Creating a Green Construction Workforce

May 3, 2022 | By: Caitlin Peerson

Earth Advantage at BuildRight 2022

On Wednesday April 20th, Earth Advantage participated in the BuildRight conference put on by the Portland Home Builders Association. The event brought together builders, contractors, and developers from across the industry to discuss important topics and issues, learn about emerging techniques, and offer networking with other professionals in the field.

Running parallel to this conference, Earth Advantage hosted an all-day workforce event in a breakout room where we focused on the career pathways available to workers entering the green building industry. The day started off with an overview of green building fundamentals, then offered advice about career pathways and the certifications needed to pursue those jobs. We organized a panel discussion with three professionals who worked in new construction, home retrofit, and energy rating with hands-on demonstrations of typical equipment used in the field. There was a blower door setup, an infrared camera that showed areas of heat loss in the room, and an induction stove hot plate with melting chocolate to demonstrate selective conductivity - not only was it a fun and interactive demonstration, but the chocolate made the room smell absolutely delicious!

A key element within this workforce event was an hour-long speed networking session where we invited builders/contractors from the main conference to meet with trainees and talk about their work and career paths into the industry. There were 2-4 contractors and 2-4 trainees at each table and conversations happened quickly, followed by rotation to the other tables. The trainees walked away from the day with more knowledge about the day-to-day life of workers in the green trades, and the contractors were able to meet workers eager to enter their fields. 

Buildright workgroup gathered

This event demonstrated the value of direct connections between green construction professionals and new trainees in order to strengthen the pipeline of workers in the field. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the industry needs 61,000 new workers every month, and is projecting a need for 2.2 million construction hires in the next three years (1). This is due to the coming retirement of many workers from the baby-boomer generation, with approximately 41% of the current construction workforce set to retire by 2031 (2). At this time of increasing housing shortage and unaffordability, it is necessary to recruit and train new entrants for the field before we have a significant deficit of knowledgeable tradespeople.

Blower door demonstration

The majority of jobs in the construction industry provide a living wage and a path to a much higher income than other industries with comparable entry requirements. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 88% of the construction workforce is white and male (3). Increasing access and equity in the trades is critically important, given this traditional lack of representation of women and people of color. At this workforce event, all four of Earth Advantage’s training partners were present, including Constructing Hope, Portland YouthBuilders, Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, and Oregon Tradeswomen. These programs provide not only entry-level construction training, but also offer support to new workers in the form of career counseling, job placement, and wrap-around services. Through training programs and events like this workforce session at BuildRight, we are creating connections between contractors and aspiring professionals who are seeking permanent careers in the green trades.

While workforce development is a critical challenge in the construction industry, a central issue of importance involves the climate implications of buildings and energy use. When accounting for both materials used in building construction and ongoing operational energy consumption, buildings account for approximately 40% of total energy consumption in the U.S. (4). Earth Advantage offers training and certification on how to create more efficient green buildings that reduce energy and carbon emissions. Green building, energy efficiency, and weatherization are key components to this transition, with Oregon and Washington leading the way in above-code energy efficiency programs.

The momentum towards green construction will lead to buildings that are healthier, more comfortable, and have increased energy savings for residents, while creating living wage jobs that offer a good quality of life for workers.  The gap in trained construction workers is a nationwide issue, and we are fortunate that funding for workforce development in our region has been provided through programs such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Energy Trust of Oregon, and the Portland Clean Energy Fund. Earth Advantage is excited about the initiatives happening in this field and the potential they have to help create a green workforce that is knowledgeable, skilled, and ready to decarbonize our homes and communities.

1) National Association of Homebuilders. “Construction Labor Market Report”. November 21, 2021. https://www.nahb.org/blog/2021/11/New-HBI-Report-Shows-Labor-Shortage-Weakening-Housing-Supply-Affordability
2)
National Center for Construction Education and Research. “Broadening our Horizons: The Search for New Talent”. Fall/Winter 2017. https://www.nccer.org/docs/default-source/pdfs/nccer-cornerstone-fall-winter-2017-final.pdf
3)
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employed persons by detailed industry, sex, race, and ethnicity.” 2021. https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18.htm
4)
Energy Industries Association. “Total Energy Flow in the U.S.”  2018.  https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/flow/total_energy.pdf