News Banner

Relationships + Expertise = Successful Adoption of Hawaii- and Trade-Specific Green Building Curriculum. Interview with Karen Nakamura, CEO BIA-Hawaii

Karen Nakamura 2004 color_crop_sm In partnership with the Building Industry Association (BIA) of Hawaii, O'Brien & Company has developed a green building training curriculum for the State. The content includes green building fundamentals for pre-apprentices and apprentices, green building practices for general contractors, and journey worker technical modules with in-depth information on trade-specific green building techniques. The final product is a set of flexible teaching materials including videos, activities and lesson plans that will be used by construction academies, colleges, unions and other trade and educational organizations to upskill incumbent workers and to prepare entry level workers for green building jobs. The project was funded through a grant from the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ Employment Training Fund.

Editor: You invested a lot in this project in terms of staff time and energy…why was it so important to your organization? KAREN: The Building Industry Association of Hawaii has been representing the interests of the building industry and its associates for over 50 years. It’s become pretty apparent that when our economy recovers, builders who don’t offer green building services won’t be offering any services. For builders who doubt this, I take them by the hand at our “Remodel it Right, Remodel it Green” Show to see the long lines of people waiting to talk to companies that sell green products and services. The general public is aware and interested. Yet, I would estimate that 90 percent of our industry members do not know what it means to build green.

In addition, this isn’t just about getting business, it’s about providing quality construction. As it says in our mission statement, we take a leadership role to “enhance the quality of life for the people of Hawaii.” It is critically important that we get everyone educated. This lull in our economy is the perfect time for us to focus on making sure that contractors, and the trades who work for them, know what they are doing. When we were performing an initial needs assessment in preparation for applying for the Department of Labor Grant, we identified several situations where a more informed labor base would have avoided missed opportunities, or even significant mistakes. We found projects where the radiant barriers were being installed inside side out. Not good.

So this is about helping your BIA membership? Actually it’s about helping the entire industry to be better technically informed and about the benefit this means for our community. In addition to being offered through formal training programs, the materials are available on-line, free to anyone who wants them. We have nearly 300 contractor members, but there are 11,000 contractors in our State. This represents a tremendous opportunity to improve our industry’s ability to deliver high quality, cutting edge green buildings. Contractors, members or not, will be able to access the green building fundamentals overview, and follow that up with the General Contractors module.

You mention two of the modules: green building fundamentals and general contractors. What are the others? There are three others: Carpenters, Masons, and Operating Engineers & Laborers.

BIA image 2Can you share more about the formal training programs? Absolutely! Probably the most exciting outcome of this project is the fact that the materials are being enthusiastically integrated into existing programs. Frankly, I was worried about acceptance by the Construction Academies in our high school system – our primary pre-apprenticeship programs. It turned out I didn’t have to worry. When we piloted the Green Building Fundamentals materials at our local Construction Academy, they totally embraced it, and looked immediately for ways to incorporate green concepts into their hands-on projects. Now it’s been adopted by construction academy in high schools throughout the state. Community Colleges are also integrating the modules into their classes on campus. Unions are using them as part of their apprenticeship and continuing education programs.

 What explains this level of acceptance? First, we had the right people at the table, and we were able to do that because we have long time relationships upon which we built new ones. This doesn’t happen overnight. We have built a positive relationship with key labor groups over the last several years through producing effective worker training programs, and by inviting unions in to recruit apprentices from these programs.

In addition, several of our members who are already involved with and committed to green building programs were able to bring in additional union, apprenticeship, and pre-apprenticeship program participation, as well as support from suppliers, specialty contractors, and manufacturers. We were able to partner with the laborers, the masons, the carpenters unions, and with contractors signatory to the operating engineers union. This project took our influence to an entirely new level.

Yk facilitate4  Over 75 organizations (including businesses, trade organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits) participated in putting these materials together, through focus groups to help design them and content reviews to refine them, and by providing photos, illustrations, and narrators for the videos.

Having the right people collaborating, meant we had access to practical, local expertise. We like to say this program was “Made in Hawaii.” We also know when to ask for help. We couldn’t have done this without green building curriculum development experts like O’Brien & Company. (Editor: Thank you, Karen!). I’m serious, if we had collaboration and buy-in without that kind of expertise we would have nothing; if we had the expertise but no buy-in the result would be the same. You need both.

Karen Nakamura has been the Executive Director of the Building Industries Association–Hawaii for close to two decades and has successfully led a family-owned and multi-generational contracting business in Honolulu. In Hawaii, she is known as someone who "gets things done!" The Building Capacity Blog is edited by Kathleen O'Brien, Founder and President of O'Brien & Company, and long-time advocate for local green building programs, and for green job creation. She was featured in the film Green Building: Jobs for the Future.

Did you enjoy this article?  You might also like these Building Capacity Blog articles: 
Interview with WDC’s Laurie Black
Green Building Jobs in Lousy Market
Interview with Eco-Logica Magazine’s Stuart Vazquez
Interview with SBCA and Built Green Santa Barbara’s Karin Perissinotto

Comments are closed.