Skills and gaps in builder knowledge - how SEON is training best practice in building science professionals

Skill and Knowledge Gap within the Building Industry

“Why is it that ignorance breeds arrogance and knowledge breeds humility?”

Tedd Benson, CEO Bensonwood, Walpole, NH

Ra van Dyk, a local builder, and a Sustainable Energy Outreach Network (SEON) member, recommended that I read some of Tedd Benson’s Blogs of 2011 about the skill and knowledge gap within our current building industry.  Ra recognized that what SEON is doing with the Certified Level I High Performance Builder program is an extension of Tedd’s belief in the development of an ethic within the building industry that not only aspires to the highest of standards, but to an innate desire to learn and for builders to continue to develop their skills. Here are quotes from Tedd’s writing “Ishikawa and the Compagnons“. What was true then is unfortunately true today.

“Too many in the building trades these days are afflicted with what Pythagoras called “compound ignorance,” or ignorance of ignorance. The reason for this is simple. There’s little in the way of training requirements for almost all of the trades; there are precious few active master builders around to teach; and so few places where one can learn anything about building trades in an organized way. The void is just too big. People involved with building in America often assume they know what they’re doing when they don’t. With a serious lack of mentors, teachers and schools for at least the past 50 years, American builders are often lost in their own fog.”

“The craft of building right now involves a lot of science. Making good buildings now more than ever requires builders to be capable, determined learners, not just good with their hands. In opposition to compound ignorance, the main thing every builder needs to know is that there’s more to know, and the present accepted standard isn’t nearly good enough.”

Yes, these are bold statements, but truthfully ones that are repeated in one form or another by SEON’s members and many of our partner organizations around the state.  It is also a statement about why SEON exists – ‘to promote a culture within the green building industry that embraces science, a commitment to the highest standards, continuous learning, mentorship, and mastery.’

Sadly we are pushing against the tide in our building industry.  For example, “Why should I be certified or spend money to take additional courses?” is a statement by far too many builders. They’ve lost the essence of what it means to be part of a tradition of this “noble profession” that in other countries value the contributions and ongoing learning within the trades. These overseas training traditions live by the root word of profession  –  “profess” – the expression of a code, a code of ethics that embodies lifelong learning, mastery, and mentorship.

While for many it is easy to minimize certification/training as an unnecessary burden on production and business finances, but the intent of certification is broader than that and speaks to the innate desire to learn and strive for continuous improvement. Vermont’s master builders know this. Any forward thinking builder knows that learning leads to higher quality work, increase in production/efficiency, and a decrease in turnover. As Tedd reveals with his apprentices, there are no shortcuts to mastery and lots of benefits with the journey.

The public needs to know, that when you hire a contractor who has not committed to being current with  science and best practices, you run the risk of poor air quality, mold, and rot. Using old systems and technologies in this new environment of energy efficiency will do more harm than good. The analysis of building failures and health problems can be traced to poor installation practices and lack of knowledge of science and high performance building strategies.

Read SEON’s recommended questions to ask a contractor to see how current they are with best practices.

For builders, there’s a need to know what will get you in trouble.  How can you stay in business with call backs and legal challenges?  It’s the details of construction and non-compliance to code that will hurt your business.

The challenge for the building industry rests on the shoulders of our master builders, our learning institutions, and the public to change the narrative of recruitment, professional expectations, ongoing learning, and customer expectations of builder credentials. SEON, working with Efficiency Vermont, VT Builders and Remodelers, Vermont Passive House, and Burlington Electric is looking to reset the pathway for our “noble profession” with our Certified Level I High Performance Builder program and the related coursework and apprenticeship style learning.