Slovakia joined the European Union in 2004, a year that signalled one of the most extensive enlargements of the bloc. Slovakia was and remains a highly industrial country, with this activity representing 24.1% of the total economy’s value. At the same time, the country’s industry is highly energy intensive: Slovakia’s energy intensity has decreased until 2020, when it started to rise again, and places itself 7th in the EU as the most energy intensive country. In this light, the efforts that Slovakia must put in place for the energy transition are not only technical but also need to involve a larger task of preparing the country to implement the necessary changes. To this end, the Slovak Technology University in Bratislava (STUBA) has participated in and carried out successfully the Horizon 2020 project “ingREeS - Setting up Qualification and Continuing Education and Training Scheme for Middle and Senior Level Professionals on Energy Efficiency and Use of Renewable Energy Sources in Buildings”. The project, started in 2015, was developed in the framework of the Build Up Skills Initiative and revolved around six main objectives:
- The development of education and training programmes
- The creation of a permanent network of trainers
- The setup of a database of trainers and trainees
- The instalment of measures supporting employers
- The innovation of the system of education
- The piloting of training courses
The project activities targeted various levels and types of professionals, including civil engineers, architects and construction site supervisors. However, more experienced professionals were also contacted to participate in the preparation of materials and the sharing of knowledge. Inclusivity had been a requirement from the start: focusing only on craftsmen and on-site workers would risk hampering the effective deployment of energy efficiency solutions in Slovakia, one of the two countries participating in ingREeS project together with the Czech Republic.
Four pillars were foreseen for the project, including education flexibility (modular training courses), active involvement of enterprises (increasing the practical aspect of the training), cross-sectorial approaches (energy efficiency and use of renewable energy in target areas) and upskilling. Surprisingly, the project was a pioneer without knowing so. While it used in-presence teaching, the ingREeS also set up a perfectly functioning system of ICT-delivered training, using e-learning and online conferencing intensively and already before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world. Thus, this training model could be naturally replicable today and even empowered, thanks to the experience learnt in the past three years.
The project, according to its participating organisations, had some remarkable outcomes. Not only it helped to create a permanent network of trainers who will be able to continue delivering the programmes developed under the project. Most importantly, the observations and feedback from the participants helped shape a set of policy proposals and financial measures. These measures were thought to represent a chance to facilitate adequate demand response for intelligent energy solutions. This, in turn, would motivate middle and senior-level professionals to participate in training programmes, boosting demand for highly qualified professionals and SMEs to invest in continuing education.
As expected in this type of initiative, it was not a path without hurdles. In Slovakia, in particular, the project encountered first resistance from a lack of lifelong learning and training culture among civil engineers. Such a challenge was addressed by reinforcing the innovativeness of the program and facilitating its access to the engineers.
Differently from other projects, the ingREeS project also set up a solid network of trainers and institutions that could continue to organise learning initiatives even after the end of the project. This constitutes its key success: ensuring continuous training is accessible to workers whose skills are a fundamental building block in bringing Slovakia closer to its green objectives through higher energy efficiency and better use of renewable energy sources.