by Brianna Crandall — January 11, 2017 — The National Institute of Building Sciences Consultative Council just released its 2016 report on the building industry, Moving Forward: Findings and Recommendations from the Consultative Council, during its Annual Meeting, held as part of Building Innovation 2017: The National Institute of Building Sciences Annual Conference and Expo.
The National Institute of Building Sciences Consultative Council brings together leading U.S. building industry organizations to identify the policies, practices and trends that hinder achieving the nation’s goals of realizing high-performance buildings and communities. Each year, the Council develops a Moving Forward Report to examine some of these challenges and offer findings and recommendations on how to overcome them. The summarized report becomes part of the Institute’s Annual Report, which goes to the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress.
As identified in the 2014 and 2015 reports, the availability of a skilled building-related workforce now and into the future remains a significant challenge to the U.S. building industry. While the issue of water also has been covered in prior reports, a recent increase in droughts and infrastructure issues in places such as Flint, Michigan, have underscored the importance of potable water and the efficient and healthy use of this limited resource. While many of the other challenges identified in earlier reports remain, and those associated findings and recommendations still are relevant, the two issues of workforce and water continue to weigh heavily on the building industry, and are the primary focus of the 2016 Moving Forward Report.
Developing a skilled workforce
To maintain its contributions to the U.S. economy and the health, safety, welfare and resilience of the nation’s citizens, the building industry requires the availability of a skilled workforce. Yet, over the past several years, almost all sectors of the U.S. building industry have reported a growing shortage of skilled construction workers. In the 2016 report, the Consultative Council identifies several causes of this disturbing trend and offers recommendations to address them, some of which include:
- Promoting technical and trade programs in K-12 and technical schools, emphasizing the good career opportunities available;
- Encouraging women and veterans to enter the construction sector;
- Establishing programs that employ building industry professionals to work in underserved communities in exchange for a reduction in their student debt;
- Developing state and/or national reciprocity programs for certified trade professionals, allowing them geographic mobility to follow career opportunities; and
- Allowing low-interest federal loans to be used for industry credentials/certifications and post-secondary education.
Water resources and the built environment
Regardless of how well the nation’s homes and commercial buildings are designed and constructed, how sustainable and energy-efficient they are or how vital they are to a community or a local economy, all buildings require a connection to a safe, reliable and continuous water supply in order to fulfill their purpose. When a building does not have a safe and secure water supply, normal building functions stop, the conducting of commerce ends, people are displaced, and jobs are lost. In the report, the Consultative Council offers recommendations, with the goal of initiating a dialogue to develop a holistic water strategy for the United States. Some include:
- Expanding and adequately funding federal water programs to help utilities improve infrastructure while also meeting federally mandated water quality requirements;
- Allowing federal and state government funds to be used for projects relating to water reuse;
- Developing best practices for utilities to reference when changing their water treatment processes to reduce unwanted consequences;
- Modernizing the existing water pipe-sizing calculations, which were developed in the 1930s and 1940s;
- Incentivizing the removal of water-guzzling plumbing fixtures and installation of new, high-efficiency models;
- Requiring utilities to provide and install smart water meters;
- Requiring compliance with standards to mitigate outbreaks of legionellosis and other water-borne diseases in building water systems; and
- Issuing uniform water-treatment and water-quality requirements for the use of non-potable water.
As highlighted in the 2016 Moving Forward Report, both the public and private sectors in the United States can take a number of steps to address the challenges of developing the U.S. building industry’s workforce and improving the nation’s water safety and efficiency. Now is the time for action, says the Institute. Continuing to neglect these problems makes them exponentially more expensive to resolve.
Implementing solutions will significantly impact the nation’s ability to thrive economically and socially, adds NIBS. Through the Consultative Council and other cross-industry groups, the building industry stands ready to create actionable policies and practices that support improving the building industry workforce and the safe, efficient and responsible use of water.
The Consultative Council’s 2016 Moving Forward Report is available for free download from the Institute’s Web site.