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We were driving down an isolated road towards our next destination – The National Construction Training Centre, Mount Lucas. “A treat of the day”, Benny said. Our appreciation of his promise was obscured by the desolate impression of the autumn-coloured landscape, grey Irish weather, and the bumpy road broken by the sinking bog. Yet again, it turned out Benny was right.

“We say ‘green’ but we actually do ‘NZEB’, explained Bebhinn, one of the female trainers who greeted Domen and Gregor in a large training hall before taking them on a tour. The space was packed with different demonstration units and training equipment explaining principles of NZEB ventilation, retrofit insulation, bricklaying, carpentering, plastering, electrical installation, plumbing etc.

But Mount Lucas aims to be much more than just a training facility, explained John Kelly, the centre’s manager. Besides offering specific education and hands-on trainings, their main purpose and raison d’être is to raise the fundamental awareness about the general principles, practices and benefits of NZEB. This involves not only expert professionals, such as architects, contractors, professional designers or builders, who want to re- or up-skill themselves or their business. More importantly, Mount Lucas aims at young generations, teaching them about state-of-the-art principles, technologies and skills for top-quality built environments. Through their work, they not only educate about what makes a healthy, safe, energy-efficient, sustainable buildings, but also about their role in society’s common quest for meeting the national and international targets for carbon-neutrality.

From our visit to Mount Lucas training centre, we all took away something more than just an experience, but we have not consciously realized what that was until the following day, when Benny took us to meet Tomás O’Leary. Tomás is the Managing Director of MosArt – an architectural and environmental design collective. Yet he is no ordinary built environment expert. As a vocal advocate for high-performance buildings and Passive House standards, Tomás was recently recognised by Scott Foster of the UN Committee of Sustainable Energy for his outstanding work and enduring commitment to improve building standards. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tomás is also one of the brains behind the Mount Lucas project.

Mount Lucas is not a classical training centre – but more of an inspiration centre.” With these words Tomás helped us to translate what we have learnt intuitively with our visit at Mount Lucas, and transformed our experience into an insight. But why is inspiration needed so much and who exactly should be inspired? As we pointed out in an earlier article, Ireland is experiencing a serious shortage of construction workers. A particularly worrying aspect of the shortage, as stressed by Tomás and many others alike, is that particularly young people in Ireland are not considering a career in construction.

This shortage is slowing down delivery of new housing and retrofitting and therefore presents a very serious problem for the Irish society. It heavily relates to the negative public image of work in construction and renovation. A middle-aged guy with a hammer in his hands. The dirty shoes in a muddy ditch. Outdoor working conditions, associated with a number of risks, dangers and discomforts – all this is a stark contrast to the comfort associated with an office environment. Specifically in Ireland, a constant fear of another recession which could knock on the door, causing job loss and misery as it happened in 2008. “The perception of construction is like we were in the middle of the war zone,” Tomás explained.

This is why the people at Mount Lucas want to bring about a sort of shift in the culture that heavily depends on education in the construction sector. We need to reframe the conversation, perhaps following the moto “Re-Build the Construction Industry”, as Benny suggests. This shall raise awareness in the public about the different modes and types of the occupation that construction offers, and more than that, about the values and virtues that the industry creates in and for the society. As Tomás puts it:

“The vast majority of CO2 emissions are in buildings. Let’s say – if you are involved in construction, you will be saving our planet. We need to make construction ‘sexy’ to bring more young people into the field.”Tomás O'Leary

In this context, a need for marketing campaigns of the likes of Jaguar, or the British army come to mind, Benny noted, perhaps even something with a hint of retro Irish humour, as refreshing as a pint of beer, or tasty as a slice of butter. In fact, Benny already has a great idea – a script on a circular, climate change theme, with a Greta Thunberg type character and a tagline: “Just frickin’ do it!”

Coming up with good ideas, however, is certainly not as big a challenge as is funding their realisation. How about the willingness of key stakeholders that shape the industry? Building designers, building contractors, building products manufacturers – they all can contribute enormously to curbing carbon emissions through their work. But are they willing to do so? Are they prepared to engage? If they have doubts, they should certainly challenge themselves with a visit to Mount Lucas. We are certain that the challenge will turn into a reward, and the inspiration into willingness, or more than that – into motivation.

Together with Tomás and the truly inspirational team of Mount Lucas we are putting a shout out to everyone involved in the construction and built environment and especially to the future generations:

“The world needs properly skilled people in construction to step up. What was ‘good enough’ yesterday is not good enough anymore.”

And here is a question to our readers: Do you think we should encourage young people to pursue careers in construction sector? How so? What do you think would be the best approach to address the generational challenges of the sector? Is there prospect to make construction “sexy” for young generations? Help us find answers and share a comment or reflection on Linkedin. We will appreciate your contribution and use it to assess the timeliness and effectiveness of BUSLeague project from the ethnographic perspective.

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Authors: Gregor Cerinšek, Domen Bančič and Benny McDonnagh – with kind appreciation of support by Tomás O’Leary and the team of Mount Lucas training centre.