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Bridging the Green Gap: Addressing the Skilled Trades Shortage in Sustainable Asset Management

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A closer look at the challenges of the skilled labor shortage, and innovative strategies to cultivate the next generation of sustainable trades talent. Join us as we delve into expert insights and forward-thinking solutions in our latest blog post.

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ServiceChannel

With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, more businesses have been moving toward energy-efficient and sustainable operations, offering enormous potential for economic growth and new employment opportunities. It also creates opportunities to reduce energy consumption and operating costs — yielding immediate returns on investments in sustainable facilities management.

Yet facilities managers are working overtime to find the right talent to support their sustainability goals. Demand for installing and maintaining high-efficiency systems like heat pumps and IoT-connected devices such as smart lighting, EV charging, and solar photovoltaic systems (a system that turns sunlight into usable power without any moving parts or emissions) continues to grow. Facilities also need to incorporate technologies that ensure their IoT solutions and building automation systems can communicate seamlessly with their organizations’ other applications. The skilled worker shortage is therefore presenting a real challenge for businesses looking to meet sustainability milestones and manage their operating costs.

“As facilities advance, so must the workforce, adapting and acquiring new skills for a smarter and more integrated facilities program,” says Leum Fahey, director of product management at ServiceChannel. “Continuous training is essential, ensuring that individuals not only acquire new skills but also stay up to date in an ever-evolving landscape.”

The Vocational Skills Gap Leaving Trades Jobs Empty

A wave of retirements in the skilled trades threatens to derail sustainability goals just as green investments are ramping up. According to a recent report by Associated Builders and Contractors, construction job openings averaged 390,000 per month in 2022. And roughly a quarter of the existing workforce is over 55 and nearing retirement.

Unfortunately, training programs are failing to fill the void left by these retiring workers. The current education system often steers future workers toward a four-year university education to the detriment of vocational trades, while underinvestment has left vocational training capacity lagging. The struggle to attract new talent is also due to wages in skilled trades not keeping pace with fields like technology and engineering.

“I don’t feel we got enough about workforce development in the Inflation Reduction Act,” Leah Stokes, a professor of environmental politics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was involved in the bill’s creation, told “The New Yorker.” “We have to change the culture around the importance of these jobs, which are going to be linchpins in the clean-energy transition.”

The right policies and incentives can motivate more young people to pursue careers in the trades. But immediate action is needed to prevent the looming workforce shortfall from undermining infrastructure goals.

The Impact on Sustainable Facilities Management

The skilled labor shortage is already hindering facilities teams that are striving to meet sustainability goals. Since buildings account for such a significant portion of energy use, upgrading to high-efficiency systems is critical. But tradespeople familiar with the latest technologies are in short supply.

This inability to respond to installation and maintenance demands for specialized green needs causes inefficiencies. Existing equipment can’t be optimized, upgraded, or replaced. Instead, facilities rely on outdated systems and vendors who do not have the right skill sets, making improvements to energy metrics difficult.

Ultimately, sustainability and efficiency goals are put on hold as the skills shortage stifles efforts to meet emissions, waste, and other sustainability KPIs. Organizations are experiencing mounting pressure from both the public and legislators to meet Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) commitments, with states like California requiring companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risks. Many companies are investing heavily to pivot to more sustainable operations, but the lack of qualified service providers can grind progress to a halt.

Building Tomorrow’s Skilled Trades Talent

Forward-looking facilities managers are tackling sustainability head-on instead of waiting for the labor pool to grow enough to meet demand. Here are just a few promising solutions for developing skilled trades talent:

  • Implement in-house vocational training to cultivate talent from within. Offer apprenticeships, career pathways, and skills credentials tailored to your organization’s needs, which allows you to shape your ideal workforce. You can also explore technology such as virtual reality (VR) to make training opportunities more accessible and engaging. For an insider’s perspective on this, hear how Doug Donovan, CEO and founder of Interplay Learning, is using VR to help solve the skilled labor shortage on the latest episode of “Elevating Brick and Mortar.”
  • Partner with technical schools and community colleges to build a pipeline of trained workers. Fund relevant scholarships and sponsor programs in high-demand skills like heat pump installation. You can also form consortiums between your company and others to standardize training programs and share credentialing.

  • Advocate for incentives at the local government level for hiring and training skilled tradespeople, and for expanding vocational education programs. The more graduates trained for in-demand roles, the better the outcomes will be across the board.
  • Use automation to free up human potential for higher-value work. By handling repetitive tasks, automation lets providers focus on building skills in specialized sustainability areas. This combination of tech and talent is key to unlocking more value and greater efficiencies.

The Importance of Sustainability Skills in Facilities Management

Make no mistake: The urgency of the skills gap is clear. According to Stanley Black & Decker’s Makers Index, there were around 650,000 vacant construction trade jobs in the U.S. and 10 million worldwide in 2022. With baby boomers retiring, we’re also seeing a shrinking labor pool. Meanwhile, the need for specialized green skills is on the upswing. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The appeal of working with state-of-the-art sustainable technologies — combined with the potential for higher wages tied to green expertise — presents a golden opportunity to draw in more qualified workers.

Today, the drive toward sustainability enjoys broad support from policymakers and the public, who are inspiring change through state and regional legislation as well as through their choices as consumers. So, the time is right for an all-hands effort to train the next generation of skilled tradespeople. It’s not too late to build an ample pipeline of talented builders, installers, and technicians empowered to make sustainability a reality.

Are you looking to find the talent you need to expand your sustainability-focused provider network? Visit the ServiceChannel Marketplace to find top providers across a variety of industries and areas of expertise

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