NIBS Council Report: Building Industry's Top Priorities are Labor, Codes and 'Resiliency'

Originally published by: Architect MagazineJanuary 9, 2015

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On Jan. 7, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) Consultative Council released a report outlining three key priorities for the building industry: the next generation of the labor force, resilient design, and code enforcement. Titled “Moving Forward: Findings and Recommendations from the Consultative Council,” the council's annual report is used to provide policy recommendations to the White House and Congress during the council's annual meeting held at the institute's yearly conference in Washington, D.C.

In a departure from past years' reports, the council solicited input from industry professionals beyond its own membership of the AIA and other professional organizations related to the building industry. The responses focused on three areas addressing issues and identifying opportunities to enhance the built environment.

The report’s first priority outlines issues related to the industry’s workforce, including an aging demographic across a wide range of professional categories and the changing nature of skills required by building professionals. The council states that the next generation of available laborers do not yet have the necessary technical training to replace the skills of the workers who are reaching retirement, in part because “America is underestimating the value” of a vocational education, according to the report.

To ensure the next generation of the industry’s labor force adequately fills the gap left by retiring workers, the report suggests that federal agencies work with building industry representatives and other stakeholders to develop a national workforce plan that includes youth outreach. The council also recommends that members of the building industry—including skilled tradespeople, builders, contractors, and code officials—establish mentoring programs and collaborate with the education community to support technical and vocational curriculum. Industry leaders, such as employers, businesses, builders, and manufacturers, should work to educate the public about career opportunities and the availability of training programs, the report says.

The second priority addressed in the NIBS report focuses on the need for resiliency in communities and individual buildings in the face of a changing climate, highlighting the necessity for the building industry to develop tools, practices, and building codes in advance of disaster.

To develop pre-disaster mitigation strategies, the NIBS report recommends that federal agencies collaborate with the building industry to create tools that facilitate proper decision-making and develop common metrics to quantify the economic and environmental benefits of hazard resistance. The report endorses the establishment of an ongoing program, modeled after NIBS’ Building Seismic Safety Council, which would bring together building and climate scientists to focus on the relevance of climate modeling for use in the planning, design, operation, maintenance, and renewal of the built environment. It also suggests that NIBS and other national organizations communicate with meteorologists, who provide valuable information on near-term preparations for a pending event and could be useful resources for discussions on the capacity of a community to implement pre-event disaster mitigation strategies.

The report’s final focus area is building code adoption and compliance, contending that a fundamental challenge for communities is ensuring that code requirements are actually realized during a building's construction.

The council encourages federal agencies to work with industry leaders, including insurance companies, to develop a program supporting the adoption, administration, and enforcement of building codes by providing scientific and economic data about their impact on communities. Since building codes pertain to new designs and renovations, the report tackles issues with the nation’s current building stock by recommending a “White House–level dialogue” and the creation of an expert panel to set national resilience and sustainability goals. The council urges federal agencies to establish metrics that can provide building owners with return on investment data for updating building systems with new technologies and define incentives to encourage building owners to retrofit their structures.

Additionally, the report advises quantifying water consumption and building performance, and unlocking the significant amount of building information that exists within the industry for the development of standards for integration and interoperability across datasets, including protocols for data acquisition, storage, and confidentiality.

The council will work with the White House and Congress to implement the report’s recommendations to set high-performance goals for buildings and communities.

Read the full report here.