This is the Year of Engineering
by Mark Jones, MEP Executive, Structure Tone International
No doubt there are many engineers who recall the historic moment of a parent saying, “Don’t think you will be sitting at home all day when you finish school; you must get a trade.” Now 30 years and many experiences later, those words are still ringing in my ears, and I look back with a raised smile of thanks to my father.
Experiencing 30 years of life in the field of technical services, has provided me with exciting opportunities, varied challenges of environment and an introduction to fantastic individuals in a wide range of disciplines. But it seems that fewer and fewer young people are looking at engineering as that kind of exciting career path—and even fewer are taking their engineering skills to the fit-out construction industry.
According to an upcoming EngineeringUK report, the UK will need at least 124,000 engineers and technicians a year to keep up with the demand for their skills. Unfortunately, interest in our field has fallen off in recent years, with our government reporting a shortfall of 20,000 engineering graduates every year.
That’s why ministers from across government have joined forces with the industry to declare 2018 the “Year of Engineering.” This year will be focused on changing perceptions around engineering and highlighting the scale of opportunity that careers in the industry hold for young people in the UK.
With that in mind, I’d like to share a few reasons those considering an engineering career may want to take a look at the fit-out industry as a potential career path.
1. Construction exposes you to different disciplines and experiences.
Opinions will vary on best practices, but the principles of engineering are driven by science and certainly improved by individual experiences, creative thinking, manufacturer innovation and knowledge sharing. The over-arching outcome should result in a well-rounded engineer.
Whilst you may have sound grounding in the field in which your journey started, you will gain invaluable experience by working across disciplines. As a main contracting technical services manager, it is essential for me to identify and understand the key dependencies between systems. I try to dispel the mystical conspiracies created by those intending to protect their own interests and get ‘under the skin’ to ensure the system completeness, commissioning and end-user training.
Whether your career commenced in mechanical, electrical or other building services bias, other development opportunities will present themselves. The training you receive during your professional development either by apprenticeship or university, is often similar in its earlier stages, irrespective whether you choose the design or contracting route. Your development does not have to stop at the experienced gained from initial training or from industry colleagues.
There will be many engineers who experience the “sink or swim” learning curve in their early years, only to be balanced later in life with experience of outward impression of a serene swan swimming across a lake, but paddling furiously below the water line. As my career progression took its course (with the odd wobble), I moved from mechanical engineering to main contracting. I was exposed to larger, often more complex projects and unchartered territory of systems outside of my comfort zone. The shift allowed me to develop my understanding of other forms of building services engineering. The added benefit of being involved earlier in the construction process, is to provide the opportunity to play a pivotal role in how we bring the buildings to life.
I took comfort from advice that there will always be someone to ask, no matter how much you think you may know. The nature of construction projects means it is naturally team-driven, with those at the helm often experienced professionals in their own discipline. Watching, listening and learning from these individuals will improve your skills as an engineer.
2. Construction taps into the strengths of an engineer.
Whilst technical skills are the foundation of building services, the DNA of an engineer includes being able to achieve the best possible outcome, overcoming the challenges of both construction sequence, spatial constraints, time pressures and cost.
It’s a perfect fit. What’s more, the collaborative nature of our business allows us to share those strengths with each other for the best result. Our building services delivery industry has the largest pool of information available. I meet clients, engineers from consulting practices, contractors and manufacturers that hold regular events for networking and knowledge sharing. We discuss innovation in technique and technology and how we can apply that to building projects, both in the UK and globally.
Utilising secondment with our consulting partners and supply chain teams, we share our challenges and how we manage them by creating an integrated delivery team.Our schools, too, are incredible resource of untapped engineering potential. I’m not sure today’s students are fully aware of the opportunities available to them to become the next generation of engineers and the exciting lives we lead in building services engineering. Both consulting and contracting businesses are financing our future by offering schemes to young people.
We must take ownership of the skills shortfall and get out to the schools to give them and their parents the information to make an informed decision on their child’s future.
What is an apprenticeship? What can it do for me? What could my future look like? There are both men and women at the top their game, in leading engineering roles in leading global companies. This is an exciting time to be a building services engineer!
3. Construction is full of amazing people.
I consider myself fortunate to work with the best in the industry. From the earliest opportunity, I have sought to encourage others to experience this precious discipline. I specifically recall completing my apprenticeship to a project engineer and immediately asking for an opportunity to mentor the next tier of apprentices coming through. This is something I hold dear to this day and will continue for the next generations, often the first to raise the hand to mentor those coming through our business.
My personal preference is to ensure my door is always open to share the knowledge from my experiences and learning curves (of which there were many). Involve your own building services engineers in internal knowledge sharing, encourage these key people to participate contribute, develop best practice and implement the changes so as not become stagnant. Continually monitor to improve and do not be afraid to challenge your own systems and process.
Throw out the impractical, the red tape and promote innovation.
I have enjoyed many aspects of the industry, but the most memorable are related to the individuals I have worked alongside. The DNA of who you are as an individual, what drives you, the people you work with, and the culture of your business and our clients must be aligned to achieve success.
It is up to us, as engineers, not just to play our part, but to make a difference. 2018 is the Year of Engineering!