The Generation Game
As part of its 30th anniversary celebrations, the BCIA spoke to two members who are at different stages of their career in the building controls industry.
Roger Woodward is a founder member of the BCIA and has held roles at Johnson Controls and Tridium during a career spanning more than 30 years. He currently works as an Independent Strategy Consultant and was awarded the BCIA’s Outstanding Contribution of the Year award in 2012.
George Belfield won the BCIA award for Young Engineer of the Year in 2017 and is currently a Building Controls Engineer for InTandem Systems.
In 1991 Secretary of State for Energy John Wakeham launched the Building Controls Group (BCG), which later became the BCIA. Companies within the controls market decided to take action as they felt there was no single focus on their efforts to develop the technology, and the new group was set up within the Energy Systems Trade Association (ESTA) to carry out this task. Roger Woodward was one of the founder members, while in the same year George Belfield was born. So how did the pair of them find their way into the industry?
For Roger it was a rather round-about route: “I’d started out working for what is now British Telecom on their communications side. Then I travelled around the world for two and half years, doing the whole ‘hippie’ thing in a camper van. When I got back Johnson Controls were advertising for an Applications Engineer on the NatWest Tower, but they also had a contract for the internal telephone systems. I managed to get the job although in the end it had nothing to do with telecoms. It turned out that the NatWest Tower wasn’t ready but we ended up working on an incredible building just around the corner. It was a total energy job and we did all of the controls for it and in record time, so in the end I had a very fast track into the industry.”
Despite his father, former BCIA President Jon Belfield, being well established in the industry, George wasn’t always sure that he was going to follow the same path. He explained: “I tried to avoid the industry to start with. I got a degree in Geography at Manchester University and then went to work for a local council, but I found myself wanting a more technical challenge.” After some persuasive words from his father and further advice from others already in the industry, George had a change of heart:
“I thought, ‘hang on, I might be missing a trick here, there is a fantastic engineering opportunity right in front of me’. So, I went for the career change into the BMS industry, started pulling in cables on electrical projects and worked my way through to BMS engineer – I haven’t looked back since!”
The BCIA has seen some big industry changes in its 30 years and is a somewhat different beast to what it started life as. Roger explained: “Before we established the BCG we were all contributing to different trade associations. We made a few calls and decided to get together as one, which made it a lot more open, whereas before it was all rather secretive.” During his spell as chairman Roger introduced System Integrators into the BCIA, which at the time was only made up of controls manufacturers: “Some of the bigger companies were a bit set in their ways and took a while to accept the changes, but the whole industry has certainly changed and now about 75 per cent of the industry are System Integrators and they have become the dominant force.”
From on-premise to the cloud
Although there are various interpretations of the term now, most people are familiar with the idea of ‘smart buildings’, but were they even a concept back in 1991 and would it bear any relation to what we might see now? Roger responded: “What we were doing then was considered smart at the time. There were lots of innovative ideas and things were moving from a technical point of view but of course then there wasn’t any internet connectivity. That was the big change as it started moving things from on-premise to the cloud, which is where we are today. There is stuff happening now that wasn’t happening just 18 months ago and it’s absolutely fascinating.” George agrees and believes there is likely to be just as much advancement in the next few years than we have seen in the last 30: “The changes in technology in the last few years have been absolutely massive, even in just the way we live our day-to-day lives. Will it change again? It probably will, technology changes all the time, so who knows what the next changes will be?”
Roger believes that the evolution of the BCIA has brought a healthy dialogue to the industry that will continue to benefit everybody in the long run: “Companies are now much more open about their problems and opportunities but it took us a while to be able to promote the idea of the BCIA and get it recognised as a body that could influence decisions in industry and government. It is now a significantly more mature body compared to what it started out as.”
The openness of the industry is something that George is keen to endorse as an important factor in his own career development: “As a System Integrator you work in your own little silo, but meeting people on courses, at seminars or at the BCIA Awards is fantastic when you’re trying to grow your base as an engineer and flesh out your career,” he explained.
A fantastic grounding
With Technical Guides, Working Groups, Apprenticeships and Training Courses just some of the things the BCIA now has to offer, it has become a vital resource for young engineers now and in the future and also to help inform people of what the industry is about, as George is happy to attest to: “From an educational point of view the courses have been a great start to life as a Controls Engineer. Something the industry finds very challenging is that not many people really know what we do and even now we are often having to explain our job title. So having those courses as a start point provides a fantastic grounding in BMS and helps you get the most out of your work experiences as well.”
The training courses are something that Roger also believes the BCIA can be very proud of, having worked hard to get them to the level they are at now: “It did take a while for them to really take off but the BCIA is now unique around the world, nobody else has this set-up and the training is a huge flagship for it.”
The BCIA Awards were first held in 2007 when it was widely felt that celebrating and rewarding the innovative thinking that goes on in the industry would enhance the BCIA’s status as well as its members. For George, who won the Young Engineer of the Year award in 2017, it was also a huge boost to his career: “For personal recognition that was brilliant. It was a great kickstart for myself which helped get my belief going and trust in my skills.”
Keep it simple
Looking ahead to the future, George added some words of wise restraint: “It is important to keep the product as simple as you can. Going back to the start of my career 10 years ago there were good solutions that still work now, they are well-engineered and effective. It is great that we have ingenuity and innovation but it is still all about the user experience and we mustn’t forget what has worked in the past and what we’re actually trying to do.”
This is an approach welcomed by Roger who has a very positive outlook: “The young people coming into the industry have a fresh mindset and the generational change is significant, bringing a much healthier open way of thinking and that is going to be really good for the industry.”
In conclusion, both Roger and George agree the building controls sector is an industry worth getting into. Roger said: “In the last 15 years I have been able to work for other companies and have travelled throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States. It’s given me a feeling for the technology around the world and I think with the adoption of new technology the UK is probably leading the way. I’ve been very lucky to have had a fantastic career and I am more excited about it now than I have ever been because of the scope of what is possible.”
George has some final guidance for anybody thinking about following a similar path: “Adopt a problem-solving approach and try to avoid ‘pigeon-holing’ yourself in any one part of the industry. If you want to become a Software Engineer for example it’s useful to gain some knowledge in other areas as well, whether that’s working with a control panel and getting some hands-on experience or dealing with a call-out, you will always learn something that might prove valuable later in your career. And, like all things, enjoy it if you can!
BCIA Awards 2024
The biggest and best Awards in the controls and BEMS industry
Smart Buildings Show 2023
The Smart Buildings Show has fully established itself as a must-attend event
CIBSE Build2Perform Live 2023
The 2023 event will be held at London Excel.