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New competence for building professionals and blue collar workers – certified qualification schemes to upgrade the qualification for building nZEBs

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - NEWCOM (New competence for building professionals and blue collar workers – certified qualification schemes to upgrade the qualification for building nZEBs)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-11-30

"SInce at least the beginning of 2021, the nearly zero-energy building standard is mandatory for new buildings. The challenge for achieving the European and national climate and energy goals is that low energy consumption is not only planned on paper, but can really be met by actual buildings.
Even small mistakes in the construction can lead to increased energy consumption and loss of indoor comfort. Therefore, the quality of construction work is immensely important when constructing nearly zero-energy buildings (nZEBs). To ensure the very low energy consumption, an air-tight building envelope as well as professionally installed heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems are required.

In order to support the quality of sustainable buildings, the project NEWCOM developed several nZEB related training schemes. To ensure maximum flexibility, the trainings are designed in modules so that they can be used both as stand-alone units and as a complement to already established courses. Based on the current needs of the partner countries for professionals in the fields of flat roof and structural waterproofing, comfort ventilation and quality assurance of near zero-energy buildings, specific training modules have been prepared. These schemes were tested within ""Train the Trainer"" sessions.

A competence database was created with the aim of making acquired skills comparable across Europe. This database provides a basis for mutual recognition of skills of professionals throughout Europe. The competence database links the description of competences gained by attending a relevant course with the expert. Furthermore, a professional card can be issued on the basis of the acquired skills. The developed system can be expanded to almost any field of work and used throughout Europe.

Moreover, identification of market barriers to the implementation of (European-wide) mutually recognized training schemes for professionals in the building sector and ways of overcoming these barriers to create the needed market demand was a priority topic that was worked on during the whole project."
The first step of project NEWCOM was to identify and evaluate existing training and certifications schemes (incl. their implementation methods) for building professionals in the participating countries. Furthermore, relevant training material that was already available for already existing training schemes – useful for the further development and integration in new trainings – was collected.

The work was carried out in the form of desk research, interviews and workshops with experts and stakeholders. The desk research was done in all partner countries by using a questionnaire to gather all relevant information, which was then summarized. Results of other projects and earlier investigations were also included. Interviews were conducted using a guideline containing general questions regarding small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), questions on structural damage and quality assurance, as well as company-related questions on training and further education of employees. In addition to the interviews, workshops and round table discussions were implemented with stakeholders and educational institutions.

The second step was to develop needed mutually recognized trainings for building professionals. Therefore, training modules were elaborated using the findings of step one and earlier BUILD UP Skills projects of participating countries. In order for these new training modules to be mutually recognized, units of learning outcomes had to be developed and assessed. To guarantee the development of successful trainings and methods for mutual recognition, relevant stakeholders (of the further education and training sector, governments and contractors) were continuously integrated into the development process. In this context, “train the trainer” courses were implemented to test and evaluate the newly developed training courses.

The third step was to include the new training modules in a developed database of common/harmonized descriptors to enable the further possibility of mutual recognition. The existing BUILD UP Skills app was used as a basis for registering personal recognition of building professionals as part of the mutual recognition process. In this context, a European competence database of building professionals was created. This database provides a basis for mutual recognition of skills of professionals throughout Europe. The NEWCOM competence database links the description of the competences gained by attending a relevant course with the expert. The developed system can be expanded to almost any field of work and used throughout Europe.

Moreover, market barriers for the developed certification schemes as well as ways of overcoming these barriers (to create the needed market demand) were identified. A communication strategy to reach all relevant stakeholders was developed and implemented to support the market uptake of the developed training schemes. This communication strategy (which included a number of advertising and marketing activities) ensured that all relevant stakeholders were continuously integrated into the development process of the training modules and examination methods with the target of mutual recognition.
Construction errors are responsible for most of poor energy performance of buildings in practice. Reasons for construction mistakes are often that workers on construction sites, who make up relevant parts of the building envelope or the HVAC systems, are not aware of the complexity of nearly zero-energy buildings. This is because of the very limited availability of further education in the construction sector in many countries around Europe especially regarding the possibility of mutual recognition between different member states. Furthermore, actual offered courses in the building sector do not cover topics like cross craft understanding, lifelong service approaches or continuous controlling and monitoring for the construction and maintenance of nZEBs (nearly zero-energy buildings). In addition, quality control during and after the construction also lacks in many cases. These factors all result in construction mistakes on-site.

Mandatory checks of the energy performance of a building during construction and when completed could highly improve its quality. Some industries have already accepted the challenge and provide special training and certification schemes for skilled workers (e.g. certified external thermal insulation composite system (ETICS) in a few countries (e.g. in Austria this competence is a requirement in tenders, especially in the public sector). A further possibility to guarantee high energy performance standard is that nZEB quality must be claimed across all project phases, including inspection and monitoring (e.g. air tightness tests, thermography inspections, ventilation flow inspections and building information modelling).

The project NEWCOM addressed these issues and took on the building quality challenges building owners, construction workers and supervisory authorities are facing today in order to achieve the European and national climate protection targets.
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