Skills: EBC talks green, digital and skills transitions in construction in closing event of the European year of Skills

On 30 April, the European Commission organized the closing event of the European Year of Skills (EYS) in Brussels. Titled “The EYS – What Comes Next?”, this large-scale conference gathered hundreds of participants to share successful skills stories and discuss the legacy of the dedicated year.

During the event, the European institutions, national governments, and a broad range of stakeholders looked back at the achievements of the EYS and reflected on the road ahead, with the active presence of the Executive Vice-President of the EC Margrethe Vestager and the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit.

EBC Secretary General Fernando Sigchos Jiménez was invited to provide insights on the initiatives the representatives of crafts, micro, small, and medium-sized companies in construction have been conducting in this special year in the panel “The EYS: a stepping-stone towards Europe’s skills revolution.” He was joined by representatives of the Network of the European Public Employment Services, the European Forum of Technical and Vocational Education and Training EfVET, the Danish Rail Industry, the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions OBESSU, and the Lifelong Learning Platform, to shed light on accomplishments during this year, lessons learned, and remaining hurdles to overcome.

Mr Sigchos Jiménez underscored the indispensable role SMEs play in the construction sector’s evolution, emphasizing the need to shift the narrative surrounding construction to a transitioning sector and advocating for greater recognition of skilled crafts, artisanry, and vocational training. SMEs comprise a significant portion of the construction landscape, with micro-enterprises, those with fewer than ten employees, forming 95% of the companies in the sector. He insisted on the fact that amidst the green and digital transitions sweeping Europe, with initiatives like the Green Deal and Renovation Wave driving sustainability agendas, the sector’s reliance on skilled labour has become more apparent than ever and requires a successful parallel skills transition. When talking about sustainable construction, he made the case of training horizontally the current and future talent in the sector on matters such as energy efficiency, circularity, or waste reduction concepts.

He then mentioned various initiatives aiming at being instrumental in shaping the future workforce of the construction sector. In France, CAPEB organized a conference targeting Generation Z to discuss with young people entrepreneurial opportunities within construction and the evolution of its trades, while in Belgium, campaigns like “Paint Panter” and “De Bouw kijkt verder” by BOUWUNIE aimed to attract younger generations to construction careers in collaboration with social media influencers. In Slovenia, OZS hosted the 15th national championships of young roofers and plumbers for people under 28 and the fair MOS showcasing construction trades to elementary school pupils, trying to foster interest and engagement among future professionals.

When asked about women’s participation in the sector, he acknowledged that the push for diversity within the sector remains an ongoing challenge. There are increasing efforts to attract more women to construction, but participation rates still lag behind. Initiatives like the Belgian podcast for female construction entrepreneurs to testimony their experiences “Vrouw in de Bouw” and campaigns like “Batir la mixite” in France pushing for women in construction to take an ambassadorial role aim to dismantle stereotypes and barriers, while encouraging greater gender balance within the industry. Similarly, projects at the national, European, and now international level, such as the Erasmus+ “Women can Build” led by the Spanish paritarian organization Fundación laboral de la construcción, have been focusing on enhancing women’s participation in construction.

As the discussion drew to a close it became evident that, while progress has been made, there is still much work to be done. Empowering and helping construction SMEs and crafts to invest in skills, celebrating artisanry and vocational education, and promoting diversity are among the crucial steps in addressing the skills and labour shortages plaguing the industry. The panel concluded with a call to action, to connect the dots and deliver solutions in practice at all levels of skills governance. As the skills issue should remain a top priority for decades beyond the EYS, by leveraging the momentum generated, European policymakers, national and local governments, as well as sectoral and education stakeholders should better work together to build a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient future for construction

EBC took this opportunity to also release its position paper on skills and labour needs in construction “Crafting the workforce of tomorrow”, reaffirming the commitment of its members to driving change within the sector.
Small construction companies are pivotal for the social, environmental, and economic ambitions at the local, national, and European level. 10 action points to tackle the significant skills and labour challenges facing the construction sector in the European Union, for immediate action by policymakers at local, regional, national, and European levels.