes their potential. Indeed, best-practice examples show that OSS can play a pivotal part in increasing renovation rates, in particular, if they ensure a full range service path: from the design of the whole renovation project and the creation of an ad hoc financial plan to the coordination of the process and the provision of – or the facilitation of access to – adequate and affordable funding or financing schemes. This is why we call for a robust political commitment to enable the long-term vision required for the establishment and efficient management of OSS.
Together with UIPI we put forward proposals to foster and upscale the OSS approach, among which encouraging funding of all-inclusive OSS; ensuring flexibility to allow consumers to choose their most trusted and qualified professionals; involving key stakeholders in the development and management of OSS to ensure a match with market expectations; encouraging Member States to use the next Multiannual Financial Framework to set up and manage effective OSS at the local level; or facilitating the blending of European Structural and Investment Funds with EIB loans for the establishment of OSS.
Q: The construction sector is thus in upheaval: digital transformation, sustainability, energy efficiency, circular economy, climate-neutral building materials etc. What is the state of play in terms of skills and training? Aren’t more specialist knowledge, abilities and competences needed than in the past?
Construction professionals are indeed asked to continuously demonstrate new abilities in connection with digitalization and environmental responsibilities, while the sector is also in acute need of workers. In this fast-evolving context, there is a need to review the training approach, by strengthening the offer, better matching vocational and educational schemes with market needs, improving the overall quality of trainers, training centers and programmes, as well as changing the image of construction trades in civil society. Upskilling and reskilling in line with today’s challenges is mandatory to deliver the digital and sustainable construction ambition and that pressure is particularly felt by construction micro and SMEs, which represents the majority of the industry’s workforce.
While this is increasingly addressed by public policies, further work is needed to address skills challenges of the construction sector, for instance improving work-based learning, better-integrating entrepreneurship skills in curricula, involving SME associations and employers’ representatives in the definition of skills and apprenticeship schemes, and reinforcing efforts to attract new talent to the sector. In that sense, I invite you to follow the results of the Erasmus+ project “Construction Blueprint for Skills”, which aims to revise the current skills framework so that VET is more in line with the realities of the sector, and in particular its “Sectorial Skills Strategy: Roadmap and action plan”.
Q: You mention the problem caused by the lack of attractiveness of the sector. What can be done to make the building-related trades more attractive?
The lack of attractiveness of the construction sector has been a constant for decades, resulting in a constant search for labour and a real challenge to find a specialized or highly qualified workforce. It is imperative to take the time to change the image of the construction industry in European society, particularly among young people, women, and all demographic groups that are not currently present in this sector. The ambitions of sustainable, digital, and safer construction offer a unique opportunity to dust off old clichés and stereotypes that are detrimental to the industry’s appeal.
Our participation in EU-funded initiatives in the Erasmus+ program, such as the already mentioned “Construction Blueprint for Skills”, and Horizon 2020, such as BIM4Ren, also contributes to this objective, as construction SMEs need to be aware of developments in training and innovation for their own development and to acquire and retain new talent. Too many people are still unaware of the developments in our trades, the fact that construction offers many careers and entrepreneurial paths, and the enormous contribution of jobs related to the built environment to our society, and this must change. EBC, just like the Construction 2050 Alliance, is working towards this.
Q: For the construction and renovation sectors to go in the right direction, does the policy-making process need to be improved at the EU level? Are the relevant stakeholders sufficiently involved by the European institutions?
The impact and influence of the construction and wider built-environment sectors on the European economy and society has not been enough represented in the European political sphere. With this in mind, EBC initiated the Construction 2050 Alliance together with FIEC, CECE, and Construction Products Europe, a partnership now comprising 47 European organizations, to coordinate common political messages of the construction value chain and raise its political importance at the European level.
As stated in our joint paper “Construction 2050: Building tomorrow’s Europe today”, by optimizing the way construction works, we aim to provide higher value with fewer natural resources, achieve higher quality assets for owners and users, and improve overall the life of European citizens. To ensure this, we need:
- a specific targeted approach to construction in policy-making, because the sector is at the crossroads of different value chains;
- an adaptable policy framework to address the evolving construction ecosystem and the transformation of the industry;
- a holistic approach towards policy making in order to implement coherent and balanced policies and legislation; and a strong partnership between the European institutions, the Member States, and construction stakeholders to steer the transformation of the sector with the most adequate policies and tools.
Q: In that same paper „Construction 2050 – Building tomorrow’s Europe today“, you say that “Construction is the solution industry“. What do you mean specifically by that?
The state of construction companies and their workers is a clear and reliable indicator of the overall condition of our society and economy, as construction has a considerable general impact, whether it be in terms of quality of life, health, safety, cultural diversity, respect for heritage, individual and collective well-being, and economic stability. This means that if the building industry is doing well, our society is doing well. Thus, finding solutions for our sector means finding solutions for the entire European civil society.
Moreover, we believe that, if equipped with the appropriate instruments, construction SMEs will foster a sustainable European society by facilitating the adoption of more lasting lifestyles and economic models. With our partners of the Construction 2050 Alliance, we share the certainty that by steering for high quality, low environmental impact, and highly resource-efficient built environment, our sector will contribute to achieving the sustainability targets of the European Union and the European civil society.