“Craftsmanship can be the place where meaning is constructed”

On the one hand, young generations in search of meaning and more aware – in theory at least – of climate issues. On the other hand, small-scale building companies which are still encountering difficulties in recruiting and which must a fortiori take the bandwagon of modernity. And between the two, a collaboration that could prove fruitful.

This meeting between the so-called Z generation (corresponding to people born between 1996 and 2012) and construction professionals was discussed during a series of round tables organized by the Confederation of Crafts and Small Building Companies (Capeb) in February in Paris. Attractiveness of professions, skills development, preservation of the environment, climate emergency, digital technologies: the subjects addressed by the various speakers were not lacking.

“Arguments that didn’t work yesterday work today”

First there are these cases of professional retraining, like Pierre Kerconduff, an architecture graduate who initially went down this path… Before wanting to reconnect with the field and match his convictions , in particular environmental, with its daily actions: it has since become mason in Ille-et-Vilaine.

“Working with simple tools is essential. There is noindustry to transform our materials, we find local resources such as earth, to be linked with straw for example, for an implementation that does not require a multitude of intermediaries”explains the craftsman.

A far from isolated case, according to Dominique Naert, director of the master’s degree in real estate and sustainable building at the École des Ponts Paris Tech, who confirms that over the past three years he has seen a growing proportion of active people enrolling in his course. for conversion. “Arguments that did not work yesterday to bring young people back to our professions work today”says the manager.

“The issues of overconsumption, sobrietypreservation of the environment… are all educational subjects.” With an average age of 41.5 years within the masters, the training welcomes “students” which are “still able to change their way of life”, he assures. At the same time, business practices and construction techniques are already changing.


Painter and head of a craft business also based in the Ille-et-Vilaine department, Virginie Chevalier says she uses seaweed paint, therefore a biosourced material, from a short circuit, on her construction sites. “Often, I tell myself that we go back in time on a lot of things”she notes with a smile. “Be careful with your equipment, your resources, your environment, we have always been taught this in our craft businesses because it is still often linked to the economy!”

However, the craftswoman says she is more divided on the reality of the environmental concerns of young people today. “I think there are age groups and studies where awareness is more or less important. The youngest certainly do not all have this awareness”she believes, referring to the “overconsumption on all fronts” practiced by the current generation, from the use of social networks to orders on the Internet through trips to the other side of the world.

No question, however, of giving any moral lesson to one or the other. “We have a job that has been passed on to us, that we love, and that we would now like to pass on to younger generations”, enthuses Virginie Chevalier. Who calls for the massification of global renovations to hope to reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, although she is not certain “that we have time to renovate everything by 2050”.

Quality of work

A certain number of elements would indeed have been omitted in the “equation” of the decarbonization objectives that France has set itself for this horizon. “As things stand, we will not reach this goal in time. There are economic, employment and training issues”abounds Dominique Naert.

However, the building sector would be able to provide young and old alike with the possibility of no longer waiting passively for things to change, but on the contrary of obtaining immediate results, in this case during energy improvements made to the habitat. According to Alain Chouguiat, director of the economic center of Capeb, “The craft building company can be the place where young people will build meaning, with gestures, materials, energies. It’s a way of being concrete and of being sustainable.”

Know-how that would therefore combine the quest for meaning, economic activity and preservation of the environment. Driven by renovation sites, which have themselves been put back on the agenda due to the energy crisis and the climate emergency, construction professionals would thus have a card to play with Generation Z.

“We could perhaps make things even easier, by creating GMEs, temporary groupings of companies, for example. It is not so much the quantity of work as the way of working, the quality of work that concerns us”, continues the representative of Capeb. But do young people and workers in retraining necessarily find answers to their expectations? The questions still seem numerous, if we are to believe Gauthier Petiniot, another ex-architect became a stonemason.

“Perhaps more concrete training is needed, which puts their hands in the dough”suggests the thirties. “Compared to an architecture agency, there is less inertia in a building company. We get more direct answers. We are not intermediaries and we have a greater mastery of the subjects.” Public authorities as well as companies, actors of vocational training as apprentices, the approach will obviously have to be, as always, collective.

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