Ido not think that the requirement for creative building services solutions has ever been higher because every day we are faced with even more demanding challenges to provide lower energy solutions for new and existing buildings with ever more complex client requirements.
We have in the UK several factors that when combined make our industry a world leader:
- We are home to some of the worlds most sophisticated clients with extremely demanding services requirements.
- We demand high architectural standards with world renowned originality.
- There is a genuine concern in this country for the future of our environment.
- We have effective building regulations with rigorous policing of standards, and a programmed commitment to increasing the energy performance of our building stock.
- There is a very large existing building stock with a population of old systems that no longer meet the energy performance possible today.
- We are subject to the demands of rapidly changing technologies within our buildings such as blade servers, wireless networks etc.
- All the above also has to meet stringent construction cost and programmed objectives.
This means that we all need to think creatively when coming together to solve clients problems effectively. It will require continuous innovation from designers, manufacturers and installers.
Responsible companies take this challenge seriously, and continuously strive to improve the quality of their solutions, however a real gulf is developing between the pressure for new and innovative solutions and the ability to create and deliver them.
The problem is the shortage of enough competent young engineers. Everyone I speak to is struggling to resource the current business opportunities they have and the main constraint on growth and business development is the availability of talented engineers.
Why is this happening?
Obviously the range of choices available to students is getting ever more diverse and many of these alternatives appear more interesting than building services. Therefore the challenge is how to attract the necessary engineering skills for the future in competition with all the other choices available.
I believe the complete building services industry conspires to disguise its importance in the modern world. We do not have any role models similar to those in architecture that students or the general public recognise and relate to and most of our end product is hidden in cupboards or above ceilings and at a passing glance is easily ignored. The reality is though that the infrastructure we provide is far more important than the external appearance of the building envelope. The successful occupancy of any structure depends on the services industry.
In short however we are currently anonymous and faceless. Therefore most students looking for a career do not even know we exist. So what must be done in order to attract and develop the future creative talent we need?
Firstly let’s talk positively and often to educational establishments, career advisors and potential engineers themselves about our industry and its ability to meet the current and future environmental challenges that exist. Invite future engineers into our world so that they can see the range of facilities we are responsible for, from comfort and communications through to energy management, safety and security. The majority of the consultancies and companies involved in building services have something exciting to talk about and demonstrate.
Secondly we need an effective support infrastructure for potential young engineers, beginning as early as possible, and helping them to develop into successful future solutions providers. The need for structured training and development has never been more vital than today and modern companies need to take their responsibilities in this area very seriously or be left behind in the quest for high quality individuals. This training infrastructure also fills the need for re-training to maintain and improve the knowledge levels of mature engineers.
Finally we all need to be ambassadors for our industry and we have to go out and market the industry we belong to as the engineering managers of our built environment, and emphasise the importance of this role in today’s world. Only then will we be able to recruit the engineers required to meet our future skills needs.