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A couple of years ago at one of the largest gatherings of building science experts, I began my talk with a poll asking how many were older than 40. More than 85%raised their hands. When I asked them to keep their hands up if they were over 50, more than two-thirds of the hands remained up. And finally when I asked those over 60 to keep their hands up, well more than half of the hands remained raised…including mine. That was really scary. One, that I’m over 60. But more importantly, it was scary to view that vast audience and visually see the evidence that our building science community and leaders are rapidly aging out of the workforce.
This week at the same gathering, I began with a poll asking how many of the audience felt they did not have adequate building science skills for their jobs. Hardly any hands went up. So I asked the question, “How do you know?” In fact there is no way of knowing, and the building industry is effectively a ‘Wild West’ show of self-declared building science competency.
So, here we are. We’re missing a critical pipeline for replacing us old-timers with qualified and passionate next generation professionals who can meet the growing challenges and demand for high-performance buildings, and we don’t have a framework for how to ensure adequate building science skills across all workforce classifications involved in buildings. Yet, as buildings continue to become more insulated and air-tight, building science skills become absolutely crucial to ensuring affordability, health, comfort, and durability. Houston (and every other city), we have a problem.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Building America Program recognized that it has a unique opportunity to address this challenge. After holding an expert meeting on building science education followed by a number of stakeholder meetings on the subject, DOE now has developed a building science education strategy that includes three important initiatives.
- The DOE Race to Zero Student Design Competition, now in its fourth year, was designed to inspire the next generation of building science professionals, fill gaps in critical skills needed to begin careers in clean energy, and advance building science curriculum at universities. After watching the impact on hundreds of students and industry participants from across the United States and Canada who have already participated, we’re confident this competition is truly changing lives. Registration for teams is open for the next Race to Zero that will be held April 22-23, 2017, in Golden, Colo.
- The Building Science-to-Sales Translator Tool helps communicate the value of high-performance buildings more effectively to the consumers and building transaction stakeholders. This includes a new language of ‘value’ that translates technical jargon into terminology based on improved consumer experiences and an easy way to create customized point-of-sale messaging that conveys the compelling benefits of building science measures.
- The Guidelines for Building Science Education, released in 2015, provide a national framework for consistent levels of building science competency across more than 30 different workforce classifications. Industry organizations, universities and certification bodies are invited to self-certify that their programs include the most important aspects of building science in their curriculum needed to align with these guidelines to begin the process of building a national workforce with critical building science skills. A new Building Science Education Solution Center scheduled for launch this fall will enhance this process by allowing easy access to curriculum and training material consistent with the guidelines.
We have a long way to go before we have an age-distributed, diversified, and qualified workforce to fill the growing demand for high performance buildings, but DOE is excited with the early progress and interest from the building science community. Please take time to further explore these initiatives via the links above and look for future guidance how you can take specific actions that contribute to this important movement. After all, building science only determines if our built environment will work or fail!
Building Technologies Office
U.S. Department of Energy