Sustainable Education: Shaping Tomorrow’s Workforce

The technologies exist to boost sustainable construction, so why is the transition to new practices so sluggish? A shortage of a trained and skilled workforce is setting the contrast high between the industry’s demand and capacity to outfit the landscape quickly with the right professionals. If we educate key players and build an environmentally conscious workforce, could the solution be within reach? 

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Training as a major lever for sustainable construction


The Sustainable Construction Observatory reveals a critical training gap in the construction industry: less than 30% of professionals possess adequate training for sustainable practices. How can we build sustainably if no one truly knows what it means? Should the building sector shift its priorities toward educating its key players? 

It is a pressing demand accentuated by the precedence of our youngest generations. In Deloitte’s 2023 global survey, over half of Gen Z and Millennials emphasize the need for employers to actively address climate change concerns. But how can we foster these strategic upskilling initiatives? 

Educating and Inspiring France’s Future Workforce 

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To address this, Saint-Gobain inaugurated three schools in France dedicated to educating artisans in three key sectors of the ecological transition – Asturienne’s École du Toit (Roof’s School) for roofing specialists, POINT.P’s École des Bâtisseurs for masonry, and CEDEOs 19°C l’École du Génie Climatique for HVAC engineering. Who better than the future workforce to carry the values of sustainable construction?

What does the craftsmen of tomorrow look like ?

The concept emerges from a simple equation: the shortage of artisans in the industry is set to worsen in the coming years. The programs target professionals, even outside of Saint-Gobain’s current network, a population of young prospects between 18 and 29 years old. After a training period of around one year, depending on the school and the module, students will benefit from work-study training that marries hands-on experience in the field with formal and experimental learning in class. Wherever they will work, they will remain concerned primarily with the environment.

A Global Framework: Training the Industry of Tomorrow

Saint-Gobain’s education initiative to support the sustainable construction transition is not limited to young professionals in France. “We have training centers for our customers everywhere in the world depending on the brand and the market,” explains Fabienne Grall, Saint-Gobain’s CSR and Foundation Director. “Each country determines their needs based on their economic and social structures.” The global program is built with a tailored approach and targets the employees of Saint-Gobain’s customers.

Challenges and Opportunities of sustainable construction in the global south

In Brazil, each Saint-Gobain brand disposes of an academy that offers online and in-person training opportunities to contractors, teaching them how to use brand-specific materials. In Morocco, brands send a vehicle with trained specialists directly to construction sites to train the employees of customers on how to conduct a specific job. And these programs might even attract a new population to the workforce. 

Each country determines their needs based on their economic and social structures.

In India, Gyproc, Saint-Gobain’s plaster solutions company, noticed that a rapid development of the industry led to an increased demand for skilled professionals. In response, Gyproc has been working to bridge the gap between the industry’s needs and availability of a skilled workforce. They have since developed a three-month residential training program tailored for individuals entering the sector. 

Variations of these academies are present in most countries where Saint-Gobain is positioned. “We are upskilling the workforce not only on how to use our solutions but also how to build more sustainably,” explains Grall.

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Sustainable construction is a common and global objective: Saint-Gobain shares these values with other construction businesses. For example, CEMEX, the Mexican multinational building materials company, is one of 200 companies to have joined the All4YOUth, a business initiative aiming to strengthen the capabilities of young professionals in the professional world and reduce the proportion of unemployed youth. In parallel, CEMEX has also created its own Sustainable Construction Academy, a global program designed to educate their customers on sustainable design and construction practices.

Sustainable Education Integrated into Universities 

Education around sustainable construction has become a staple in the industry and a core part of university curriculums around the world. At ETH Zurich, Switzerland’s leading public research university, a yearly lecture series “The Sustainable Development Goals in Context,” imparts valuable knowledge on construction, sustainability, preservation, circularity, decarbonizing the building sector, and energy. 

Climate change: 6 startups revolutionizing construction

Another example can be seen at the National University of Singapore. With the program Urban Climate Design Lab (UCDL), a group of students and researchers have transformed the school into an open-lab for climate sustainability and resilience research among architects, urban planners, geographers, fluid mechanic scientists, and climatologists. 

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There is undoubtedly a collective effort to educate not only the current and upcoming workforce on adopting more sustainable practices, but also the greater public. The transition toward building a sustainable industry isn’t going to happen overnight. It is through the commitments we are making as an industry – by our businesses and universities – to educate and create a specialized workforce, that we will be able to impart change. For Saint-Gobain, extending its training programs across all its stakeholders only marks a decisive step. The key is to equip the future of the industry with the tools, information, and resources they need to build differently.

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