EuropeOn Annual Conference: Renovation Wave and European recovery rely on skilled workers.

Our Annual Conference is always the time to reflect on the important topics discussed at EU level, impacting EuropeOn members and electrical contractors the most. While this year’s edition had to move online, we made the best of the situation to invite policymakers and stakeholders to contribute to our discussions and made the event accessible to all interested parties.

The morning session of our Conference focused on recovery, renovation and skills.

Building renovations are a key segment for electrical contractors. This is even more crucial given the double challenge of decarbonising the building stock and recovering from the sanitary and economic crises. However, a second area of concern for our sector is the difficulty faced by our companies (mostly VSEs and SMEs) when it comes to recruiting enough professionals with the right skills. Against this backdrop and following the publication of the Renovation Wave Strategy by the Commission, which aims to double the rate of renovations, we decided to organise a panel debate focusing on these interconnected aspects of electrical contracting.

With speakers from the Commission’s Employment and Energy Directorates, form SolarPower Europe, and from EuropeOn’s own board, this session produced some insightful discussions on skills in the Renovations Wave.

While the EU does not have exclusive competences when it comes to education, the Commission has still prepared a renewed Skills Agenda, meant to support “skills for jobs”. Alison Crabb from the Commission’s DG EMPL (job & employment), gave us an overview of this Skills Agenda, and more particularly of the Pact for Skills. If you’re one of our regular readers, you’ll be well aware of this initiative as EuropeOn has been extensively involved in the Construction and Automotive roundtables organised under this Pact. Aiming to open re- and up-skilling for all, it brings together actors from key value chains for an EU-wide brainstorm on sector-specific skills needs, and further supported by the Commission with Networking, Knowledge and Guidance & Resource Hubs, as Ms Crabb explained. Finally, she strongly insisted on the new Recovery and Resilience Facility designed by the Commission. Consisting of fresh money, it aims at supporting Member States’ national recovery plans. It includes a focus on skills but, as Ms Crabb emphasised, it will be up to each national government to allocate funding for skills in their recovery plans.

Going into more detail on skills in relation to the Renovation Wave, Stefan Moser from the Commission’s DG ENER (energy) outlined what this initiative intends to achieve. He pointed to renovations as a great green recovery tool thanks to its inherent job-intensity, in addition to its carbon reduction potential and the improved life quality for building occupants, leading to a win-win-win situation.

Indeed, boosting renovations can fuel job creation and absorb some of the job losses linked to the economic crisis rather swiftly, and across a wide range of skillsets. But up- and re-skilling will be needed to really tap into this potential. For both new entrants, who need to learn basic construction skills, and experienced workers, who need to update their skillsets in light of new priorities, skills and training provisions will be necessary. But Mr. Moser did remind us that construction jobs are not a quick fix and that these are long-lasting solutions, especially as building renovations will have to keep on going for the next 20 years in view of our climate targets. With yet more measures on the table for 2021, the Commission will introduce minimum energy performance standards for more predictability as well as reviewing Energy Performance Certificates legislation.

More specifically, Mr. Moser explained that electrification provisions in Renovation Wave are consistent with the recent Energy System Integration strategy, where electrification is featured prominently. New end-uses such as heating and cooling will have to be electrified, mainly with a scale up of heat pumps, and gasses will only serve to ‘fill the gaps’, in the areas that cannot be electrified. Further, buildings will also become producers of energy and this will predominantly be electricity generated by solar panels. This will be further developed in the 2021 review of key Clean Energy Package measures (including the Directives on Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy and Energy Performance of Buildings).

Electricity skills are obviously the main interest of electrical contractors and especially when it comes to solar PV, which is poised to grow tremendously also through aforementioned measures linked to the Renovation Wave. SolarPower Europe’s Deputy CEO Aurélie Beauvais enlightened us on the need for skilled electrical contractors in the solar sector. She also showed how rooftop solar does not only contribute to renewable energy targets but enables primary energy savings at larger scales, supports energy system integration as a decentralisation and demand-side flexibility tool.

Rooftop solar offers great potential for emission reductions, as there is a lot of unused space on EU roofs to install PV, but also for recovery strategies, as it is the most job-intensive power generation technology. Ms. Beauvais further expand that solar could host up to 4 million jobs by 2050.

Indeed, solar PV companies are continuously looking for more talent with new skills. Availability of such worker is important to foster the growth of such European businesses but also for consumers. In some remote areas it can be difficult to find installers that carry the rights skill for each task, turning some consumers away from the best available clean energy solutions. To this end, SolarPower Europe has been a long-time supporter of EuropeOn’s #Skills4Climate campaign to raise awareness of career opportunities and skills needs in the electricity sector.

Finally, Martin Bailey, EuropeOn Vice-President and Chair of the Value Chain Working Group, looked back at our #Skills4Climate arguments to understand how they fit in the post-Covid era. Linking green and digital skills and climate objectives complements the recovery needs of the current times. The job potential that we highlighted before the pandemic is all the more relevant now that unprecedented funds will be mobilised to relaunch Europe’s economy, while new climate targets and sub-targets are enacted.

While electrical contractors are mainly SMEs scattered across Europe’s regions and could be vulnerable to economic shocks, we have opted for a ‘glass half-full’ perspective and have been investigating the opportunities for our sector in the post-Covid era. With new societal priorities arising, such as increased climate awareness among citizens, revaluation of indoor life quality or new ways of working, electrical contractors are needed more than ever and are in a position to reap the full benefits of these new opportunities. These are contrasted by some areas of vigilance such as a fast recovery instead of a green one, a second wave impacting demand and slowing down supply chains or a shortage of new workers linked to current delays.

It makes no doubt that the Renovation Wave is needed to meet our climate targets and hopefully it will live up to its expectations, but what is certain is that it will require a large workforce equipped with the right skills. This is the case for the entire energy renovation ecosystem and certainly for electrical contractors as enablers of electrification, system integration and as a sector providing numerous, local and quality jobs across Europe.

If you missed our conference you can catch up with the recordings here.