Promoting Climate Literacy in British Columbia’s Apprenticeship System: Evaluating One Union’s Efforts to Overcome Attitudinal Barriers to Low Carbon Construction

By Corinne Tallon and John Calvert

Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University

Prepared for the International Labour Process Conference (ILPC), Sheffield, United Kingdom, April 4 – 6, 2017

 

Abstract

 

Buildings account for a significant component of total energy consumption and are thus a critical target in lowering society’s carbon footprint and mitigating climate change. While there has been considerable progress in developing new technologies, materials and building designs to achieve this goal, one key element of making buildings more energy efficient is too often overlooked: the competency and commitment of the workforce responsible for the building construction. There is considerable evidence of a significant gap between the needed skill sets for low carbon construction and the capacity of the training and apprenticeship systems to deliver appropriate skills – including climate literacy – to the construction workforce, both in Canada and internationally. Furthermore, an apparent gap exists in terms of interest and investment on the part of government, employers, and union leaders within the industry to encourage this type of training and, more importantly, implementation of this training on the work site.

This research paper examines the efforts of one building trades union to promote climate literacy within British Columbia (BC) via the classroom. The BC Insulators union has responsibility for training all mechanical insulation (MI) trades’ workers in the province under an agreement with the BC government. It delivers the classroom training under contract with the province’s largest public training college, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). As part of its commitment to address sustainability and green construction practices within the industry, the union has introduced a ‘Green Awareness’ course to their apprenticeship program curriculum. The two-module course was introduced in 2011 and is taught over the course of the first two years of the four-year program.

After conducting a review of the ‘Green Awareness’ course content, the research team performed qualitative interviews with a cohort of 2nd and 4th year apprentices. The former cohort had, at the time of the interviews, received both modules of the new course. The fourth-year cohort on the other hand had completed most of their classroom training before the module had been fully refined. They therefore had not received the formal ‘Green Awareness’ training. The purpose of this research was to determine whether exposure to the new ‘Green Awareness’ course content influenced the apprentices’ views on climate change, and whether they identified links between climate change, their performance as insulators, and the performance of the construction industry more broadly.

The interviews identified significant differences in the two cohorts’ levels of understanding of the links between the construction industry, MI, and climate change. Degree of understanding and interest also varied depending on the sector in which the apprentice had employment experience and the specific types of projects on which they had worked. Significantly, apprentices identified a number of barriers to their ability to implement best practices and low carbon construction, including: lack of co-ordination between insulators and other trades; the absence of stringent inspection of finished work; pressure to complete tasks at the expense of quality work; and a more general pattern of industry indifference to implementing best practices and low carbon construction. These findings indicate the need for further refinements in the content and delivery of the ‘Green Awareness’ course material. The authors conclude that incorporating climate change-related course content into the training process is an important step in fostering climate literacy within the industry and should be encouraged in other trades. However, its degree of impact will be limited unless more sweeping changes are made to the organization and culture of the construction industry itself.

 

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