Miguel de Gracia: “The Construye 2020+ virtual route will be the launch for training in efficient renovation and sustainable construction”

The head of International Projects department stresses that “the European Union is working with all member countries to achieve a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, and the construction sector is key to this goal”.

Miguel de Gracia Mena joined the most international department of Fundación Laboral de la Cosntrucción in the midst of Covid-19. Since April 1st, 2020, this technical industrial engineer leads the team of professionals who develop more than 20 European projects of the entity, as well as the new proposals that are presented by Foundation to qualify for different European programs. In addition, he manages new lines of collaboration and cooperation between the Department of International Projects and the Territorial Councils of the Fundación Laboral, as well as means of transferring knowledge of the results of European initiatives.

QUESTION.- You have been at the Foundation for just over a year, arrived in full confinement and in the most intense months of the pandemic, what is your assessment from the first day until today?

ANSWER.- The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our world: we have been affected and it has forced us to reinvent ourselves; all have stories to tell. In my case, looking back, when I joined to Fundación Laboral de la construcción, I reminded a lot of memories, like the excellent reception of the entity, in a general level, and in particular with my department team.

We had to deal with very complicated projects, in which many people are involved from the national and international level, it is even more difficult when we add the ‘coldness’ element of managing teams in a distance, virtually way. And a job like this can be success if the human team that carries it out is solid, strong and committed. And this is what I found in my first steps at the Foundation. They have made it easy for me, and it is wonderful to be part of this team.

Q.- What initiatives would you highlight from those currently being managed by the International Projects department?

A.- We have several initiatives underway that are aligned with the objectives of the European Commission (EC). Among them, I would highlight the Construction Blueprint project, as a European framework of competences in energy efficiency, circular economy and digitalisation; and also the Construye 2020+ project and its Virtual Route, as a launching pad for training in efficient renovation and sustainable construction of the Fundación Laboral de la Construcción.

Q.- No doubt, the Construction Blueprint project is the flagship for professional skills in the construction sector in Europe, and it is led by the Foundation. What exactly are blueprints?

A.- Indeed, the Fundación Laboral is in charge of coordinating, from 2019 and for four years, the 24 partners from 12 countries participating in Construction Blueprint, an absolutely fundamental project for the European construction industry. It should be noted that the “Strategy for cooperation on sectoral competences” (called ‘blueprints’ by the European Commission) is one of the key initiatives of the New Skills Agenda for Europe.

In line with the Commission’s strategy, a number of “waves” of projects have been launched. Vertical sector projects, also called Sector Skills Alliances, have been launched to develop and implement strategies to fill skills and competence gaps in each sector.

These Sector Skills Alliances bring together key stakeholders including: business, trade unions, research institutions, education and training institutions and public authorities. And they are being developed in the first wave in sectors of: automotive, maritime technology, geospatial information, textile and tourism, in the first wave; in the second wave 3D printing, maritime transport, steel industry and our construction industry. In the third, bioeconomy, innovation in agriculture, electromobility, defence technology and microelectronics. In the fourth, blockchain, cybersecurity, supply industries and rail transport, social enterprises for labour integration and building management.

Through Construction Blueprint we are building the European framework of competences for construction in energy efficiency, circular economy and digitalisation, present and future of the advancement of our sector, both for professionals and companies.

Q.- You have also highlighted another initiative closely related to energy efficiency and sustainable construction: the Construye 2020+ project and the Virtual Route that will be launched on 1st October.

A.- We can say that Construye 2020+ is a flagship project at Fundación Laboral, it is the third part of the Build Up Skills. It was launched by the European Commission in 2011, in line with the objectives of the “Europe 2020” Strategy, its roadmap “Resource Efficient Europe” and the “Agenda for new skills and jobs: a European contribution towards full employment”.

This action was launched a decade ago, by the Intelligent Energy Europe programme, to boost Vocational Education and Training, Dual VET and further training of sectoral professionals in energy efficiency and renewable energy skills. The aim is to increase the number of skilled workers in Europe to deal with the refurbishment of buildings offering high energy performance, as well as to encourage the construction of new near-zero energy buildings.

Today, it continues being an Horizon 2020 programme project. Since then, Fundación Laboral de la Construcción has led all the Build Up Skills projects in Spain (Build Up Skills Spain -Pillar I-; Build Up Skills Construye 2020 -Pillar II-; and Construye 2020+ -Pillar III-), becoming one of the references in international networks.

To end the second pillar, a successful dissemination campaign was carried out in 2016 throughout Spain, known as the Construye 2020 Route, which visited 15 Spanish cities and involved all of the Foundation’s Territorial Councils. This dissemination and awareness-raising action was distinguished by the European Commission as an example of good practice.

In fact, to finish this third part of Construye 2020+, another national Route was also planned; however, due to the coronavirus crisis and the cancellation of face-to-face events, we had to reinvent ourselves and we are working on its virtual alternative.

Q.- What can you tell us about the Construye 2020+ virtual route?

A.- It is an awareness and dissemination campaign that, during the months of October and November, will virtually visit 17 Spanish cities, through an interactive platform, with the aim of informing the public about: good practices in sustainable construction, advice on refurbishment, regional subsidies, specialised training in energy efficiency, renewable energies and nearly zero energy buildings, regional webinars that will address the most burning issues for today’s construction, such as Next Generation funds, aid channels for end users, training for the future of professionals and companies, etc.

In addition, within this context, the project has launched courses in Energy Efficiency for blue collar workers and middle-level managers, for June and July, with more than 220 people registered. Thanks to the interest aroused by these courses, we will probably launch new calls for applications in September and October.

The Construye 2020+ virtual route will undoubtedly be the key of training in efficient renovation and sustainable construction by Fundación Laboral de la Construcción.

Moreover, taking advantage of the fact that we cannot organise an on-site route, we have proposed – as I mentioned earlier – that it should be a virtual route, thus contributing to several of the project’s objectives, such as sustainability and carbon neutrality.

Q.- Through these projects, the importance of training for the near future is clear. Why do you think the European Union is giving so much importance to training?

A.- The European Union is working among all member countries, to achieve a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. The construction sector is key to this goal, in the topics of reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions, recycling waste and circular management of construction materials throughout their life cycle. All of this will ultimately benefit people’s health and well-being.

In addition, with the European Next Generation funds, the EC will allocate €4.5 billion for the renovation of 500,000 dwellings between 2021 and 2023. For this year 2021 alone, the Spanish government will allocate more than €1.6 billion from these funds to the renovation of housing and neighbourhoods (which will be managed through the autonomous communities), to the digital and sustainable renovation of public buildings and to the renovation of architectural heritage, through the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan.

For all this, companies need trained professionals with the most up-to-date knowledge and in line with these ‘green jobs’ that sustainable construction requires. It is therefore inevitable that training will be a central axis for the economic, sustainable and digital transition: training for change, training for quality employment, and competitive professionals and companies that respond to national and international challenges.

It should not be forgotten that, in this context, more than half of the housing stock in our country is aged, 40 years old or older, which means that it is not energy efficient. And the renovation of dwellings is essential to reduce energy consumption and, with it, greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, such renovations are a very good opportunity to improve the comfort and well-being of homes and to enhance the value of dwellings.

Improving, updating and promoting professional education and sectoral training is the way to achieve a prosperous, competitive, sustainable and modern European industry. We, through Fundación Laboral de la Construcción, contribute with European projects to bring these objectives closer to the people working in the sector.