14 April 2022
As the new vice-president of the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA), Paul Wetherfield discusses the ways in which the organisation’s focus on training and apprenticeships is helping to tackle the skills shortage.
We are entering an age that offers an abundance of technology, which enables us to manage our buildings more efficiently. And with the UK’s net zero by 2050 target aimed specifically towards preserving the health of the planet we are entering an era in which a lot of this technology is no longer viewed as a luxury addition to a building, but an outright necessity. As the levels of product innovation continue to reach ever higher levels, the skills to select and integrate products need to be sharper than ever. In recent years the BCIA has been leading the charge in ensuring there is enough talent coming into the building controls sector to deliver the buildings of tomorrow – today.
The good news is we are potentially sitting on the crest of a wave in terms of a new generation of skilled engineers in the making. Today’s school leavers are abundantly aware of the challenges facing the world they are going to inherit from their parents and grandparents and an increasing number of them are looking for opportunities to make a difference. Just look at the level of youth involvement in events like the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) that took place in Glasgow at the start of November, as well as other similar events such as the Youth4Climate Summit in Milan and the 16th UN Conference of Youth.
It is now up to organisations like the BCIA and its members to make the building energy management systems (BEMS) sector attractive to anyone looking to embark on a new career. Not only that, we also have to provide the appropriate training pathways that ensure the engineers of the future have the necessary levels of knowledge and competency to meet the demands of a job that is constantly changing with the advancement in technology.
An advantage we have now is that the abundance of ‘smart’ technology and its integration into the built environment means the BEMS sector is perhaps not considered as ‘niche’ as it once was. Last year, in an interview to mark the BCIA’s 30th anniversary, Roger Woodward, one of the founder members, explained how the organisation had evolved into a “significantly more mature body compared to what it started out as.” The evolution that Roger described has been vital in transforming the BCIA into a body that can influence key decisions in industry and government. 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.
The focus on training and apprenticeships is one of the main reasons I decided to join the BCIA’s management committee as my passion is driven by the lack of young and talented engineers within our industry and I have shaped my own business around the development of young apprentices, which currently make up 15% of the workforce. In 2021, after more than four years of hard work by the Trailblazer Employer Group, the BCIA launched its Level 4 BEMS controls engineer apprenticeship in partnership with training provider Group Horizon. With commercial buildings representing one of the largest capital expenses for businesses, and building owners and managers constantly looking for ways to make them more efficient and sustainable, the challenge for the BEMS controls engineer is knowing how to achieve this level of efficiency.
This apprenticeship provides the answer, offering a balance of on-the-job assessments and technical training which covers all aspects of the industry. The training programme is delivered on the apprentice’s company site and through classroom and/or online learning sessions. It can take up to 36 months to complete.
A fresh start
The apprenticeship isn’t just for school leavers, either. The programme presents an ideal way for someone to get into a different industry if they are looking for a new challenge. In the anniversary interview with Roger Woodward, George Belfield, who was born the same year the BCIA was formed, explained how becoming a BMS engineer provided the “technical challenge” he was looking for after working for a local council. He also emphasised how the BCIA’s courses helped on his new career path, saying: “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.”
Career changes are becoming more and more common and the lockdown periods in the last two years have even forced many people who have suddenly found themselves out of work to look for a fresh start.
There are positive early signs that the apprenticeship will be a tremendous success. The first two programmes began before Christmas and were fully booked up and the third cohort recently got underway. The feedback has so far been very good, and some of the apprentices have described their early experiences on the programme.
Jake Jarram of BC Specialists said: “I have been very impressed with how well structured the modules are. The lecturer is very experienced and skilled in the industry, showing a very positive outlook on HVAC and is very keen to pass on their knowledge. When working day-to-day for BCS I have developed a great variety of skills which are invaluable to someone of my age, working in various places and contributing towards the completion of the project/maintenance. I am looking forward to my future in the building controls industry.”
Zach Stanley of Kendra Energy said: “I was thoroughly impressed in how much help and education I was actually getting, and how we are getting our modules taught to us in blocks in order for us to better familiarise ourselves with everything and we are able to apply it in the workplace on a daily basis. I find that helps a lot more because I need to go over things many times before it actually sinks in. All in all, I am very happy to have chosen this industry and I am excited to see what happens in the future.”
On successful completion of the programme, individuals will receive a BEMS controls engineer apprenticeship at level 4. In addition, on completion of specific BCIA technical course modules individuals will receive the BCIA technical certificate and the BCIA advanced technical certificate.
Individuals will also be eligible to apply for an Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS) building controls card at associate or integrator level (depending on their level of experience).