Builders are often complaining about the industry's lack of young talent – but complaining won't change anything. Improving the situation will demand focused action. It will require that builders, trades, manufacturers, and other industry partners band together in a systematic effort to attract that talent.
EEBA took the first step to that outcome during our Path to Zero educational seminar in June. Eight scholarship students from the University of Denver attended free of charge, as their registrations were generously funded by EEBA partner companies. * These partners understand that recruiting and training the next generation of building science professionals will require a sustained effort and the money to support it.
The event was the beginning of the NextGen Scholarship Initiative. Its mission is to bring students, recent graduates, and young professionals from around the U.S to the annual EEBA High Performance Home Summit and our various regional trainings, where we will connect them with potential mentors and employers.
The seeds of NextGen were planted at last year's Summit, when the “Bring a Student to EEBA” scholarship underwrote the cost of attendance for 16 participants in the Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Design Challenge.
The feedback we received from those students was universally positive. They had their eyes opened to the fact that high-performance home building--and the industries that support those builders--have viable career opportunities where they can make a positive impact on the world.
"My experience at the Summit challenged some of my preconceptions on where the industry stands and what we need to do to make it thrive in the future," said Virginia Tech student Zachary Gould. "I was thrilled to have the opportunity to cultivate my ideas alongside experts in the field and look forward to continue doing so for many years to come."
Connecting students with experts is absolutely crucial. It's what really opens their minds to a career in high-performance homebuilding.
A perfect example of someone who made this shift and seized a new career opportunity is Nathan Kahre, the leader of the NextGen Development Committee, charged with designing and promoting the scholarship program.
Kahre, 27, earned a Master's degree in Sustainable Building Design and Construction from Appalachian State University in 2017. Although he was part of a team that designed a Net Zero home for the Solar Decathlon, he assumed that such homes were only offered by a tiny sample of custom builders. He assumed his future would be in commercial construction.
"I always looked down on residential," recalls Kahre. "In my mind there were two main groups of people building houses: big builders who cut corners to raise profits on the one hand and Jim Bob and his cousin working out of the back of a truck on the other."
That thinking began to change when he was approached at the Solar Decathlon by Gene Myers, an EEBA board member and CEO of Thrive Home Builders, a Zero Energy production builder in Denver. "We had a 20-minute conversation about indoor air quality and its impact on homeowners," he recalls. Then something clicked. "I began to realize that there were production builders who cared about these issues and that working for one could be a great opportunity."
Today, Kahre is Thrive's Performance and Healthy Home Manager—basically, the company's in-house building scientist. He is on the Quality Assurance team, with duties that include helping designers to create details that improve comfort and efficiency, advising the purchasing department on the best materials for those details, and training field crews on how to build them.
Kahre loves his new work, and after attending a couple of EEBA conferences, he is more enthusiastic than ever about the long-term career opportunities available to young people. "I've learned that the high performance residential world consists of many professional builders who understand building science and know how a home should be built," he says.
Kahre knows that the key to getting other students to share that enthusiasm is connecting them to those builders, as well as to other industry professionals.
At the Summit
That's exactly what the NextGen Scholarship program will accomplish. Our immediate goal is to provide funds for students from around the country to attend the 2019 EEBA High Performance Home Summit in Denver from October 1-3.
EEBA plans to offer scholarships to at least eight students: two from each of this year's four Solar Decathlon teams. Each scholarship of $1,500 will pay for full registration, transportation, meals and accommodations. If we raise enough money, we will provide scholarships to even more students.
Once there, students will be offered a structured program to help plug them into the industry. There will be conference sessions devoted to helping builders prepare and develop the next generation. There will be a mixer to connect students with builders, manufacturers, raters, and other industry partners. There will also be a private room where students can meet with industry representatives and learn more about working with these companies.
"Providing a space for students to connect with industry professionals will give them the opportunity to showcase what they know and what they're good at," says Kahre.
As mentioned above, the Summit is just the next step in this effort. Follow-on scholarships will pay for students to attend local trainings such as Advanced Houses That Work and High Performance Mechanicals, making it possible for EEBA to reach students in different parts of the country.
Longer-term possibilities for NextGen include providing students and recent graduates with a job board and helping them find internships with industry companies.
"We're targeting Generation Z—digital natives who grew up with iPhones and tablets," says Steve Byers of EnergyLogic, a NextGen committee member and scholarship sponsor. "We're helping them see that our industry offers them the chance to do cutting-edge work and to provide environmentally friendly, affordable housing. It's a satisfying career with a real purpose."
Sponsors Will Reap the Reward
Of course, the ultimate beneficiaries of the NextGen Scholarship Program will be builders and other companies those students end up working for. EEBA's long-term goal is to develop a cadre of young professionals with deep knowledge of, and a real commitment to, high-performance home building.
"The availability of a pool of high quality young talent will provide builders with a huge benefit," says Adam Weinstein with Sonnen, another committee member and sponsor. "The NextGen program is a great springboard for developing that talent."
The fact is that a deep talent pool is critical to our industry's future health. EEBA members who build quality high-performance homes report growing demand from buyers, but without enough skilled young talent they won't be able to meet that demand.
That's why we need you.
How You Can Help
EEBA has already identified an excited core of industry professionals who have committed to working with our scholarship students. However, it's obvious that scholarships cost money. Our committee members are helping to fund the effort, but they can only supply a fraction of what's needed.
That's why we are asking every member of the EEBA community to consider this great opportunity and take action by helping to sponsor one of these students. If each of you gives just a small amount, it will guarantee the program's success. And of course, you will be helping ensure that our industry is able to achieve its mission of delivering affordable, healthy, energy efficient homes, while growing your own business and cultivating a talented workforce.
There are two convenient ways to support EEBA's effort to train the next generation of building science professionals.
By Credit Card
Please use our secure online form or call (952) 881-1098. We accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express.
You can do a one-time sponsorship of as little as $25 or, better yet, set up a monthly amount.
You can mail a personal or business check or money order, payable to EEBA, to:
PO Box 47204
Plymouth, MN 55447
Sponsors will be recognized at the Summit.
As we said, talk alone won't change anything. But if we're all able to take this one small action, we will be ensuring the health of our companies and our industry.
*Eight companies sponsored the June event: Graf Engineering, Alpen HPP, EnergyLogic, Owens Corning, LP Building Solutions, Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC, SunStreet and CET & Associates.