By Karin Zauner.
Co-Founder of Housing4Europe.Org
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