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Building an education at the Solar Shading Academy

April 1st, 2013 / By: / Awnings & Shades, Industry News

The Finnish Solar Shading Academy was established to enhance knowledge and professionalism in the industry.

The Finnish Solar Shading Association (Aurinkosuojaus ry) was originally established as an organization at the end of the 1960s. In 1980 the group became an association only for Finnish manufacturers in the solar shading industry. At the end of 2007, the association was opened to everybody with an interest in this business area. Since then the association has been developing rapidly, gaining new members in every area: manufacturers, retailers, importers and agents. Currently there are 60 members in Finland, and growth continues.

It is the only professional organization in the solar shading business in Finland. Our purpose is to be the special-interest group and employer organization for this industry. We enforce and monitor our common interests in professional, technical and commercial matters; we emphasize professionalism and encourage members to exercise good business ethics and judgement in all levels of business operations. We also maintain contact with government authorities and other professional organizations.

Aurinkosuojaus ry is an official country member in the European Solar-Shading Organization (ES-SO).

Why an academy?

The solar shading market in Finland is similar to other European countries. There are many small family-owned shops that deliver locally assembled end products to residential and commercial end users. The range of shade solutions ranges from a simple terrace awning to advanced computer-controlled systems for large office buildings.

Energy efficiency and savings is the hot topic in the building sector, and directives from the EU mandate better energy usage. The role of the solar shading solution is growing rapidly, and the professionals delivering these solutions need to understand current and future energy challenges. We talked with many members of the association, and decided that more professional development is needed in this industry.

Often these solar shading professionals have a limited education in business management, and the operational know-how is transmitted from father to son, because there has been no real program to educate people in these areas. There are several key reasons that the Finnish Solar Shading Academy was created:

  • To increase the level of quality and professionalism in all areas. Solar shading professionals decide the level of quality for solar shading systems in buildings. No one else involved in the construction world has as much knowledge and expertise in solar shading solutions as these experienced professionals, but many aren’t sure how to demonstrate their professionalism in this area to other parts of the building industry. We need to set a high level of standards that can be demonstrated to other building professionals.
  • To be able to “speak the same language” with other professionals. When sitting in a project meeting with other parties, it’s necessary to understand, for example, HVAC engineering and electrical requirements to be able to fit solar shading in the right way. Solar shading professionals must understand the whole building and its functions to be able to be part of this holistic approach. Energy calculations for a building can’t be done without solar shading, and our industry must be able to help all type of engineers in their plans.
  • To recognize professional excellence.Many companies deliver solar shading solutions to the market, and the quality of these companies and their solutions varies a great deal. There are companies who just want to deliver the cheapest possible products. We want to recognize and promote real shading professionals and separate them from “price players” who don’t show pride in their own work. The sign of our association becomes a symbol for quality work.

Building the program

We started the planning for the education program working with the Tampere Adult Education Centre (TAKK) in Finland. TAKK is experienced in offering many types of adult education programs, including programs for other industries, such as the leisure boat industry. It took two years before our program was ready to launch. The first group of solar shading professionals will graduate this spring.

The Solar Shading Academy has two different parts; association members may take part in one or both sections. The first part is “Solar Shading” (as a part of a building envelope and management system) and the second part is “Business Management and Development.” The solar shading portion of the program is mandatory for the association members; the business section is optional.

Part 1: Solar Shading

The program involves 12 days at the TAKK school in Tampere, Finland, each day with a different topic and teacher. The period for the education is outside of the solar shading peak season, starting in September–October and ending in February–March. At one day per month, it takes approximately 1.5 years to graduate.

Days 1, 2 and 3 cover the basics of solar shading in Finland: the market; how it works today; the history of the EU Energy Performance of Building Directive (EPBD) and its results in building regulations; all products on the market, how they are made and installed; and how to calculate solar shading according to the ES-SO technical guide. The teachers for these three first days are recognized professionals from the industry.

Day 4 is all about installation technologies in real life, with the teacher and materials supplied by Würth Oy or a similar construction products company. Training focuses first on theory, learning about installation mechanics and materials, and then moves to live training where students install brackets to many different wall materials by using the right hardware, tools and methods.

Day 5 is about building physics and building regulations. An external teacher lectures on building physics from both an engineering and an architectural point of view. Finnish building regulations are also taught.

Day 6 is an HVAC day. An HVAC engineer lectures about building HVAC systems, how HVAC and solar shading can work together and how they affect each other.

Day 7: An electrical engineer talks about electricity in buildings and what to know when planning a solar shading system.

Day 8 covers building automation. An external teacher gives information on building management systems and the role of solar shading implemented in these solutions.

Day 9 features lectures about KNX building automation systems; the students work on a real case study with a KNX system and solar shading.

Day 10 is all about working safety. All students will complete an official “work safety card,” which is needed to be able to work on building sites.

Day 11 offers a lecture on how to use personal lifts and covers all necessary regulations.

Day 12, “Customer service for the installer,” is designed for installers working in residential markets. The people doing product installations at a site are not usually sales people, but in many cases they should behave as though they are.

When the entire agenda is completed, a written test is administered. Students can’t fail the test, but they do receive a grade. A diploma for the completed academy is also given at the graduation dinner.

Part 2: Business Management and Development

This part of the Solar Shading Academy spans 2.5 years, and a student receives an official degree after completing the entire education program. This program is more demanding than the solar shading portion, because students are given a lot of homework to be done outside of school, and ultimately each student must make a diploma study of a subject he or she has chosen with the teachers—usually some type of plan to develop his or her own company.

Content includes: planning and development of operations; marketing and customer management; development as a leader; personal sales work 1 and 2; management economics 1 and 2; leadership and the working environment; forecasts, ideas and entrepreneurial jurisdiction. This whole program comprises an official entrepreneurship education degree and is widely recognized.

Because the Solar Shading Academy is part of a state-supported additional education program, student costs for this academy are low. Part 1 (Solar Shading) costs less than 500€ (approximately $654 U.S.), and Part 2 (Business Management and Development) is even less, so a small family-owned solar shading business has an excellent opportunity to gain a wide-ranging professional education with a very small (under 1000€, or approximately $1300 U.S.) investment.

Petri Rokkanen, petri.rokkanen@somfy.com, has been chairman of the Finnish Solar Shading Association since 2008, and works as the Country Manager for SOMFY Nordic AB in Finland. He has more than 25 years of experience in the solar shading business.

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