Not Degree, but Student in the Centre of Education

Gunita Kuļikovska-Ķiesnere, head of the study field “Wooden Houses and Eco-Building” at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences, has for several years worked in the company Vividly, which operates in close cooperation with the construction and architecture industries. In her opinion, it is important to develop experts of sustainable construction who will be able to add value to the companies in the region and be in demand internationally.

What skills should modern construction managers have?

It is one thing to design a sustainable wooden or ecological building, quite another to implement the project in real life and to manage the construction process. The industry needs specialists at all stages of construction that work according to the principles of climate neutrality and can operate in a modern, digital and innovative environment. Graduates of our programme are construction managers with added value - with expertise in the management of sustainable buildings, wooden construction buildings and ecological construction processes.

What innovations are expected in this sector in Latvia?

First of all, it is important to understand that the construction companies in Latvia have the ambition to grow outside Latvia and that it is a completely different competitive environment there. Secondly, we have realized that we can no longer continue as before: the 'shadow economy, budget overruns, unpredictability and short-term thinking. As a result, the conditions of competition and the growing professionalism of customers are forcing the industry to digitize at a very fast pace, for example by creating a single digital design system for a building, which allows the building to be seen throughout its life cycle. The system allows planning the volume of materials and their subsequent processing, as well as preventing significant construction errors at an early stage, so that later during the construction process there is no overpayment for these errors. Another important factor is the reuse of building materials with or without recycling. For example, currently, most of the foundations of buildings are made of concrete, which is not recyclable, cannot be reused and cannot be transformed. The direction of development is to successfully plan building materials that could be returned to life or recycled even after the end of the building life cycle. On a larger scale, we know this as the principle of the circular economy.

How will students be prepared for this change?

In developing this field of study, we go hand in hand with companies of the industry and with competitive and exporting companies of the industry. In Latvia, rapid development is observed in those companies in the construction sector that operate internationally, integrate the principles of sustainability, keep pace with the digital and technological age, and respect their employees. Our task is to prepare the environment for the training of such specialists.

What is your opinion of the gender stereotypes in this industry? Are they still relevant today?

Compared to other European countries, many women in Latvia are designers, construction project managers, and engineers. I see a bigger problem at the decision-making level - we have few women in the positions of industry founders, owners, board members. However, I see this as a very big opportunity, and it has been proven by successful campaigns to attract women to the IT sector and a paradigm shift. In recent years, hundreds of women and young people have shown interest in studying and retraining in engineering. It just means that there is interest and demand, and it is our job to respond.

Why would you recommend training for this profession?

Nowadays, the definition of education and, consequently, the definition of a higher education institution has changed. A degree or certificate is no longer at the centre of education, but a student is, regardless of age, experience or location in the world. "Wooden Houses and Eco-Building" is not just a study programme - it is a meeting platform for students with and without construction experience who have mentors - teachers who work in the industry daily. Thanks to distance learning opportunities, we have attracted great mentors who will bring world news and experience stories from Scandinavian sustainable construction practices. It is also important to emphasize the strategic role and involvement of Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences in the development planning of the entire Vidzeme region, which envisages development in the areas of high value-added wood products and ICT smart specialization.