Article from REHVA Journal 2, 2022 – Laure Itard & Christian Struck
An unusual theme for a CLIMA Congress, generally striving to technical advances. A focus on education, though, has always been present at CLIMA congresses with REHVA courses, student competitions and attention to new handbooks and guidelines. For CLIMA2022 we have chosen to also include dedicated sessions about learning and education, as we feel the societal challenges are becoming urgent, think about the energy transition, digitization, lack of workforce and the potential impact of online learning.
The HVAC sector changes rapidly
The European targets with respect to the energy transition in the built environment are huge. To realize the transition towards and CO2 neutral and circular build environment by 2050, upscaling of solutions is urgently needed. Dissemination of technical innovations and proven knowledge and approaches is needed. The building services sector is a main sector to realize this transition: next to delivering the workforce for designing, placing and maintaining all energy and indoor climate equipment in buildings and neighbourhoods, the sector also acts as innovator and as a pivot between the sectors of construction, energy, health and IT & data analytics, integrating knowledge from these fields. Rapid changes in energy and HVAC engineering techniques and systems and in business models, contracts and processes make it necessary to accelerate the uptake of knowledge in these areas. Continuous professional development of the current workforce and the education of new employees is therefore necessary.
Educational challenges in the HVAC Sector are broad
Educational challenges have been identified in several studies like the European BuildUpSkills project. Dealing with these challenges have become even more important because they are decisive in realizing the targets of the energy transition. In detail relevant challenges include the following:
- Increased need for professional workforce: There are too few people working in the sector to realize the energy transition. A shortage of 3 000 workers per year is given for the Dutch sector. This has implications related to the education of new employees, mainly having no background in building or energy engineering services.
- Slow uptake of basic and integrated knowledge: the main challenges here relate to previous point and are how to accelerate and improve the uptake of knowledge inside the company. For instance from senior to junior and vice-versa; cross-specialism (e.g. from electrical to mechanical; from design departments to maintenance departments), balancing between innovation, risk management, lack of time and workforce.
- There are a few domains where in-depth knowledge has shifted from designers to producers of components, like is the case with hydraulic appendages, hydraulic design or system controls. How to take care thatknowledge at the system level increases?
- Rapid change of technologies and related knowledge: The sector is facing rapid changes in energy techniques (e.g. all electric instead of gas-driven; low temperature heating networks, integration of heating and electrical networks, NZEB buildings); engineering methods (e.g. digitization, circularity, design for maintenance); types of contracts (e.g. performance contracts including maintenance; lease); and processes (e.g. industrialization, prefab, turnkey, circular businesses). These changes are driven by societal needs while only a few innovators and early adopters develop and master solutions, leaving the question open how to accelerate further uptake.
- Competition between companies: although companies are generally specialized in market segments like residential, offices, schools, hospitals, heating networks etc.. most companies are competing with each other’s in the same markets, which hinders open innovation and knowledge sharing. There seems therefore to be a need for in-company learning, as well as sectoral and cross-sectoral innovation learning. CLIMA congresses, REHVA and its country members are however excellent example of stakeholders joining forces.
- Maintenance engineers traditionally focus on solving immediate failure problems or system alarms, or complaints from users and facility management. A new business is arising around energy optimization using the ‘big-data’ from Building Management Systems, but to do this, knowledge of data handling and machine learning is needed. This is not offered in current curricula. To solve this problem, data analysts are involved, but they lack knowledge of HVAC systems and cannot interpret the data correctly. Installers sometimes do the detailed design, install HVAC systems and do physical repairs when needed. They bear most legal and financial responsibility when something goes wrong. However, very often they are not aware of the general idea behind the design and tend to focus on components more than on the whole system. However, with performance contracting, their work is also changing.
This long list of challenges emphasizes the growing need for in-company, sectoral and cross-sectoral learning and also questions the role of regular academic, higher professional and vocational education.
Advancing Learning & Education is essential
CLIMA 2022 considers advances in learning & education as being essential to the sector and therefore showcases original contributions from academia and practice demonstrating novel approaches and good practices for sectoral education. We put particular emphasis on training experienced practitioners by for example developing learning communities and online courses to allow learning on the job. Furthermore, we focus on developing new curricula to attract and educate young professionals. We will address in particular:
- Learning communities: Experiences and challenges in integrating research, education and practice; Novel concepts for faster and more efficient learning on the job; Replicability and potential for up-scaling; Maintenance of learning communities
- Digital education: Massive open online courses; Integration of alternative educational concepts such as flipped-classroom & blended learning; Digital support for learning on the job; Digital education for
young professionals; Digital education for experts;
- Development of curricula: Gateways between vocational and higher education; Knowledge integration & cross sectoral curricula; Gateways between operation and design; Sectoral developments; Role of living-labs.
Finally, there will be an interactive session in which we hope to sketch together with companies and REHVA a possible pathway for future professional education of HVAC engineers.