Learning the Tools of the Trade
The web takes its place
The Training Boom of the '80s
In the 1980s I traveled to the far corners of the very large province of Quebec delivering Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CMHC) Better Building seminars and R-2000 training for the provincial home builders association, APCHQ. While effective, it felt a bit like trying to teach old dogs new tricks, and only reached a limited number of front-running contractors. Thirty years later, sitting on the editorial board of the Canadian Apprenticeship Journal, I came to understand better just how complicated trades training is. Schools, colleges and other apprenticeships for trades, although indispensable, are often disjointed and incomplete. With the shining exception of the Red Seal program, knowledge gained in one place was not recognized outside of its small confines, often leaving young people with more knowledge but useless diplomas.
Despite all of those training efforts, housing continued to have problems that we knew could be avoided, all too often even in houses built by trained professionals.
The Gaping Holes in Training
The R-2000 program put their finger on one of the principle problems, too much trade specialization without knowledge of what they called "The House as a System." There were lines drawn between trade responsibilities, and mould was getting through the cracks.
On the other end of the training spectrum, classroom training was not transmitting the details of actual product manipulation-the hands-on skills of application. This was accentuated by the fact that far too often those who take a seminar have to try to explain what they just learned to those doing the work. True apprenticeship programs work hard to combine classroom theory with field practice. Unfortunately, in the residential construction industry little is available to keep the people doing the hands-on work up to date with new products, let alone new understandings of old things like wall systems.
One new training handicap is illustrated with the recent ground-breaking research by the National Research Council Canada (NRC) on avoiding window water penetration. The real causes and solutions of water penetration are published (separating and properly locating the water barrier and the air barrier to remove the presence of water from the driving force of the wind), but NRC no longer has the mandate to broadcast this information and CMHC, who historically took this kind of research to the builders, is suffering cutbacks in their research and publications divisions.
Without some industry momentum, I found myself unable to convince the CSA committee forging the new Fenestration Installation Technician (FIT) Personnel Certification Program (a voluntary national certification program for personnel responsible for the installation of windows, doors and skylights) to even consider moving forward to new knowledge rather than backward into old habits.
Online: New Tools to Solve Old Training Problems
Traditional sit-down seminars still exist although they are getting harder to find. The most widely available, like R-2000 and those put on by EnerQuality.ca, deal primarily with training designed to meet certification for new construction energy-related programs. In some provinces, the provincial building associations have courses focused on problem areas often identified through warranty programs. The Homeowner Protection Office of BC (www.hpo.bc.ca) is now the greatest distributor of traditional type of building notices and best practice documents in the English language. You do need to read carefully if the document you are looking at is designed specifically for the wet mild climate of the Lower Mainland of B.C., however B.C. also covers both snowy mountaintops and desert valleys.
More and more, these groups place documents on the web, but that doesn't really approach real e-learning or utilize the graphical dynamics of the web and its mobile apps. Most interesting to me is that the first two significant web-based training efforts deal with two of our original and continuing training problems: understanding the overview of how one thing affects another in residential construction, and mastering the minute on-site details of product application.
The House as a System
Some of the brightest minds in energy efficient and sustainable construction have succeeded in launching the beginning of a series of online animated courses out of Halifax, starting with Building Science Basics and Envelope Specialist (New or Existing Construction). These are real "courses" with progressive segments, tests, grades and certificates. In a step to assure their recognition across the country, they are accredited to receive BPI (Building Performance Institute) Continuing Education Units and are also offered through the EnerQuality group.
Yes, they cost money, but they cost less than the time taken off of work, transportation and often lodging to attend a seminar. They are not intended to be in competition with any current training, but rather a valuable complement to all other education. I am delighted to find the course I always wanted to produce, The House as a System, presented competently and visually (I love animation for teaching building science to a guy with a drill about to punch out my air barrier). If we could get every worker and sub-trade on a site to sit down at home and click through these courses, we could begin to close up those cracks between the trades that let the mould into the walls. Even young people in full-scale apprenticeship programs will profit from a good understanding of the House as a System. Check out www.BlueHouseEnergy.com.
Bringing Application Details On-Site
You can see incredible animation detail in a website, but you can also show the guy working next to you that detail on your CI telephone app. www.ConstructionInstruction.com is an online creation by the same people who put on the Ontario Spring Training Camp I wrote about in the July 2014 issue of Home BUILDER. They have gone to manufacturers that have a need to show very specific and detailed application specifics and gotten them to finance consistent quality 3D animations that show very well on smart phones. Although this is all commercial material, it is not created by the advertising departments of the companies, but rather by training experts who from experience know what the worker in the field needs to understand. It is not a structured course, but a fantastic illustration of a wide range of concepts and application details.
Membrane lapping and flashing details come to mind as I recall that reversed lapping is one of the major causes of water infiltration into walls.
A look at the rapidly growing list of videos available, all free to the viewer, shows a lot on Building Science, items that fit into the House as a System concept, in addition to the close-up installation details we have never seen clearly before. These would be useful additions to someone who has gone through the Blue House Energy courses to add detail to the overall framework they learned in that structured course format.
The Building Performance Institute for Retrofit
The Building Performance Institute (BPI) is an American association of energy efficient builders and product suppliers. BPI Canada was formed to address the quality of work done when retrofitting existing residential homes in Canada. Although in its developmental stage, BPI Canada is bringing a lot of retrofit expertise from the American side and working to develop a complete site quality assurance program in cooperation with existing Canadian stakeholders. The House as a System work of Blue Energy and the CI on-site app are perfect fits with the BPI quality assurance efforts. More and more you will be seeing BPI as a sign of quality products and procedures. Visit www.BPICanada.org.
The web and its mobile capacity is not only raising the possibility of reaching more individuals than we ever did with the old seminar system, it is giving us totally new teaching tools to help understand complex systems, and mobility to consult those resources right on the jobsite. Despite all of that, I am still writing magazine articles for those of you who are still reading print on paper. Of course, you can read this magazine on the web if you are so inclined: www.HomeBuilderCanada.com
Montreal-based TV broadcaster, author, home renovation and tool expert
Jon Eakes provides a tool feature in each edition of Home BUILDER.