It will draw young people and, refreshingly, many women. It will foster mobility in Europe and will be accompanied by cutting-edge training on green and digital issues. The winds of change are blowing in construction, one of the largest and most extensive sectors (European Commission figures reveal a sector contributing 9% of the GDP and 18 million jobs).
New production processes (such as off-site manufacturing), the expansion of digital technology into every phase of work (from 3D printing to cloud computing), the challenges posed by climate change and the ecological transition are just some of the factors that require a renewal of working methods and, above all, training.
Training is a crucial aspect of the sector. The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) expects four million more new jobs in the construction industry between 2018 and 2030, while employment in Italy will fall by 2.7%. Few of these new workers, it is expected, will have the necessary skills to ensure the achievement of the ecological transition targets.
That is why, they explain, investment in upskilling and reskilling is needed as quickly as possible. In other words, new technological skills, more awareness of the use of green materials, knowledge of the principles of the circular economy.
While there was also a sense of urgency a decade ago the European Commission created a framework in 2017 through the 2019–2022 Construction Blueprint. Backed by Erasmus+ funds and coordinated through the Fundación Laboral de la Construction, this blueprint brings together both European and national sector organisations, together with 12 vocational education and training centres, each located in a different country.
The aim is to devise the best strategy for developing new skills in the construction sector, while looking at the needs of businesses and the possibilities of the market, all in the light of the principles of ecological and digital transition. Italy’s participants were Ance, the national association of building constructors, and Formedil, the national body for training in construction. The latter was in charge of coordinating the initial phase, where an overview of the situation was drawn up.
“We have a great opportunity to relaunch the sector, make up for what has not been done over the years and achieve ambitious goals”, explained Romain Bocognani, deputy director general of Ance.
A sector snapshot
The picture is hardly encouraging: in this regard, all countries, varying in their characteristics, are lagging behind and experiencing difficulties. One of the main problems in Italy, as highlighted by the Construction Blueprint report, is linked to an elevated amount of low-skilled workers, partly due to the replacement effect: as the native population declines, jobs are filled by foreigners, yet they are chosen to do low-skilled work. This affects a sector with great potential but poor skills.
“Unfortunately, our country is coming out of a decade of severe crisis”, explains Romain Bocognani, deputy director general of Institutional Relations and Foreign Affairs at Ance. “Even before COVID, we were at levels of turnover and investment a third lower than in 2008 and at the start of the economic crisis”.
This has been a long trek across the desert, “where the number of employees has fallen from 2 million to 1.4 million and companies have tried above all to survive, without investing in innovation”. Today, fortunately, “the context has changed. We have a great opportunity to relaunch the sector, make up for what has not been done over the years and achieve ambitious goals that are ambitious, not only for us, but also for countries that have not gone through our difficulties”.
Reversing the trend requires a joint effort, not only by the sector but also by politicians. In this aspect, there is a clear path: the national Industry 4.0 plan has outlined, for example, the stages for adopting BIM (Building Information Modelling), while the other incentives and deductions that have been added over the years encourage the spread of energy efficiency measures (such as 110%, introduced in the Relaunch Decree) and the upgrading of materials.
In this context, we also have the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which “constitutes a challenge for businesses and training”, explains Bocognani. “Our need is twofold at the moment: the first is numerical, we need 265,000 people, a very high figure, who can work right away. The second is all about skills. We need qualified people who know how to apply their knowledge in new digital, ecological and circular economy”.
Our need is twofold: the first is numerical, we need 265,000 people, a very high figure, who can work right away. The second is all about skills. We need qualified people – Romain Bocognani, deputy director general of Ance
According to Construction Blueprint’s analysis, the figures that are lacking are, for example, material technologists, who study the structures of materials and their interaction with the environment, or managerial profiles such as project managers, who have to manage a project’s risks, resources and general organisation, or Data Analysts who collect data and analyse it to obtain useful information for the company’s business.
Yet it doesn’t stop there: Construction workers will also need to learn how to operate in factory rather than construction site contexts, as more and more parts of buildings will be constructed in a specialised location and then transported to where they are needed. They will have to prepare for an increasingly urbanised world, which means modernisation and renovation rather than construction. New, less polluting materials also require new uses and applications, which must also be learned and assimilated. Soft skills and interpersonal skills are also needed to improve relations between co-workers.
The result will be a new building stock, greener and more technological, but also younger and with a higher percentage of women. The foundations have been laid, work is going on. We will see the fruits as early as the end of 2022
Romain Bocognani, deputy director general of Ance
How long will it take to recalibrate all this? “It’ll take some time. Especially for the engineering part, since the pathways for architects and engineers are longer”, explains Bocognani. “We also have building schools, but it is obvious that the higher the qualification required, the more time is needed. For the time being, the first step is to create the right conditions, also for companies, e.g. with a reduction of contributions for training hours. This also applies to safety training, which is also vital”.
It will be thanks to these new skills that it will also become easier to increase the presence of women in a sector that is considered to be predominantly male, especially on the labour side. “There are already plenty of women architects and engineers. The Recovery and Resilience Plan stresses female employment, and I believe that we’ll soon feel the positive effects”, says Bocognani. “The result will be a new building stock, greener and more technological, but also younger and with a higher percentage of women. The foundations have been laid, work is going on. We will see the fruits as early as the end of 2022″.