Workforce Development

For building science and innovations to have industry impact, research results and knowledge must be accessible and easy to use for stakeholders.

NREL's diverse projects related to industry advancement focus on three foundational objectives:

  • Translating industry challenges into scientific problems by identifying barriers to inform early-stage research
  • Ensuring transfer of research knowledge to stakeholders, fostering improved industry best practices
  • Strengthening a workforce that will support building science-based designs, greater skill within the construction trades, and high-performance building operation.

Photo of 11 students, wearing safety glasses and vests, in a warehouse with construction materials.
Solar Decathlon provides students with critical experience in energy-efficient design and renewable energy technologies.

Inspiring Next-Generation Building Scientists

Collegiate competitions provide learning opportunities for future scientists and researchers that complement coursework and curriculum at collegiate institutions worldwide. They provide opportunities for students to challenge their creativity, passion, and skills to address real-world issues.

Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® is a collegiate competition that prepares the next generation of building professionals to design and build high-performance, low-carbon buildings powered by renewables. The Design Challenge is a one- to two-semester, design-only competition, while the Build Challenge is a two-year design-build competition. Collegiate teams apply sound building science principles to create affordable, market-ready designs for residential and commercial buildings.

Impact: Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022, the Solar Decathlon has challenged more than 20,000 students to create efficient, affordable buildings powered by renewables while promoting student innovation, STEM education, and workforce development opportunities in the buildings industry.


Photo of two students, holding winner certificates and standing next to an adult in business attire.
The JUMP into STEM initiative seeks to inspire the next generation of building scientists, focusing on creative ideation and diversity in the building science field.

JUMP (Join the discussion, Unveil innovation, Make connections, Promote tech-to-market) into STEM focuses on creative ideation and diversity in the building science field. Since 2015, this collegiate competition has been inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists by giving them a unique platform to develop solutions for challenges facing the building science industry. Winners are awarded paid, 10-week summer internships at NREL or Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Impact: This 2020–2021 program year had the largest field of student projects to date. A total of 49 ideas were submitted from 144 students representing 29 schools.

Refining Workforce Education

As scientific discovery continues to push new technologies in the built environment, the workforce must be able to adapt and advocate. NREL, working closely with the U.S. Department of Energy Building Technologies Office, recognizes a greater emphasis on building science and multidisciplinary teams is needed to facilitate adoption of grid-interactive, efficient buildings and advanced construction technologies.

American-Made Buildings Prize

The Envelope Retrofit Opportunities for Building Optimization Technologies (E-ROBOT) Prize is designed to catalyze the development of minimally invasive, low-cost, and holistic building envelope retrofit solutions that make retrofits easier, faster, safer, and more accessible for workers.

Advancements in robotics allow workers to reach places or perform activities that were previously impossible. For example, robots can safely enter small spaces and cavities, such as ductwork, to perform air-sealing or other efficiency activities.

Impact: Robots can complement and support the existing workforce by creating new employment and business opportunities while also ensuring quality and consistency when installing energy efficiency measures.

Partnering With Industry

The U.S. Department of Energy Building America Program has spurred innovations in building efficiency, durability, and affordability for more than 25 years. Elevating a clean energy economy and skilled workforce, this world-class research program partners with industry to leverage cutting-edge science and deployment opportunities to reduce home energy use and help mitigate climate change. The Building America Program partners with the nation's most forward-thinking building scientists, homebuilders, remodelers, and other stakeholders. An industry-driven research initiative that develops innovative solutions to achieve significant energy and cost savings for homeowners and builders.