The time for action is now! BCIA President leads engaging industry discussion at Smart Buildings Show

Graeme Rees, President of the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA), chaired an engaging industry discussion at the Smart Buildings Show on 12th October 2022. The theme of the talk was “why the industry needs to work together NOW to address the issues of the future”.

The panel consisted of Andy Reakes from JIB/ECS, Peter Behan of training provider Group Horizon, Wendy Belfield of InTandem Systems and Jen Vickers of Crown House Technologies. In his introduction, Graeme outlined the multiple crises we are currently facing, including the cost of living, the energy supply, climate change and the very broad skills gap. He said: “All of these issues can be clearly linked together, with building controls helping to provide a solution to the first three and our industry providing a pathway to the latter.”

Clear pathways

In response to Graeme’s question about career pathways and how they can be used, Wendy Belfield said: “This is not just about young people, it’s about everyone in the industry. We need to be talking about career pathways, engaging people at a young age and creating clear pathways for them.”

Wendy also described T Levels as the gateway to the industry, which was echoed by Peter Behan who explained how the Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) Apprenticeship has been designed to develop building controls engineers to meet the global commitment to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency through effective control of building plant. He said: “A BEMS Controls Engineer needs to know how to ensure a building achieves the required level of efficiency. The BEMS Apprenticeship is designed to give the next generation of BEMS Controls Engineers all of the knowledge, confidence and hands-on training they need to secure a rewarding career in the building controls sector. It offers a balance of on-the-job assessments and technical training covering all aspects of the industry.”

Levels of competence

The next challenge after training and qualification is applying the acquired skills into the wider industry and more importantly ensuring that people have not only the skills they need but can also demonstrate their level of competence. This was covered by Andy Reakes, who explained how the BCIA and ECS have worked together to define the frameworks for industry-specific building controls cards. He said: “Following the launch of the BEMS apprenticeship standard, an occupational qualification structure was developed by the building controls industry following feedback from the BCIA, employers, training providers and other industry representatives to align the future industry skills need. This is one of a number of industry breakthroughs that will have a positive impact on making the industry safer with a greater focus on the competence of the workforce.”

In response to Graeme’s question about what the next steps should be in order for the industry to ensure momentum isn’t lost, Wendy urged employers to sign up and get involved, commenting: “We now have a route for people to come into the industry from any background and gain the skills they need. The collaboration and the result has been a great benefit to the industry as well as the individual businesses. The next step is to ensure that the industry works together to deliver T Levels. We have the building services T Level but it will only work if businesses sign up for the industry placements. Action from the industry is therefore required because we need commitment to providing the industry placements otherwise T Level students will not be able to obtain their qualification.”

Employer’s perspective

Jen Vickers then provided an employer’s viewpoint on the success of the pathways into the industry so far: “Crown House Technologies is committed to apprenticeship programmes and took on a number of apprentices within the MEP business this September. However, the application rate for BEMS apprentices was not as high as we would have hoped, and this may be down to the fact that young people do not know what the career involves. Perhaps there will be a better response as the uptake of T Levels grows. The T Level gives people experience of the industry from a younger age and, with this knowledge, it may provide the appetite to pursue a wider choice of careers within the industry and to go further.”

Prompt resolution

In summary of the discussion, Graeme Rees commented: “It is clear that there are mechanisms in place to ensure that we have the right skills in place to support the industry and the challenges it faces. But it is also clear that we still have a lot of work to do and that this is an ongoing process. The BCIA has brought this group together and we have achieved a lot but it is now time for the whole industry to get involved. This talk has highlighted that there is cross-industry agreement that we cannot afford to let these issues carry on without prompt resolution. The time for action is now!”