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Driving future skills in sustainable construction

Emma Kearney, NZEB transition year student at the National Construction Training Campus, County Offaly, with Basil Love, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board instructor.

Construction is currently one of the most important sectors in Ireland where a range of new skills are needed to deliver on the Government’s ambitious targets for climate action and Housing for All.

Research commissioned by SOLAS, the further education and training authority, has indicated Ireland needs over 50,000 additional construction workers to build and retrofit all of the homes projected for 2030.

As well as the importance of having a steady stream of new entrants to the sector, construction workers will also require upskilling in newly emerging aspects of construction such as nearly zero energy building (NZEB), retrofitting and modern methods of construction (MMC). Equipping the construction sector with the skills to build new homes to a high energy standard and retrofit homes will be central to ensuring that Ireland can meet the huge demand for housing in the coming years.

Further Education and Training (FET) is uniquely placed to respond to the critical skills needs in this state. It is attracting a greater share of school leavers, serving as a resource for everyone to upskill and reskill throughout lifetimes and careers, and is becoming the go-to place for the development of specialist skills. The growth and demand for FET and apprenticeships is further evidence that it has become a valuable and recognised learning with recent figures indicating that one-in-10 adults in Ireland – around 423,000 people – were engaged in NZEB and retrofit training, construction skills schemes, apprenticeships, or other FET activity in 2023.

SOLAS is driving and supporting transformation in the sector to meet Ireland’s construction skills needs through significant investment in the expansion of provision at local level through 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) across the State.
Working in collaboration with the National Construction Training Campus at Mount Lucas, ETBs, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and a broad range of construction stakeholders, SOLAS is enhancing the construction training infrastructure and implementing new and comprehensive construction skills pathways around MMC, NZEB, Certified Passive House construction and digital construction skills.

Emma Kearney, NZEB transition year student at the National Construction Training Campus, County Offaly, with Basil Love, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board instructor.

Green Skills for Construction through NZEB and retrofit upskilling provision are part of a broader suite of green skills FET programmes developed to ensure that every FET learner is equipped with the skills to become agents of change in the area of climate action. Led by the Green Skills for FET 2021-2030 Strategy, SOLAS is supporting the training and upskilling of those in construction occupations in the latest green technologies.

SOLAS is also supporting ETBs to develop specialist centres of skills development, with the ongoing national roll-out of NZEB centres of excellence seen as a significant step towards upskilling the amount of construction workers required to deliver on the Government targets to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030. By the end of 2023, almost 5,000 people had been trained in essential NZEB and retrofitting skills, with a continued focus on easier access and simplified pathways to broaden access to construction upskilling. Developed with industry for industry, courses range in length from one to a handful of days, with evening and weekend provision available across most programmes. Time spent off-site for upskilling is minimal with short, flexible and hybrid offerings available at little or no cost.

NZEB FET provision has recently been promoted through a national information campaign led by SOLAS, together with the centres of excellence. Targeted at the construction industry, the campaign signposted workers to upskilling opportunities at local level. This marked the first national campaign of its kind, coordinating all centres of excellence across the country, from City of Dublin ETB, Cork ETB, Laois and Offaly ETB, Limerick and Clare ETB, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim ETB, to Waterford and Wexford ETB.

As part of our ambitious FET Strategy to drive significant change, reform and transformation across the FET system, SOLAS is supporting a number of initiatives across the country to widen participation and inclusion in NZEB and retrofit upskilling provision. In 2023, the National Construction Training Campus at Mount Lucas, under the provision of Laois and Offaly ETB, launched the Mobile NZEB Training Unit, which travels to construction sites across the country bringing upskilling opportunities onsite, and providing easier access to those that need it most.

The mobile unit is also travelling to secondary schools to introduce students to NZEB and MMC from an earlier stage. NZEB taster modules have been piloted over the past few years for Transition Year (TY) students in a number of second level schools across the country, with great opportunity for future integration into the senior cycle curriculum.

At the forefront of construction training in Ireland for MMC, retrofitting and NZEB, the National Construction Training Campus will be home to Ireland’s first ever Demonstration Park for Modern Methods of Construction – this state-of-the-art facility will be key to ensure that we can provide the necessary critical construction skills for the future.

Additional developments include the delivery of upskilling opportunities in retrofitting for people in custody who are close to release. Together with key partners in the Prison Education Taskforce and Laois and Offaly ETB, SOLAS have developed a pilot programme to support rehabilitation and employment of those post-release. This initiative is taking place on site in the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise and Wheatfield Prison in west Dublin, under the provision of Laois and Offaly ETB’s National Construction Training Campus at Mount Lucas. SOLAS is also supporting Laois and Offaly ETB’s collaboration with Saint Andrews Resource Centre to deliver construction skills and pathways to employment in Dublin’s south inner-city. These initiatives demonstrate the crucial role FET plays in widening access to accredited upskilling opportunities while driving future skills in sustainable construction.

Looking to the future, SOLAS will continue to power transformation in the FET sector, providing the necessary skills for workers to ensure that they have sustainable roles which will help deliver on our targets under Housing for All and climate action to ensure the sector is fully equipped to meet Ireland’s critical skills needs.

Find out more about SOLAS’ role in driving future skills in NZEB and retrofit:

W: and www.thisisfet/nzeb