‘I hated school growing up and look at me now’: Chartered Quantity Surveyor Lisa O’Shea, Ormonde Construction Limited

by | Feb 22, 2023

The value of mentoring and how to elevate the next generation

Ormonde Construction Limited Chartered Quantity Surveyor Lisa O’Shea started in the construction industry as a plasterer 25 years ago and is now chairperson for the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) South East Region.

“The God’s honest truth is I hated school growing up,” she says adding she knew if she wanted to leave, she had to first find work. So she thought: “That fella out there plastering looks like he has a great job.”

She recalls affably how her first attempts at becoming an apprentice were ignored as though a joke, not that it slowed her down one bit. She describes starting out training in FÁS (now replaced by SOLAS).

“I was the first girl to do a plastering course there,” she says. On sites, O’Shea explains how there was extra scrutiny of her work and abilities with “people coming in to double check you could do what you said you could.”

It made for part of the reason she pursued a formal qualification “at a time when lots of tradesmen didn’t bother”. “You would see a lot of the lads go in and say they were plasterers and they weren’t questioned on that, whereas I was, so I needed to end up proving it.”

Ormonde Construction Limited Chartered Quantity Surveyor Lisa O’Shea. Pictures: Maura Hickey

Five minutes with Lisa is enough to tell you of her good nature and high spirits.

When asked if the extra pressure was unfair she simply says: “I suppose, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. If you want to do it, just do it. Those were my thoughts. You need to be able to stand your own in this industry.”

After six years of plastering, aged 24, Lisa returned to education. Almost accidentally during her two-year Level 6 FETAC there was a module in Quantity Surveying that grabbed her attention.

“What made me laugh the most … I hated school growing up and then in college I was the biggest nerd to walk the earth,” she jokes.

Having completed her apprenticeship meant she could take the course despite never sitting a Leaving Certificate. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a hope,” she says.

No Leaving Certificate meant that O’Shea, now the SCSI South East Region Chairperson, was ineligible to join the SCSI at the  beginning of her new career as a Quantity Surveyor.

Only in recent years has a new rule change recognising those with over a decade’s experience seen her re-engage and join. Of the future she adds: “When you think … I couldn’t get chartered when I started out and now I’m a chairperson for the South East Region.

“I’ve started asking what do I need to do to become President and I’m going to get on with doing what it takes.

“What I’d like to do is get involved and help the society in providing support to those interested in joining.”

She describes the strict process – requiring mentors and counsellors – and the difficulty she had in sourcing the right people to make that possible.

She points out that for anyone working outside of a quantity surveyor’s office it can be quite challenging. For that reason, she is a mentor in the SCSI Elevate programme, which aims to provide support and mentoring for women in surveying.

“When I got chartered I also took my counsellor training. I’ve told the society to put my name down because we need a system to help people find counsellors.”

Support is crucial, and for Lisa and all women entering the industry today that is doubly true.

“My own boss is an absolute legend,” she says of Paddy Tyrell, Commercial Manager at Ormonde Construction Limited. “He has 30 years’ experience in quantity surveying and is a huge support to me, even when he didn’t need to be. I’ll always thank him for that.

“The company I’m working for now is the best I’ve ever worked for, they’re always there to support you.  The industry needs more people like Paddy Tyrell.”

Lisa O’Shea at work

O’Shea goes on to describe a few incidents where he took a principled position to stand by his team and to ensure that everyone, man and woman, were treated with dignity and respect.

“He’s a very genuine man,” she adds. “I’m lucky to work for a company I absolutely love and that genuinely cares for me. That’s important.

“I sometimes wonder if young children realise just how amazing a career this can be and that you can go through an apprenticeship and then go back to college after a bit of experience and know what you want and do it right.”

She speaks of her husband Gary O’Shea, whom she met on the plastering course, as being a constant support to her. “Not that he’d believe I said that,” she jokes.

He was a huge supporter of her return to education and bid to become a chartered surveyor, reframing theoretical concepts into practical matters as she understood best.

He also went as far as to move to London for a year for her “even though he absolutely hated it”.

“Through it all he’s been right there for me when I need him,” she says. O’Shea’s parting message to other builders in the industry is  to do more to take on female apprentices across the country.

“If they need the extra incentive, they should know there is a grant for taking on a woman apprentice and they should take it. “The fact is any young woman who takes an apprenticeship is driven. She’s going to be driven to prove what she can do and you’ll see better work from it.

“I know that was true for me.”

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