A new focus on sustainable development in buildings is changing the job specification for a building services engineer. So, what does the role involve and what skills do you need?
Building services engineers design and install all the elements of a building which bring it to life. From lighting and acoustics to lifts, escalators and security systems — they are in control. They work collaboratively with architects and other construction professionals to produce a variety of buildings, with projects ranging from small schools, to the largest city offices.
Buildings are huge consumers of materials and energy. They contribute around half of the UK's CO2 emissions meaning engineers are at the frontline of the battle to create a more sustainable environment. A key focus for a building services engineer is not only designing a building that works, but one that will consume the lowest amount of energy and have minimal environmental impact.
Historically, the role would have been to install all the services within the space allocated by the architect, but the focus has switched. As engineers play a more pivotal role in driving sustainability, being involved during the early stages of building is a critical part of the job. They influence the shape and orientation of a building to make the best use of local conditions and maximise renewable technologies.
Engineers can either be office or site-based, but most will spend their time in range of locations. Typical office tasks will involve producing designs in 2D and 3D, computer modelling and simulation of buildings, and researching new technologies. Outside the office, engineers work with architects to review designs, visit building sites and meet with manufacturers to explore new products.
Building services engineers need to be able to work as part of a team, have an analytical mind and enjoy problem-solving. Strong capabilities in IT, modelling software, computer-aided design (CAD) and drawings are essential. Strong communication skills, both written and oral, are a must as the role has a high client interface, liaising and presenting solutions. Applicants should also be interested in how buildings function. There are plenty of resources online to learn about buildings and developments in the industry.
To start the career you will need at least a grade C in GCSE science, English and maths. And to progress to a technician level, apprenticeships are available which pay while learning on the job. Alternative routes include a BTEC national, diplomas or A-levels in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.
Progressing to chartered engineer level requires an accredited engineering degree and further learning to masters level. Although building services engineering degrees are available, most graduate schemes are open to those from any engineering background. Larger companies are increasingly accepting applicants with backgrounds in science and mathematics and provide on-the-job training.