As a now grey-haired senior building services engineer, it has been intriguing to see how the industry has developed over the last 40 years. I was at lunch recently with some fellow senior engineers – most of whom are still involved in the industry – and we started reminiscing and talking about the impact of these changes and where the industry now stands, writes Joe Hogan, CEng, FCIBSE, MIEI, MIPM.
BUILDING SERVICES NEEDS SERIOUS WAKE-UP CALL!
What prompted this article was that many of us at the table had in fact been in class together at various times and had gone on to serve in various sectors of the industry. When we started in the industry there were no full-time building services courses. The majority of would-be engineers went to the UK to do the IHVE exams. The City and Guilds Course in the 1960s and early 1970s served many who went on the become leaders in various sectors of the industry. They (both guys and girls) went on to work in consultants’ design offices on drawing boards, behind the counter in merchant providers, as sales engineers and as junior contracts managers.
In the early 1970s Don Byrne and Pat Benson set up the Building Services Course in DIT Bolton St which, in the main, served the industry well up to the recent construction industry crash. Many of the current principals of consultancy practices and directors of M&E contracting firms attended DIT courses and qualified as Chartered CIBSE Engineers. A significant number started with the part-time courses before going on to attend full-time courses and obtain a full engineering degree in building services.
A large percentage of these people also freely gave of their time through the various industry bodies such as MEBSCA and CIBSE Ireland to devise and establish the structures that have served the sector so well. Many consulting engineers gave lectures in DIT colleges to augment the full-time lecturers.
However, that scenario has changed dramatically. While the intake to the DIT first-year common engineering programme still attracts a healthy 100 plus students, the numbers opting to study building services as opposed to the other engineering disciplines is but a handful. The present incumbents involved in the colleges, I am informed, are doing some serious soul-searching with even the title “Building Services Engineering” being called in to question.
Either way, the industry needs a call to arms to ensure we promote the opportunities to not just school leavers but people already in the industry. There has always been a demand from people on site, or in sales, or in various businesses in the industry to further their education and these people need to be encouraged and accommodated within the various Institute of Technology courses and systems.
The present position is that the sector needs everything we can get from our colleges, from more apprentices, craftsmen foremen, trainee engineers, technician engineers and qualified engineers to meet the demand of the broader building services sector. Recently, a significant Irish firm went on national radio and announced it was looking for some 500 engineering personnel.
So, if they need – and attract – that many from a diminished pool, what will be left for the rest of us? Our destiny is in our own hands. It is inconceivable that the established building services course in DIT might disappear, or indeed the relative newer programmes of WIT and CIT. The industry needs to support those involved in running these courses.
Equally so, the colleges need to devise courses, and perhaps more importantly a manner of delivery, that attracts young people into the industry. It is obvious young people are still interested in engineering … it is now up to all in building services to sell it as a desirable career choice.
The Government has stated that it wants to encourage more people into engineering courses and the current system can accommodate this intake … all we now need is the willpower to stand up and fight for what we know our industry needs.