BUSLeague is all about stimulating demand for state-of-the-art sustainable energy skills. Our goal, among others, is to enable scalable and widely recognized upskilling for workers and professionals across the construction and renovation value chain. This task requires us to address key challenges, which are focused on a variety of technical, organisational, educational, and policy-related factors. We knew from the start, that projects like BUSLeague are goal oriented, biased towards a structured and rational understanding of problems they seek to address. It is undoubtedly true, that crunching numbers, defining economic and administrative barriers, and searching for solutions to technical or organisational challenges are key to success. But we also know, that focusing strictly on each of those individualized aspects can obscure the bigger picture. Numbers, barriers, and challenges that we strive to address are indivisibly tied to seemingly banal yet absolutely essential contexts of people’s everyday life, and lives of communities in which we live, work, and strive to make better. Time and again, this tends to be overlooked or neglected.

With this in mind, we made a conscious decision to engage in ethnographic research at the very beginning of the project. This got us to talk to more than 50 people from six EU member states. Through their voices, we got to a deeper understanding of workers and professionals working in the sector. We engaged them in a conversation, listened to their stories, and asked them about their experiences with sustainable energy skills. We got Joss, a retired Irish headmaster, who worked and trained shoulder to shoulder with unemployed people entering the sector, teaching them how to build walls, footpaths, and kerbs, to talk about his view on nZEB. We got Marta, a kitchen installer for Bauhaus in Spain, to share her thoughts on gender diversity and inclusion within the construction and renovation sector. We listened to Rudolf, a HVAC expert and teacher from Austria, about his approach to teaching, and David, an SME director, describing existing policy requirements in France as “asking pupils to compete for a bachelor’s degree.” The research opened an array of interesting questions, and enhanced our consciousness of communities withing the sector, such as (seasonal) migrant workers, women, young workers and professionals, etc.

Clearly, we were not the first to open questions regarding training and recognition of skills. “Over the years, the issue of such online register for certification of knowledge and skills has been raised more than once,” commented Milena, a representative of a professional association of the construction industry from Bulgaria.  “This question has been asked, it is considered necessary, but I think that, and this, of course, is my subjective opinion, the concept should be clarified in order to answer the most important question – what do we want to achieve and how we can achieve it.”

Indeed, it is exactly such questions, that ethnography inevitably brings to the fore over and over again. In our search for answers, a number of subtle yet important realisations crystalized:

  • There are differences in motivation to participate in training depending on the geographic location and should be considered in planning of training services (e.g. rural vs. urban market contexts, proximity of training activities, etc.).
  • The professionals are willing to get trainings if the technology is new, or a certification is needed to carry out the job.
  • Training provided by product suppliers is widely recognized on the market as reliable and high quality, both by experts working in the sector as well as the general population.
  • Interventions by public authorities – either as legislation, support programmes or within procurement – are (still) deemed decisive in shaping the demand.
  • The growing need for knowledge transfer through qualified training providers and the general lack of quality training providers in combination create one of the key constraints. The fact that many coaches and trainers are not sufficiently qualified for quality up-to-date training makes this a significant challenge for the future of upskilling in the sector.
  • It is necessary to adopt a “big picture” approach to training. In case of new national level regulations, this means creating grounds for deep understanding, appreciation, and professional (respectful) attitude towards responsibilities of construction work.
  • Retrofit should be seen as a specific career path requiring an overlapping skillset.
  • It is necessary to advance the construction and renovation sector in digitalization and offer people-centred online tools and services. An example would be an independently reviewed and continuously updated list (application), where clients can find qualified professionals in EE quickly and with minimal effort.
  • There is a need for discussion and action with regard to inclusion and diversity in the construction and renovation sector.
  • Building and installing companies and SMEs prefer lean training, one that is strictly focused on the essential skills, practice, and theory needed to do the job well.

With these insights, challenges of stimulating market demand for sustainable energy skills do not end. In fact, it is here where the real challenge begins. With regard to BUSLeague’s goal to develop a new generation of training and certification tools, Milena voiced the essence of the challenge perfectly – “In principle, there is agreement in the industry on the need for something like this. The question is how can this be done in practice.”

The BUSLeague researchers will continue to work their way towards the possible answers, building on relationships and knowledge established through the initial ethnographic research. Sure enough, ethnographic “deep-dives” into complexity of material, social, and cultural realities of construction and renovation sector will not necessarily make our work much easier. In fact, it is likely going to make it harder, and certainly more responsible, knowing that what we are trying to change are really the lives and livelihoods of people we work for, or better yet, work with. Nonetheless, it is exactly such mindfulness that is the pearl-like quality of ethnography, born through curiosity about the yet unknown, through the effort of empathic understanding of the Other’s worldview, and conscious decision to always put people first. And this is needed. After all, it is these people and their everyday lives that are the backdrop of our aspirations, and ultimately, the context in which outcomes of BUSLeague will either continue to exist, or fade away once the project ends.

We thank everyone who joined us on our journey, and invite others to follow.BUSLeague Team

If you are interested in the anthropological research of the BUSLeague project, you can read the “Deliverable 2.3 Ethnographic Research Report on the recognition of energy efficiency skills”: click HERE.

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Author: Domen Bančič, IRI UL

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels