On reflection

BCIA, Jon Belfield, apprenticeship, trailblazer, net zero, building controls
Jon Belfield

With his tenure as BCIA President soon coming to a close, Jon Belfield is encouraged by the developments he has seen in the past two years and highlights some of the key strategies that will continue to ensure building controls play a pivotal role in the journey to net-zero and better performing buildings.

It has been a great honour to serve as the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA) President and as we start this important new decade, I would like to reflect on my two years in the position and assess the progress we have made in the building controls sector during that time.

I believe that the divisions opened up by Brexit are now beginning to heal over as government, businesses and communities make changes to create a more balanced and sustainable economy and society. Perhaps this is more my hope and only time will tell but in business we are resilient and quick to respond to challenges so our socio-economic responsibilities remain critical.

The subject of Brexit will inevitably rumble on and painful as it has been, the resultant turbulence of the past two and half years is showing signs of real potential to trigger innovation and confident, pro-active thinking to enable us to navigate ourselves and our organisations through the new European landscape – however it may eventually look. The issue of regulations and standards is very important and while the standards bodies themselves are unaffected by Brexit, the outcomes of Brexit may have an effect and it remains vital for the UK to be alert, engaged and well represented.

The continued growth in our sector will go a long way towards achieving our shared goals of getting new technology correctly applied and so it is no exaggeration to say I am thrilled by the fact that BCIA membership and engagement has increased significantly. The number of people actively getting involved in sharing ideas and shaping the future of our industry has been tremendous. It is this kind of ‘people power’ that will help ensure the UK building stock becomes world leading for both comfort and energy efficiency.

Continuing with this growth theme, the culture of recruiting and training continues to gain momentum – a number of records were broken at the 2019 BCIA Annual Awards Celebration, with a particularly significant one, in my view, being the 12 bright stars competing for the Young Engineer prize. With the ability of the new generations of college leavers coming through readily able to adapt and embrace the rapid development of smart technology, it’s crucial that we now capitalise on the combination of skills that we have across the generations.

Integral to how we nurture this talent is the standards we set, which will, in turn, improve industry competency and later this year we will see the launch of the BEMS Trailblazer Apprenticeship standard (already approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships). Trailblazers are revolutionising the way quality training is being delivered and fully embraces the fact that every company in the UK, large or small, can recruit and train on an affordable budget. The primary aim is to achieve full professional recognition for BEMS Control Engineers so it can be promoted as a career path with a clear structure for training and success.

The launch of the BCIA’s #OneSmallChange campaign last year was designed to encourage our members to make a difference by adjusting their everyday lives in small ways that will be of benefit to the future of our planet.

BEMS control engineers have a significant amount of energy under their control and small changes made by many engineers continue to nudge us in the right direction. Similarly, small changes made by each of us will have the same effect. We can, each and every one of us, ‘own’ some of the change that is required. From listening to young graduate engineers about just getting their first job and hearing their training plans, I can sense a real growing mood for change and a feeling that we can each be part of the solution – buildings can perform better and energy can be reduced. It is a fantastic time to be starting out on a career in building automation and energy management, as the positive impact that engineers will make over the coming decades will be unprecedented.

I am delighted at how quickly people, both in industry and beyond, have picked up on the #OneSmallChange message and it is my hope that this will continue to gather momentum in 2020 and beyond.

Another initiative we have identified and promoted is that of a ‘new professionalism’. All of us have contractual responsibilities to deliver ‘compliant’ systems but in order to deliver ‘performance’, a more professional engagement with the whole supply chain is required. The BEMS sector has emerged from the shadows in recent times, from something that’s often been considered something of a ‘problem child’ during the construction phase to being acknowledged as a key factor in achieving the occupied performance of a building. The BEMS we design is now adding real performance value to buildings and this is the opportunity for this new professionalism.

We can also define new professionalism as expanding up the supply chain into a gap that has opened up to support consultants and building occupiers, openly providing that professional expertise and collaboration to ensure that the standalone complex systems specified in a building become effectively specified and integrated so they function as a ‘smart building’.

BCIA, Jon Belfield, apprenticeship, trailblazer, net zero, building controls

Another important recognition for this new professionalism has come from the ECS, which is working proactively with the BCIA to ensure the BEMS industry has a suite of appropriate skill cards for our engineers throughout their careers.

Ultimately, all this is great for the profession as we benchmark ability and experience.

Over the past decade, technology has moved at a pace that has been hard for the whole supply chain to keep up with and I believe the next 10 years will be a time when we actually catch up and get both existing and new technology working better and smoother to deliver the real potential for efficiency and comfort.

Add to this the generational challenge with many business leaders and strategy makers being in the last third of their careers and many engineers designing and commissioning new technology being in the first third of theirs, this is a fascinating juxtaposition and embracing this and all diversity is a real opportunity for us in the 2020s. ‘Reverse mentoring’ might not be a new initiative but is one that shouldn’t be ignored.

We’re now 30 years away from 2050 which is the UK’s self-imposed deadline for becoming carbon neutral. Our shared goal is to convert the destination that is 2050 to the journey that is 30 years. There is a terrific business opportunity for our sector and if you are just starting out on your career, you are in for a very engaged and exciting few decades where you can make the difference by 2025, 2030, etc, etc. This will also be a period when the expectation of IoT and smart buildings will be realised.

So, will we be looking back on 2019 as a year in which the government set ultimately impossible environmental targets, or one to be heralded for kickstarting an ‘Industrial Re-evolution’?

As a final reflection on my time as President of the BCIA, it will come as no surprise for you to hear my view that it is people who make the real difference; our ability to inspire others, continually gain knowledge, share and collaborate, engage with the human element of design and be bold in doing the right thing.

The emerging new professionalism embraces all these characteristics and with the BEMS Trailblazer primed and ready to blaze a trail, there can be no doubt that we are in good shape to meet the challenges we all face.

Picture credit: Shutterstock/Alexander Supertramp 1 

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